Smith moment shows everything’s changed
Steve Smith started the English summer getting booed by crowds all around the country.
The ugly reception was on show at warm-up games in the port city of Southampton, during Australia's charge to the semi-finals of the World Cup and again in the Ashes - but on the final/penultimate day of the series, that all changed.
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England dismissed Smith for less than 80 for the first time, having him caught at leg slip for 23. He finishes the series with 774 runs at an average of 110.57, including one double century, two hundreds and two fifties.
Smith broke his own record for the most runs in a Test series by anyone this century, outdoing his monumental effort against India in 2014/15 even after missing the third Test at Headingley with concussion.
Most runs in a Test series since 2000— Swamp (@sirswampthing) September 15, 2019
774 STEVE SMITH 2019 v ENG
769 Steve Smith 2014/15 v IND
766 Alastair Cook 2010/11 v AUS
714 Graeme Smith 2003 v ENG
712 Jacques Kallis 2003/04 v WI
706 Ricky Ponting 2003/04 v IND
@cricketcomau #ENGvAUS #Ashes
As Smith walked off the field for the final time this Ashes, boos were replaced by cheers. Appreciating they'd witnessed something truly remarkable over the course of the four Tests he'd played, fans got out of their seats and gave the 30-year-old a standing ovation.
Not everyone will forgive Smith for the sandpaper scandal but he's gone about erasing the ghosts of Cape Town armed with his bat and an insatiable appetite for runs.
There may have been small pockets of jeers but they were drowned out by the overwhelmingly positive response of the masses.
Players rarely receive such a reaction after scoring 23 but Smith certainly earnt the goodwill of everyone crammed into the south London venue.
"It was a nice reception when I walked off, it would have been nice to have a few more runs under my belt," Smith said. "I have given it my all while I have been here for the last four-and-a-half months but I didn't have much more to give today.
"I was pretty cooked mentally and physically and I am looking forward to a couple of weeks off and heading back for the Australian summer.
"It has been back-to-back and kept going and I am sure over the next couple of weeks I will look back and reflect (on his achievements). I am proud of my performances over the three-and-a-half Test matches I've played here and to take the urn back home. That was the goal and I am proud I was able to play some part in that."
Five Tests ago they booed Smith to and from the crease in Birmingham; six weeks, 1196 balls, 774 runs, three fifties and three hundreds later he receives a standing ovation from The Oval. Special end to one of the greatest series performances the game has ever seen. #Ashes— Freddie Wilde (@fwildecricket) September 15, 2019
"He was mercilessly booed when he came to England this summer. He departs to a standing ovation," tweeted Piers Morgan. "What a player and what an extraordinary rehabilitation.
The bat, it transpires, is mightier than the sandpaper."
That Smith's record-breaking performance has come in his first series back since serving a 12-month ban for his role in the cheating controversy makes the New South Welshman's efforts all the more remarkable.
The other members of the tampering trio - Cameron Bancroft and David Warner - have endured miserable returns to wearing the baggy green but Smith has prospered like never before.
Bancroft was dropped after two Tests and Warner had his worst series ever, scoring just 95 runs in 10 innings and making double figures only twice.
Whether the brutal verbal barbs they've copped since arriving in the UK affected their performances, only they know, but Smith once described the boos as washing over him like "white noise" and he was the best at conquering not only parochial crowds but the English bowlers too.
There were a couple of occasions in the past few months where the harsh treatment of Smith went too far. He single-handedly kept Australia in the World Cup semi-final against England at Edgbaston with a brilliant 85 but was unluckily run out with a direct hit that went between his legs.
As he trudged off the field, instead of acknowledging the brilliance of his knock, the English faithful gave Smith hell.
Then there were the tasteless boos that accompanied Smith's return to the field at Lord's after being floored by a Jofra Archer bouncer to the neck - which were rightly slammed by many as "disgraceful".
But hopefully the classy reception Smith received on day four in the English capital means the days of hounding the former Aussie skipper for his lack of leadership in that changeroom at Newlands are over.
If the boos were designed to put Smith off his game, they didn't work because he went to another stratosphere with the willow. If they were intended to make him uncomfortable emotionally they failed in that respect too, because when Smith said regularly the crowd's reaction didn't affect him, he meant it.
The only thing that matters to Smith the cricketer is batting and nothing was going to take him off course as he made up for lost time after spending a year in the wilderness away from the game he loves more than anything.
The next chapter in Smith's career will be written when he plays his first match Down Under since the darkest hour in the country's cricket history. The Aussies start a Test series against Pakistan at The Gabba in November, where he'll front the Australian public for the first time since returning to international action.
What response Warner receives - if he's even in the team, given his horror showing on this tour - remains to be seen, because he was shamed as the ringleader in the ball tampering fiasco. But you can bet when Smith walks out to bat in Brisbane, the Queenslanders will shower the best since Bradman with the same love that was on display at The Oval.
Steve Smith applauded off the field by England fans after getting out at the Oval - amazing to think that would happen at the start of the summer.— Ian McCullough (@IanMac08) September 15, 2019
that standing ovation for Smith actually made the hair on the back of my neck stand up— Kevin Hague (@kevverage) September 15, 2019
A standing ovation for Smith, who has won the crowds over this summer by performing like an all-time great.— Lawrence Booth (@the_topspin) September 15, 2019