BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Australia captain Tim Paine hailed Steve Smith as the best player in the world after his successive centuries steered Australia to a 251 run win over England in the first Ashes test on Monday.
Chasing a daunting 398 runs to win on day five at Edgbaston, England were bowled out before tea for 146 as Australia won the opening test of an away Ashes series for the first time since 2005.
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 as he scored a fluent 142 to put the visitors in control of the match.
“Steve Smith was unbelievable,” Paine said. “He’s the best test player in the world. He’s probably the best ever, statistically. And while he’s at the crease our team has got real confidence.
“Today we were superb with the ball but having someone like Steve... definitely helps.”
Smith was stripped of the captaincy and handed a 12-month ban by Cricket Australia 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.
Bancroft and David Warner were also banned for their part in the incident and they returned to test action with Smith on Thursday.
While Warner endured a torrid time with the bat, scoring two and eight runs respectively in the first test, the 30-year-old Smith has made up for lost time by punishing the England bowlers.
“I’m loving being back playing cricket for Australia, doing what I love and contributing to wins,” Smith said.
“To score two hundreds in a match - the first time I’ve done that in any form of cricket in my life - is very special and I’m very proud.”
Paine also praised 31-year-old spinner Nathan Lyon, who made the difference with the ball on the final day, taking 6-49 to give his side the early advantage in the five-match series.
“He’s a bit the same as Smith - every test or series they seem to get better, which is astonishing at their age,” Paine added.
“If you come and see them train you’ll see that while they keep getting better, they’re a great example for our group.
“There’s still four tests to go. We’re here to win the Ashes, not just one test.”
Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Pritha Sarkar