Jofra Archer had a feeling something was not right with Steve Smith on day two at the Oval. And at the close play, after the lowest score of what has been astonishing Ashes series from the right-handed run machine, the mystery was solved.
Smith, who finally missed a straight one to fall lbw to Chris Woakes for 80 in the evening session, revealed he had been dosed up on cold remedies all day. “I’ve been struggling a little bit. I’ve got a little bit of the flu,” he explained.
Archer, fresh from his second six-wicket haul in just his fourth Test match for England, had noted a difference in how Smith looked at the crease, saying: “It might just be my perception of it but he didn’t look as nailed on as he usually is.” When Smith’s bout of the sniffles was then put to him, the fast bowler replied: “I knew there was something!”
The pair have been locked in an absorbing duel this summer, one which Smith can claim to have had the better of every since bouncing back from the concussion suffered at Lord’s when struck on the neck by a 92mph Archer short-ball.
Having missed the defeat in Headingley due to the after-effects of that blow, Smith has responded with 373 runs in three innings. In total he has batted just shy of 31 hours this series and now has 10 consecutive scores of 50 or more against English bowlers in Test cricket – a record by any batsman against one opponent.
Indeed the wicket conjured up by Woakes could almost be considered the first time England have truly got the 30-year-old out this summer. Smith’s five previous dismissals came when either chasing fast runs or the lbw at Lord’s, padding up to Woakes on 92, while still dazed from Archer’s thunderbolt.
Archer said: “It’s weird, you know. Every time he bats, I don’t know what it is. He literally cannot get out. If he plays a bad shot, the ball lands in no man’s and. For the whole series. Obviously he’s a good batter, he’s got a good temperament, but I don’t know what it is: the ball never ever goes to hand.
“We know he’s going to miss one though, and today just proves it. Funnily enough, the last person he missed one off was Woakes [at Lord’s].”
As was the case following his six for 45 at Headingley, Archer was mostly relieved to be off the field. And then doubly so when Rory Burns, whose stunning catch to remove Peter Siddle at gully wrapped up, overturned an lbw decision off the last ball of the day to see England head into day three with a lead of 78 runs and 10 wickets in hand.
On the Burns catch, Archer added: “When I saw him hit the ball, I thought it was four. It was a special catch. I don’t think you should underestimate how good the catch is, especially given the position it’s put us in. Although the Ashes are lost, we’ve still got a lot to play for – the World Test Championship and our own games. It would mean a lot for the team to win here.”