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Cricket star Smith redeemed all of Australia : A shuffling athlete of the century

Sometimes, maybe only a few times a century, there are such athletes. People from whom great things are expected at really every performance: Muhammad Ali, Usain Bolt, Roger Federer. And - it may have passed by most of the Germans - cricketer Steve Smith recently proved himself to be such an athlete of the century.

Actually, his job as a batsman is very simple: He has to knock balls thrown at him. But in the past six weeks, Smith has done a lot more. He has rescued both himself and all of Australian sport from a deep crisis. In the prestigious Ashes series, he practically single-handedly humiliated arch-rival and newly crowned world champion England.

He has made sports history for the ages, and in doing so has earned comparisons with the truly incomparable cricket legend Don Bradman. Steve Smith, said former England captain Alastair Cook last week, is simply "a freak".

Smith's career was practically over not long ago. At the beginning of 2018, as captain of the national team, he was held responsible for a scandal in which Australian players had manipulated the ball with sandpaper in favor of their own throwers. The affair rocked Australian sport, which suddenly had to question its culture of winning at all costs. A crying Smith confessed to the fraud, lost the armband and was banned for twelve months.

In England, of all places, Smith was finally able to play for Australia again in 2019. Both the World Cup and the Ashes series, which is almost even more important for England and Australia, took place on the island this summer.

After the World Cup triumph, the hosts expected a summer fairy tale in which Smith was to play the role of villain. When the series started, the English fans whistled him out at every opportunity. Some even disguised themselves in sandpaper.

Much more than the World Cup, which is played in the shortened form of cricket, the Ashes series is a stage on which one can show real size. The eternal duel over five games of five days each is a tactically complex and psychologically exhausting fight that can actually only be won collectively. Unless you're Steve Smith.

Broken several records

Like a phoenix from the ashes, he rehabilitated himself on this Ashes series and made a rather mediocre Australian team unbeatable. Not only by scoring twice as many points as anyone else and breaking several records in the process. But also by fading out the whistles and slowly letting England's self-confidence wane.

To win an Ashes game, you have to lead all opposing batsmen twice. With Smith, however, all attempts failed. "It's weird. It just can't be played," said English thrower Jofra Archer.

It's all the stranger because with every action he looks like he's about to make a mistake. World-class batsmen are usually recognized by their elegance, but Smith shuffles and wriggles towards the ball. If he were a footballer, he would be a mixture of Thomas Müller and Cristiano Ronaldo. Technically, he looks like an eight-year-old child in the schoolyard, but still exudes unbeatability.

Concussion after being hit in the head

In the end, England had to resort to other means. In the second Ashes game, Archer hit him in the head with a ball. After the dramatic comeback in the third game, which Smith missed with a concussion, many English felt they had the momentum back on the series.

But then Smith came back and dashed all hope with another 200 points. Australia won the fourth game and thus the title.

Now there are no more whistles from the home fans. Smith's greatness on this series outshone both the rivalry and his past sins. Now he's even compared to the legend Bradman, whose 80-year-old Ashes point record he chased on Sunday. If he hadn't had the flu last week, he might have broken the mark.

Bradman, by the way, resigned in 1948 with a career average of 99.94 points per game. Even the biggest stars rarely get past 55. So he was almost twice as good as any other cricket legend. Except maybe Steve Smith, the athlete of the century.

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