Australia’s captain Steven Smith has never felt better at the crease than during the early part of his Perth Ashes epic, before he re-adjusted to grind down England and absorbed a considerable physical toll to do so.
By reaching 239 before his dismissal, Smith raised his career average to 62.32 after 108 innings in 59 matches, ranking him the second best batsman to Sir Donald Bradman in terms of average – now ahead of his former team-mate Adam Voges. The innings pushed Australia into a strong position to regain the urn with victory in the final Ashes Test at the WACA Ground, and Smith said it was not achieved without considerable exhaustion – support staff ran out a chair for him to sit on during drinks in the final session.
“I was actually really tired at tea yesterday, and was struggling a little bit then, and went in and had to have some sugar and a banana and something to eat,” Smith told ABC Radio. “I don’t like to eat too much when I bat.
“The strength and conditioning coach Kelly basically forced it down my throat and said ‘You need something to eat.’ It was good in the end, because it switched me back on and I actually felt pretty good in the last session. I was a little bit tired last night, but a good tired after batting for so long.”
“I really enjoyed it, particularly out there with Mitch [Marsh] who was playing so well and scoring so freely, it just enabled me to just keep batting and keep batting, and hopefully a few more this morning.”
Smith’s innings was played in two distinct phases, as he motored to 92 on the second evening with scarcely believable levels of ease, before digging in on the third day to press into the lead, largely in the company of the recalled Mitchell Marsh. “I think that first night I was on, as you say,” Smith said. “I was in the zone, and everything hit the middle of the bat. I felt incredibly good. Probably didn’t feel quite as good yesterday, but still came off well and got the runs that we needed. That first night was probably as good as I’ve felt.
“I guess it’s just getting across into that position I’ve been getting into for a while, with my back foot on off stump or thereabouts, and watching the ball. If it’s at my stumps and it’s a good length, defending it, and if it’s too full, hitting it. Just defending good balls and putting away bad balls, really.
“I just [try] not to think too much. Keep batting and keep enjoying it. I’d prefer to be out there. I don’t like watching cricket that much, to be honest. So I’d prefer to be out there making runs than up there watching someone else do it. That just motivates me to try and score as many runs as I can. I just sit on my bat at the other end if I’m off strike, and try and relax as much as possible. But nothing too different I don’t think.”
As for Marsh, who in making 181 stamped himself as a long-term Australian Test player, Smith said the allrounder had made significant technical improvements. “I think his defence, he’s softened his hands a little bit,” Smith said.
“He actually nicked one yesterday and it went down and didn’t carry here at Perth on a wicket that’s been pretty quick, to be fair, so I think that’s something he’s improved a lot. He was just defending the good balls, and anything that’s loose he was putting it away. We spoke about it out there: I said ‘That’s just batting. That’s how you do it.’ He was really confident and played exceptionally well.”