The stunning stats as Steve Smith underlines his batting brilliance
Smith’s 121 in the first innings at The Oval was his 31st Test century and saw his career average in the format move back above 60, with his numbers having dropped just below the figure in the last two Tests of the recent Border-Gavaskar Trophy series in India.
“I was proud of the way I played, I thought I applied myself nicely,” Smith told the assembled media at the end of day two at the WTC Final.
“I left well yesterday morning, hit the balls that were in my area and was pretty solid in defence. It felt good out there."
It took Smith just two balls to reach his century at the start of the second day after Travis Head nudged a single from the opening delivery.
And two leg-side clips to the boundary was exactly what the doctor ordered to get the Aussie No.4 going again.
“I think when I first started this morning I couldn't ask for anything more than two half volleys on my pads to get me going. That was nice to get over that milestone," Smith added.
Smith is now just one career Test century behind Steve Waugh (32) in Australia’s all-time list having played 71 fewer Tests, with Ricky Ponting still out in front with 42 tons. And his record against this week’s WTC Final opponents is increasingly dominant.
The thorn in India’s side
Only Sachin Tendulkar (11) has scored more centuries in Tests between India and Australia than Smith’s nine, with the Aussie pulling clear of a trio of the game’s greats with this latest effort.
And nobody has scored more Test centuries against India, with Smith’s ninth drawing him level with Joe Root.
So it is little wonder that Virat Kohli – India’s own modern batting legend – has been effusive in his praise of the Australian this week.
"He is the best Test player of our generation, there is no doubt about it,” Kohli said in an exclusive interview with the ICC.
"He's a truly amazing player and truly the best when it comes to playing Test cricket and adapting to different situations."
Smith has now scored 2008 Test runs in 19 Tests against India – England are the only opponent against whom he has scored more (3044 in 32 matches).
And his average against India has risen to 66.93. That figure is only bettered by his record against West Indies, against whom his six not outs in 11 innings boosts his average to 150.40.
England is a home away from home
When you’re mentioned in the same breath as Don Bradman then you know you’re doing things right.
This was Smith’s seventh Test century in 31 innings in England, and it is only Bradman who has scored more as a visiting batter from any country in the history of the game.
His latest knock saw Smith reinstate a technical tweak of moving back and across more with his trigger movement, something that he says is a useful adjustment in English conditions.
“I quite like it for English conditions and the way the ball bounces over here,” Smith said in his media conference after day two. “It obviously worked when I was here last time.
“With the positions I get myself into, it doesn't mean I'm going to do it all the time. I may revert back to old styles at certain periods when I feel it's necessary. But on this surface and with the bowlers I was coming up against, I felt that was the right way forward.”
And Smith now averages 61.60 in England, one of four countries (along with Australia, New Zealand and West Indies) where he has outperformed his career average.
The Oval is a very happy hunting ground for Smith, who now averages 102.4 in four Tests at the famous London venue. Perth is the only venue in world cricket where he averages more having played a minimum of three innings.
ICC knockouts bring out Smith’s best
The Aussie has now hit three fifties and two hundreds in major ICC knockout matches.
His half-centuries came in the 2015 Cricket World Cup final against New Zealand, the quarter-final in the same competition against Pakistan, and the 2019 CWC semi-final against England. And this World Test Championship century – only the second scored in the event’s history – joins his ton in the 2015 CWC semi-final against South Africa.