BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Justin Langer has hailed Steve Smith’s ability to find a way out of even the toughest situation and says his performance against England in the first Ashes test showed all the traits of a cricketing great.
With Australia struggling on 122-8 in the first innings, Smith guided his team out of trouble with a sensational 144.
Three days later he became only the fifth Australian to score successive centuries in an Ashes test, his fluent 142 putting the visitors in control and helping them to a 251-run win over the hosts on Monday.
It was the first test in 16 months for Smith, who was stripped of the captaincy and banned for a year after team mate Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera attempting to change the condition of the ball with sandpaper during a March 2018 test in South Africa.
“I said during the summer that Virat Kohli is the best player I have ever seen but that (Smith’s centuries) is just another level,” former Australia opener Langer told reporters.
Langer said Smith had shown “enormous character, enormous courage, ... unbelievable concentration, unbelievable physical stamina, unbelievable mental stamina, all traits of great players”.
Langer said Smith always seemed to have the answers.
“You throw to him in the nets and you literally feel like you can’t get him out and there’s no batsman like that and you just end up throwing a million balls and you are just lost for answers,” Langer said.
“I guess you would have to ask England how they feel about that and they had some interesting tactics for him ... They would have studied him closely but he just has a knack, well, he is the best problem-solver in the game.”
Australia have in the past lost multiple series after taking a 1-0 lead but Langer said that he and captain Tim Paine would ensure there is no letup.
“(We) keep being honest about where we’re at; we’ve still only won one test match. And we’ve got a captain who is that focused in there and he’s the best wicketkeeper in the world,” Langer said.
“I thought the way he batted in the first innings, he freed up and he’s worked really hard. He’s a brilliant leader, a great bowler and I thought tactically he was superb.
“He is so focused in this series, so there is no way he is going to let it slip and I guarantee you, I’m not going to let it slip either.”
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford