Steve Smith racks up the runs.
Steve Smith racks up the runs.

Double ton confirms Smith's greatness as records tumble

STEVE Smith broke more Ashes records and broke England too with a stunning double-century at Old Trafford which put the fourth Test at Australia's mercy and elevated the superstar batsmen to realms only legends can inhabit.

His score of 211 was an innings beyond significance for the match alone, it was one which took the batting genius beyond comparisons with anyone other than Sir Donald Bradman.   

The numbers have it. They are the only Australians to score two Ashes double-hundreds in England, are the quickest men ever to 26 Test centuries, and no Australians have more Ashes hundreds than them.

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But while Smith continued to re-write the record books he also gave his teammates the confidence to push the game beyond the home side and, needing only one more win to retain the Ashes, put the ultimate goal within Australian reach.  

Every plan England tried to Smith failed, their bowlers looked listless and lost and captain Joe Root completely out of answers as the twitchy, eccentric master took them apart in an innings for the ages.

Steve Smith celebrates another monster Ashes score, at Old Trafford
Steve Smith celebrates another monster Ashes score, at Old Trafford

"I said before the game that if they bowl a lot at my head then they're not bowling at my stumps and trying to get me out lbw and caught behind the wicket," Smith explained of his serene comfort against England's seam bowlers.

"For them to go as short as they did and as early as they did with the new ball, softened that ball up and played into our hands."

Smith also set the stage for Tim Paine (58) to get his first half-century since October last year and  Mitchell Starc, in his first match for the series, to swat nine boundaries in scoring a 58-ball 54 which left England in total despair.

Australia dominated day two, declaring at 8-497 and an England team which boasted of coming to Manchester with momentum was instead staring down the barrel of losing the Ashes with one Test still to go.

Smith's command of the field was key to neutering England's plans, with no suggestion they had come close to working out a productive strategy against him.

"I think and visualise before I play where people are likely to bowl to me and where I am likely to score and try to picture fields that are set and play things over in my mind, where I am going to get runs and how they are looking to get me out," Smith said.

"Then out in the middle you have to adapt to whatever is thrown at you."

England closed the day 1-23, after a diving Matthew Wade catch sent new opener Joe Denly back to a dressing room full of long faces, defeated by one man.

That despondent feeling for England was greater given they had Smith out, caught at slip, when he was on 118, only for a third-umpire review to find spinner Jack Leach, of all bowlers, had overstepped.

The no-ball was the first in over 1400 deliveries from Leach in his eight-Test career, and a sure sign the cricketing gods wanted to see more from Smith.

It earned a loud rebuke from Root to his team, but a rallying cry that fell on deaf ears.

Smith's brilliance was summed up in the fact that, despite giving every other batsman in the world a 217-day head start, no-one has scored more Test runs than him in 2019.

England were broken by Smith's relentless excellence.
England were broken by Smith's relentless excellence.

His 579 runs in this series, in just four innings, at an average of 144, with two hundreds and a double, is 66 more than any other batsman in the world has managed since January 1.

Smith's year started on August 1, at Edgbaston.  

He's the only man with three Test hundreds this year, and his lowest score is 92, the innings at Lord's in the second Test only interrupted by a knock-out blow from Jofra Archer.

Smith even has more Ashes hundreds in England (6) than any Englishman has managed in 142 years of battles between the two countries.

Even when England thought they had got Smith out he survived.
Even when England thought they had got Smith out he survived.

It was also Smith's eighth consecutive score of 75 or more in Ashes Tests. No-one in history has ever completed more than four scores of that volume.

He was finally out, trying to reverse sweep England captain Joe Root as Australia pushed towards a declaration, having dispelled any notion of him being a different batsman after taking the blow to the neck from Archer.

That battle, for which there was much expectation, was non-existent, as Archer provided a limp follow-up to his six-wicket haul at Leeds, finishing with 0-97, just short of his own first Test hundred, on a day dominated by Australia.