The first day of the new Ashes series produced some riveting cricket. It was yet another proof of the fact that this game is way more exciting when the bowlers have an equal chance of succeeding as the batsmen. But what would stand out from this day in the memory of everyone was the incredible innings of Steve Smith.
The former Australia captain, returning to Test cricket after a gap of more than one year, batted in the face of top quality bowling from Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes as well as a complete collapse of the Australian batting order, to score one of his finest Test hundreds. For all those who doubted his ability to succeed in English conditions, this was a befitting response.
But there was one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb through this wonderful day of Test cricket. It was the constant booing that Smith had to endure, including when he got to his hundred and when he got out. Of course, the crowd has the right to boo the three returning Aussie cricketers – Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft – who were banned for blatant ball-tampering. But for them to do so even when the Aussie batsman completed a magnificent hundred was a bit petty.
Smith and Australia have suffered enough for their ignoble acts. Still, if you hold a grudge against them, at least have the civility to applaud an innings that is among the best in recent times. However, Australian fans and even the Australian team can't be too critical of the acts of the English crowd. To know why, cast your mind back to 2013.
The first Ashes Test of that year, played at Nottingham, produced a very controversial moment. Stuart Broad edged a delivery bowled by Ashton Agar, and the nick got deflected off the gloves of Australian wicket-keeper Brad Haddin and went to first slip. It was adjudged not out by umpire Kumar Dharmasena.
Suddenly, the entire Australian media turned hostile to Broad and vilified him in the most extreme manner for not walking. It was constantly repeated that Broad didn't walk despite edging the ball to first slip. What was conveniently overlooked was the fact that the ball went to the first slip off the gloves of Haddin.
To make it worse, during the course of the series, the then Aussie coach, Darren Lehmann, asked his countrymen to make Broad 'cry' when he comes to Australia for the next Ashes series later in the year. The indignation on the part of the Aussies seemed utterly hypocritical considering the highly-coloured past of Australian teams and some of their players in following the 'spirit of the game.'
It can be easily remembered, especially by Indians, that the Aussies took various liberties with the expected sportsmanship from cricketers and didn't shy away from dodgy means of gaining an advantage – be it through dirty sledging or other ways. The fact that Australian cricketers, apart from Adam Gilchrist, never walked was conveniently overlooked.
As expected, not only was Broad booed throughout the 2013/14 Ashes series in Australia but all sorts of strange and mean ways were adopted of targeting him. One Aussie newspaper declared that they won't use his name in their match reports while one expert described him as a 'pratt.' The booing of Broad continued through the 5 Tests despite the English being thrashed black and blue thanks to the searing pace of Mitchell Johnson.
Now, the tables have turned. The English fans are dishing out the same kind of mean treatment that their Australian counterparts subjected Broad to, despite the latter's infraction being minor compared to what the Aussies were doing. Hence, as much as the booing of Smith was unfair, he and his team can't complain about it.