Steve Smith smashed 92 but he was on the receiving end of a fiery spell from Jofra Archer in the Lord's Test between England and Australia. (Image credit: Getty Images)
There is a reason Test cricket is the ultimate pinnacle in this sport. In Twenty20 Internationals, it is slam, bang thank you maam action. It is the format where bats dominate and bowlers are a mere sideshow. The balance between bat and ball is slowly drifting away from the ODI set-up as well. In Tests, there are many dimensions which make it one of the best formats of the game. There is five days where bowlers' patience and skills are tested every hour. There is five days in which questions on batsmen's techniques, mental strength and concentration are asked frequently. Five days in which players mature to the next level. Five days where momentum can shift anytime.
And then, there is the Ashes contests between England and Australia. There is history, there is plenty at stake and then there are events which transcend the sport and give it broader meaning. At the home of cricket which is Lord's on Sunday, the world witnessed a duel between bat and ball that would have literally thrilled the hearts of every cricket enthusiast. There was extreme pace, there was batsmanship of the highest skill, there was a terrible injury, but in the end, two men and their duel have ensured that the 2019 Lord's Ashes Test remains etched in the memories of every cricket lover for a long time.
The duel between Jofra Archer and Steve Smith captivated audiences on day 4. Archer, long hailed as one of the future talents for England, only enhanced his reputation before this Test by taking 20 wickets in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 and helping England win the title. On the other hand, Smith's twin tons in Edgbaston on his return from the ball-tampering scandal only sealed the fact that he was the gold standard of batting in Tests.
Smith was the lone warrior as the Australian top order crumbled again and his fifty once again rescued Tim Paine's side. Archer had taken two wickets and had bowled a long spell full of pace and accuracy. With Australia trailing by 78 runs, England needed a spell of the ages from one of their bowlers and Archer stood up.
16 balls of hell
In the 71st over, the first part of the Archer vs Smith duel played out. The bowler started touching the 90 miles per hour bracket but Smith was his usual, unorthodox spell and he dealt with it calmly by hammering a four through the cover. However, the last ball is a bouncer at 91 mph and it hits Smith on the left arm which requires him needing medical attention. Round 1 ends in a draw.
In the 73rd over, the pace of Archer was simply scorching. Smith got a top edge to a short ball at 88 mph and it went over the keeper. Sensing an opening, the rage factor for Archer went up. The next ball was 94 mph and Smith calmly nudged it to short fine leg. The next three balls (one was a no-ball) were all 93.7 mph, 93.3,93.7 and 93.6 but Pat Cummins dealt with it admirably. The last ball was bowled at 96.1 mph and Smith dropped it to the leg side. That was the fastest any English bowler had bowled for a long time and the crowd at Lord's was buzzing. Round two once again ended in a draw.
Steve Smith faced a ferocious spell from Jofra Archer and he was hit on the side of the neck. (Image credit: Getty Images)
In the 75th over, Cummins withstood an entire barrage of swing and bounce close to 94 mph as both survived. In the 77th over, the third round between Archer and Smith resumed and Smith struck the first blow by creaming a 92 mph short ball to deep square leg. However, on the second ball, a 92.4 mph bouncer hit Smith on the side of the neck and he went down immediately. There were concerned faces in both England and Australia teams. Nightmares of how Phillip Hughes died five years before after suffering a similar blow were rekindled. Thankfully, Smith got up and retired hurt. There was a collective sign of relief.
Smith came back out and bravely struck a couple of boundaries before he was trapped LBW for 92 by Chris Woakes as he left a full, incoming ball. The duel with Archer had forced a slight misjudgment from Smith and it told as he was not batting with the same vigour earlier.
Archer had bowled 16 consecutive deliveries at over 90 mph. It was the sixth-fastest spell bowled by an England bowler ever. When one looks at the Archer vs Smith duel, it drew comparisons with other great battles.
Epic duels beauty of Test cricket
The Bodyline series saw Harold Larwood employ short pitched bowling at the Body to thwart Don Bradman's run-making ability.
The great West Indies bowling quartet had several epic duels. Michael Holding against John Edrich and Brian Close in which he injured the batsmen so many times in the 1976 series that their toughness went up a notch. Holding against Geoffrey Boycott in 1979/80 at the Kensington Oval, Barbados, also Archer's hometown, was the sight of a ferocious one-over spell that knocked over Boycott for 0.
Andrew Flintoff and his spell against Ricky Ponting in Edgbaston 2005, Dale Steyn's spell against Sachin Tendulkar in the Cape Town Test of 2011, Michael Clarke withstanding Morne Morkel's hostility in 2011 Cape Town and Mitchell Johnson's 37-wicket carnage in 2013/14 Ashes are reflections of how duels make Test cricket the ultimate format.
The Archer vs Smith duel at Lord's once again reaffirmed one thing - Test cricket IS cricket.