At the start of the 48th over in Australia’s batting innings against England in the World Cup semi-final, Steve Smith missed a leg glance and the ball clipped his left thigh.
Mitchell Starc called his partner through for a quick single and the former skipper responded straight away, putting his head down and charging to the nonstriker’s end.
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But the ball — fielded then launched by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler — beat him there, crashing into the stumps as Smith stretched out to make his ground.
He was running full pelt and he just kept going after the zing bails lit up, continuing towards the dressing room and not bothering to wait for the third umpire’s verdict.
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Smith was only just short of his ground but he didn’t need a replay to tell him that and his hopes of scoring his first century in Australian colours since returning from his ball tampering ban were dashed, out for 85.
The 30-year-old played his best innings of the tournament to defy a hostile English attack and give his team something to bowl at in the crucial clash, even if it turned out to not be enough. While top order teammates tumbled around him, Smith held the innings together and showed once again he is a cut above both in skill and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Without him, Australia could have started planning its World Cup Mad Monday before midday but Smith’s brilliant batsmanship meant England would still have to earn its way into the final.
Steve Smith was on fire before he was run out.Source:AP
As Smith walked towards the dressing room, head down, holding his bat in his right hand, the parochial English crowd booed relentlessly. Edgbaston is known for providing a raucous atmosphere unlike any other ground in the country and the venue lived up to its reputation today even if it was only half-full when the first ball was bowled.
But the numbers swelled throughout the day and Birmingham was well and truly rocking by the time Smith was sent packing. The returning star had already responded with a smile when booed upon reaching 50 but there was no hint of a smirk this time.
The boos were more vicious now, probably aided by a few more ales, and had a more threatening edge as the Poms revelled in Smith’s demise, which cruelled the Aussies’ hopes of getting close to 250 as they were bowled out for 223.
It’s long been said of even the most vocal crowds around the world, while supporting their team and making life miserable for the opposition, they at least appreciate and acknowledge good cricket. This is where the Edgbaston crowd fell down.
Boo Smith as much as you like during his knock but when he was walking off, surely it was time to recognise how good his innings was — in every possible sense given the mental toughness he showed to ride out a grim situation and almost single-handedly keep his team in with a chance.
He deserved more than what he got.
Smith reminded Australia what they were missing.Source:Getty Images
There was some applause eventually when Smith crossed the rope but not enough to drown out the cacophony of boos that let the Australian star know even though he’d done a brilliant job, it wasn’t enough to win over the English faithful who have made it their mission this World Cup to hound him and David Warner everywhere they’ve gone.
The response at Edgbaston suggested the majority of the thousands of fans in attendance couldn’t care less about Smith’s rearguard effort at all. If they did appreciate good cricket in this instance, they certainly didn’t show it.
Earlier in the tournament, former England spinner Graeme Swann told ESPN Cricinfo: “If you want to boo, and you want to be boorish and yobbish, don’t go to a sports match.
“If you’re going to turn up and boo, you shouldn’t be here and you’re a disgrace to the English game.”
The atmosphere at Edgbaston for 99 per cent of the match was vibrant, energetic and a whole lot of fun. But in this moment, where just 20 seconds of class and humility were called for in an innings that lasted three hours, the crowd turned “boorish” and was found wanting.
The booing continued during his short spell of bowling.Source:AP
The severity of the taunts directed to the two men forever tarnished by sandpapergate had waned slightly as the World Cup wore on but found a new life in Birmingham. Smith and Warner, and for that matter the rest of the Australians, were absolutely hammered in their first outing against Afghanistan in Bristol and the savage treatment continued at Trent Bridge against the West Indies.
But the boos became less noticeable in Taunton and on the return trip to Nottingham against Bangladesh and you thought maybe cricket lovers were tiring of the relentless abuse dished out to the players who had served their punishment.
With three centuries in England, Warner had done his best to silence the haters through sheer weight of runs. Smith was entitled to think his fighting 85 would have provided a brief respite from his personal summer soundtrack, but the English did him no such favour.
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