Australia Captain-in-waiting Smith Becomes Leading Runscorer In Ashes

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When Steve Smith worked Moeen Ali for a single through midwicket shortly after lunch, he became the leading runscorer in a series that has oscillated between his coronation and his humbling.
Like the little girl in the Henry Longfellow poem, when Smith has been good, he's been very, very good - and when he's been bad, he's been horrid.

No one has better typified Australia's tour, nor perhaps Australia's perception of itself as a cricket nation.
On a flat surface at Lord's, he made 215 and 58, winding up England with pointed calls of ‘not now!' as he pretended to be turning down a single while the ball whistled away for another four.
Australia captain-in-waiting Steve Smith made 143 to become the leading runscorer for the Ashes series
Smith acknowledges reaching his century during the fifth and final Ashes Test at The Oval
So there was little sympathy from the fielders when Edgbaston and Trent Bridge - the dark epicentre of Australia's tour - brought scores of seven, eight, six and five, and encouraged the perception that he had an allergy to grass.
Here at The Oval, Smith has resumed his job as a merciless operator when the odds are in his favour.

Very soon he will be captain too. When the two roles coincide, he will take some stopping.
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Conditions have not been as benign as they were at Lord's, and England had the potential advantage of bowling under cloud cover on Thursday.

But they got their lengths wrong, and sometimes their lines. Smith has been good enough to punish them.
At times this feels counter-intuitive, because although Smith has left behind the court-jester persona that invited ridicule during England's 3-1 win in Australia in 2010-11, he is yet to cut an intimidating figure.
Like Australia, Smith has experienced highs and lows during their Ashes tour of England
Smith's partner Dani Willis (2nd right) joins Australia WAGs in applauding their respective men 
That's partly because his fidgeting suggests nerves rather than nous.

As the bowler runs in, Smith hammers his bat into the ground several times, as if urging himself on with each blow, then bends twice at the knee, before shuffling across to the off side.
The ritual is followed by a series of tics and twitches: a couple of touches of the helmet, a quick feel of the pads, a perusal of the gloves, a look round the field, a word or two with himself.

And on it goes.
If Sachin Tendulkar at the crease resembled a still life by Paul Cezanne, Smith is more of a Jackson Pollock.
Yet there can be no denying his credentials.
His century here was his 11th in Tests, all of them scored in his team's first innings, when markers are laid down and statements made. Among batsmen to have made 1,000 runs, only Don Bradman (113) has a higher average in the first innings of a Test than Smith's 90.
Smith was eventually bowled out by England's Steven Finn as Australia reached 481 all out
Smith leaves the pitch to applause but there are question marks over his batting style and consistency
But Smith's failure to temper his instincts in Birmingham and Nottingham must, for the time being, count against his entry into the pantheon of the greats.
The greats adapt.

But Smith - perhaps mindful of his own pre-series dig that ‘if we continue to play the same way we've played over the last 12 to 18 months, I don't think they'll come close to us to be honest' - apparently tried to fit three Aussie schooners into a British pint glass.
The shots that work back home are fraught with more risk here: the frisky pull, the flat-footed square-drive, the push through the line.
On the stroke of tea on the second day at Trent Bridge, Smith simply refused to countenance the thought that he should play any other way, and skewed Stuart Broad straight to cover point.
England's Finn celebrates taking Smith's wicket at Edgbaston where he twice failed to reach double figures
It was a stroke that summed up Australia's trip, a stroke borne of frustration at conditions that have often prevented them from playing cricket the way they imagine it ought to be played - on hard decks, under the sun, swaying or hooking the bouncers, and chipping in with advice.

We exaggerate, but only a little.
Smith, who finally fell for a highly accomplished 143, will leave England with his reputation pretty much where it was when he arrived - as a player whose next big task is to become the batsman he doesn't always want to be.
If he can do that, the rest of the world could be in for trouble.