At the business end of a demanding Ashes series, when Smith got dismissed for two of his lowest scores in the current Ashes series, England still had plenty to cheer about.
The fact that Smith’s was back to the pavilion for scores rarely seen off his bat in the recent times seemed satisfying to the English fans.
To add to that, he was put away at a ground where he averaged a mind-boggling 144 prior to these two innings. England may have found him out, after all. Never before in this tour, he faced the jarring questions, like the one he was confronted by at the Oval.
Not that Smith had anything left to prove. But the Australian side were hoping that the right-hander could trick his fatigue into oblivion to make one final push for victory.
As much Smith would have relished contributing heavily to Australia’s cause even in a losing effort, Wade had his own share of failing to justify the expectations. Unlike Edgbaston, this time, the eyes were stuck on Wade for what he can make out of this dire situation.
Having snubbed his prolific 2018-19 Sheffield Shield season, the Australian selectors welcomed him back to the Test squad. The left-hander became too good to ignore, crunching a hundred against England Lions to follow up his cracking run in the 50-over games before it.
But Ashes in England was unlike any Shield game against a state team or playing England lions. For the baggy greens, it was starting from scratch, irrespective of what they did in the preceding months. A little more than two years ago, Tim Paine was barely in the selection radar.
The Australian selectors jumped ship from Peter Nevill to Matthew Wade after the former faced the axe in response to the Hobart debacle against South Africa in 2016.
And despite underwhelming scores with the willow in hand, the selectors decided to persist with Wade. The times had changed.
That time, the Tasmanian became someone to fall back on, solely as a gloveman rather than to necessarily play big knocks. Now that Wade got picked as a specialist batsman, expectations reached heights from him like never before. To Wade, the return also meant that an exquisite display with the bat could potentially result in taking the gloves back from Paine shortly.
The Ashes 2019 has gone on to be profoundly fluctuating for the Tasmanian. Against Stuart Broad, Wade held his fort far better than most left-handers, getting dismissed by him just once in five Tests. At Edgbaston, the left-hander, after wearing it on the pads in the first innings, announced his reinstatement with a glorious hundred in the second innings.
But Smith’s brilliance had to be the standout in the first Test. At Lord’s in overcast conditions during Australia’s batting, he wasted his 44-ball vigil for six runs by freeing his arms for a cover drive. The subsequent three innings were the other batsmen’s highest chance to make credible cases because of Smith having forced to sit out.
However, Smith’s concussion substitute – Labuschagne was the sole batsman to make the most of his limited opportunities.
By the time the final Test was on the horizon, Wade had produced the spark in all the innings he had played, but only one of the knocks that ignited the fire. And England, despite knowing the destination of the urn for the next two years, weren’t going to let go of the series.
Smith walked out at the Kennington Oval, boasting of an irrefutable reputation. However, when Australia’s saviour in the series got dismissed for his lowest score, that is where Wade stepped up.
He steered the ship by adding stands of 63 with Mitchell Marsh, 52 with Tim Paine, and 44 with Pat Cummins. Despite the English bowlers plucking out breakthroughs just when things got troublesome, in hindsight, the target of 399, never looked a foregone conclusion.
Regardless of not being his most controlled knock, Wade notched up the hundred by working a delivery off Broad to the leg side. The target still looked distant, but the Australians were hardly buried under his watch. At last, Wade justified the persistence of the selectors by taking a huge leap one last time on this tour.
With Siddle striding out to bat post-Cummins’ exit, the baggy greens still stood with a glimmer of hope. But the prowess of England’s four-pronged pace attack along with the spinners receiving enough rip off the surface proved too much to handle. At the stroke of the end of the day’s play, skipper Root outfoxed the centurion to put England entirely in the box seat.
While Wade couldn’t do a Stokes of Headingley, he has kept his spot in this Australian Test setup afloat for the upcoming summer assignments. The Australian selectors may have to make some tough calls for the forthcoming home summer by choosing batsmen, well equipped to support the likes of Smith and Labuschagne.