‘From another planet’: Smith blows minds
Batting isn't supposed to be this easy.
Not at any level, but certainly not in the pressure cooker of Test cricket.
But while the rest of his teammates and the majority of the English team scratch and scramble for every run this summer, Steve Smith is scoring hundreds like it's the most natural thing in the world.
The Aussie cricket star scored his third century in four innings this Ashes series as he continued to torment England in a way we haven't seen since the days of Don Bradman.
Then he inflicted even more pain on the hapless hosts by doubling his tally to reach 200. Smith scored 211 to make it the third time in his career he's reached the stunning milestone - each of which have come against England.
A clip for two through the leg side just before lunch on day two of the fourth Ashes Test in Manchester brought up Smith's 26th Test century and a similar shot took him to 200 a few hours later as he continued on his remarkable return to the five-day format after his year-long ban for Australia's ball-tampering scandal.
After scoring twin tons in the first Test at Edgbaston and 92 at Lord's, Smith's insatiable appetite for runs was on show again at Old Trafford as he battled howling winds on day one and a determined English attack on day two to reach a milestone that would be extraordinary for most, but is simply routine for the former Australia captain.
BETTER THAN BRADMAN: SMITH'S EXTRAORDINARY NUMBERS
Smith's 26th century came in his 121st Test innings. Only Bradman has scored that number of hundreds in fewer knocks as Smith got there quicker than legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar.
Smith also jumped to outright second on the list of players around the world with the most hundreds against England. He's scored 11 tons against the old enemy while Bradman got to three figures against England 19 times.
The 30-year-old's last eight digs against England read: 239, 76, 102*, 83, 144, 142, 92 and 211. That represents the greatest ever hot streak by a batsman in Test history against the same opponent, so while he's second to Bradman in most departments, in this instance he's number one.
In those last eight innings Smith has scored 1089 runs. Not even the best batsman cricket has ever seen could match that in eight straight knocks against the same country, with Bradman's best standing at 1069 runs against England in the 1930s.
Steve Smith (after getting to 192) now has the best eight innings stretch versus a single team in the history of Test cricket— Swamp (@sirswampthing) September 5, 2019
Has gone past the 1069 runs that Bradman scored in 8 innings vs ENG between 1930 & 1932
@cricketcomau #ENGvAUS #Ashes
This is now the fourth time Smith has scored three centuries in a single Test series and only Bradman and West Indies great Sir Garfield Sobers (five times) have done that more often.
Two of Smith's three double tons against England have come in the UK, the previous ones being scored at Lord's in 2015 and Perth in 2017. It means he became just the second Australian to score two double centuries in England, along with Bradman, who did it five times.
Smith has now scored six Ashes centuries in England, which is remarkable considering no English player in history has ever scored more than five tons in Ashes contests on their home turf.
Smith went past 500 runs for the series during the course of his innings and BBC statistician Andrew Samson revealed Smith bettered Bradman again by becoming the first player to ever score at least 500 runs in three consecutive Ashes series.
His aggregate now stands at 589 and despite only playing his first Test of the year in August, that makes Smith the leading runscorer in the game's longest format in 2019 after just four innings.
That feat alone is mind-boggling.
'FROM ANOTHER PLANET': CRICKET WORLD REACTS
Cricket players, commentators and fans who live and breathe the sport are used to seeing Smith raise his bat but their jaws still drop with each new batting masterclass.
After reaching his double ton, Smith's scores from this series were shown on the Sky Sports broadcast, prompting commentator and former England fast bowler Isa Guha to say: "That is ridiculous, that is just ridiculous."
Former India fast bowler RP Singh said Smith was "from another planet" while plenty of other greats heaped praise on the best player in the world.
A pleasure to watch .. Hate saying that about an Aussie but you can only admire a player with so much skill,discipline,concentration & ridiculous hand eye coordination !!! @stevesmith49 you are a Freak .. #Ashes #200— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) September 5, 2019
What a comeback Steve Smith has made. Out for a year , comes back with twin centuries, misses a test due to injury, comes back with a double. Extraordinary player and what a delight to watch #ENGvsAUS— Mohammad Kaif (@MohammadKaif) September 5, 2019
... Steve Smith 😳!!! Whatever you may think of him.. What a player he is!!! #ENGvsAUS— Ian Bell (@Ian_Bell) September 5, 2019
@stevesmith49 is a freak... scoring 100s just seems like a formality for him 💪🏽— Jessica Jonassen (@JJonassen21) September 5, 2019
I’ve never seen anyone bat like this and be so effective it’s crazy what’s a talent he’s avg 64 and in this series 193 🤣🤣🤣 madness .....the 🏹 talked it up a bit which I love but he’s burnt 🥵 out , Root has lost the plot with handling him .— Tino95 (@tinobest) September 5, 2019
SMITH REACTS TO MIND-BLOWING KNOCK
Smith has an incredible record in Ashes cricket but he can't pinpoint a particular reason that makes him go to another level against Australia's fiercest rival, other than getting used to facing the same bowlers.
"I don't know the answer to that. Sometimes you can get in a five-match series, and having played a lot of the bowlers before in the series, you can get into a rhythm sometimes against certain bowlers and sort of get a feel for what they're going to do," he said.
"I guess that's all I can say and any big series, my mindset never changes, it's just about trying to score as many runs as I can and help the team as much as I can."
The No. 4 has been described by Australia coach Justin Langer as the best problem-solver in the world and he showed that again in Manchester, explaining how he goes about thwarting different plans thrown his way.
Smith also said England bowling short at him played into his hands because it took away modes of dismissal like bowled, LBW and caught behind.
"When you're out in the middle you go through different stages. There are times when the runs can be free flowing and you get a few boundary balls or some balls to get off strike easily too and then guys bowl a good spell and you've got to switch back on or be a bit more disciplined and be in the moment," Smith said.
"You just go through different gears I guess as a batsman and different mindsets. Generally when you score runs people try a few different tactics to you so you have to be switched on and adapt to those tactic that they're throwing at you and the plans they throw at you and get through them.
"I was just watching the ball and playing the ball. I faced a lot of short pitched bowling in my life and haven't had too many issues with it. For a day one, day two wicket, then bowling up there, I said it before the game, means they can't hit me on the pad or nick me off.
"And it softens their ball up as well. It played into our hands I think, and enabled that ball to get soft pretty quickly and for us to score some big first innings runs."
FANS CAN'T GET ENOUGH OF SMITH
A common theme among fans when Smith's score hit three figures was the belief the enigmatic star simply isn't human.
Steve Smith is not human— Matt Woosnam (@MattWoosie) September 5, 2019
Steve Smith isn’t human. He’s some kind of automated ball-hitting machine. That’s the only explanation for what we’re seeing. #Ashes— Scott Bailey (@ScottBaileyAAP) September 5, 2019