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Steve Smith: History never repeats - or does it?

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9th August, 2019
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When Steve Smith scored twin centuries in the Ashes Test at Edgbaston last week, he was mentioned in the same breath as Don Bradman by many commentators.

In fact, he followed in the footsteps of the first Test cricketer to ever achieve that feat. Perhaps this is a more suitable comparison because just how closely he is linked to a largely forgotten Australian batsman is quite remarkable.

In 1909, Warren Bardsley was on the first of his four Ashes tours, but it could well have been his last. After the first four Tests of the series, the left-handed opener was averaging just 16.

In the fifth Test at the Oval, Bardsley was joined at the crease by Victor Trumper with the score at 4-58.

A partnership of 118 followed but, when Trumper was dismissed, Bardsley continued on to 136. What a relieved man he must have been.

When the Australians second innings began 27 runs behind England, Bardsley predicted to the Australian scorer, Bill Ferguson, that he would score another hundred. He and his opening partner, Syd Gregory, put on 180 in just over two hours for the first wicket – an Australian Test record for the first wicket that stood for over 50 years.

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Leading 2-1 in the series this helped to guarantee the Ashes win. By the time Sydney Barnes trapped Bardsley in front, he had scored a chanceless 130 and time had run out for the home team to force a victory.

Chosen as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year, Bardsley’s whole career was turned around by his centuries in each innings.

So what parallels are there between this feat and Smith’s achievement 110 years later?

It starts at Bardsley’s birth in 1882. Despite his first name coming from the NSW country town where the birth was registered, his actual birthplace was the nearby township of Nevertire.

What an apt name for a cricketer who, like Smith, seemingly never tired of the game and his practice. Bardsley’s grade cricket career continued past his own half-century and his Test career spanned 17 years.

Having had a hiatus of eight years (1912-1920), he returned to Test cricket after the Great War. Incredibly, at the age of 43, he was selected for the 1926 Ashes trip and became the oldest Australian to do so.

When captain Herb Collins was injured during a troubled tour, Bardsley became the skipper for two Tests. During this series, he became only the third Test batsman to carry his bat when he made a remarkable 193 at the Lord’s Test.

Like Smith, his love of the game and his total dedication to it began at an early age under the tutelage of his father. From his early school days at Forest Lodge Public School in Glebe, he was a determined trainer.

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A serious man who was often pessimistic and a worrier, he was so committed to being fit for the game he loved, that he was a teetotaller, non-smoker and vegetarian.

Apparently so committed to cricket, Bardsley was 62 before he found the time to marry Gertrude Cope in 1945.

On the 1909 tour, Bardsley was always first to the ground on match days, “casing the joint for stealing runs” according to Ray Robinson. Sound familiar? His insatiable thirst for runs and thorough preparation never left him throughout his career.

One of his successors as Test captain, Bill Woodfull, wrote of him; “of all the first-class cricketers, never have I met a player so engrossed in his practice as Warren Bardsley.” Echoes of this description have been heard all over the cricket world in the many words attempting to sum up the secrets of Smith’s success.

When Wisden editor Sidney Pardon asked “How can England win when Australia has Bardsley?” he could not have known that the same question was to be asked over a hundred years later about an Australian batsman who has unknowingly emulated not just a rare achievement but mirrored the character behind it of the man from the so aptly named Nevertire.

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