Steve Smith spoke of his pride after his brilliant double century put Australia in complete control of the fourth Ashes Test against England at Old Trafford.
Smith struck 211, his third hundred of the series in just his fourth innings, as Australia posted a formidable 497-8 declared on the second day in Manchester.
Smith’s innings showed Australia what they missed in the third Test defeat at Headingley, a match the former captain was forced to miss due to concussion.
“It was a huge moment,” said Smith of the moment he reached 200. “Obviously I’m really proud to score a double hundred for Australia and put us in the position we’re in now.
“It’s satisfying to get a big score. Obviously it was disappointing to miss the third Test, particularly with the way it finished. It was an amazing Test match and a shame not to be a part of it.
“But I wasn’t quite right, wasn’t able to play there, the right call was made. It gave me time to recover and get my head right after my concussion.
“I felt good coming in to the game and was confident and fortunately I scored some runs and got ourselves in a nice position.”
For all his excellence, Smith’s innings was not chanceless. He was dropped on 65 early on Friday and later had a reprieve on 118 when he was caught off a Jack Leach no-ball.
Smith had been on his way back to the pavilion when he was recalled following a third umpire review.
He said: “Obviously I had some luck. I think you always need some luck when you score big runs. It fell my way today.
“I thought I was out so I was a bit angry with the shot that I played. When I saw the foot over the line and (umpire) Kumar (Dharmasena) called me back I thought, ‘How good is this! I get to keep on batting’.
“Obviously I had some luck and I made the most of it from there.”
Faced with the prospect of 10 overs before stumps England reached 23-1 – Joe Denly’s return to opener yielding just four runs before he turned Pat Cummins to short-leg, where Matthew Wade held one-handed at the second attempt.
England will be ruing their own handiwork – Jofra Archer missing a caught-and-bowled chance from Smith in the second over of the day – while spinner Leach will have nightmares about the front foot no-ball that reprieved the right-hander when he edged to slip on 118.
Joe Root was Smith’s unlikely downfall, reverse-sweeping one of the England’s captain’s occasional leg-breaks to short third man after 319 balls in the middle.
England’s poor day in the field also saw Tim Paine dropped twice on his way to 58, while their talisman, Ben Stokes, did not bowl again after receiving treatment for shoulder pain midway through his 11th over.
The day began with Smith resuming on 60 but looking unusually vulnerable – a passage that turned out to be a mere prologue for his day’s work.
Smith was beaten by five of the first 10 deliveries, playing and missing twice, edging short of the slips and past his own stumps.
The only authentic chance came from Archer’s low full-toss, which Smith pushed back to the seamer at waist height. Archer failed to get a firm hand on it and a golden opportunity for England turned into four runs for Australia.
Smith was off and running now, effortlessly steering Stuart Broad to the third-man boundary to ram home the point.
As so often, England’s best hope was to chip away at his partners, with Travis Head (19) and Wade (16) offering only token resistance.
Head became Broad’s 17th victim of the series, and the 12th left-hander, when he fell lbw and Wade had a rush of blood, charging at Leach and looping high to Root at mid-on.
Smith was unmoved, easing to 99 with 10 successive singles and then flicking Craig Overton for two to reach a familiar milestone just before lunch.
The afternoon session was a debacle for England, with Australia adding 124 without loss.
The numbers tell only half the story though, Paine shelled on nine by Jason Roy at slip and 49 by Stokes’s replacement fielder Sam Curran.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow said: “Fair play to the way Smith has come out and played. He’s obviously got the bit between his teeth and is in great form. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit for the way he’s applied himself and scored the runs that he has.
“I’m not sure we’re the only team around the world who’ve tried a few different plans (to get him out). We’ll be sticking to the plans we’ve got.
“He played and missed at some balls today which we’ve not seen him play and miss at previously in the series and on another day we get him out slightly earlier.”
Yorkshire star Bairstow added: “There’s three innings still to go in the game. There’s still three days of cricket left. If we can go out and apply ourselves tomorrow, set our stall out to bat for a long period of time like we did at Headingley there’s no reason why not.”
Smith is back: Page 25