SYDNEY (AFP) – Steve Smith, once the butt of the England team's jokes, had the last laugh as Australia started and finished well in the second Ashes Test, newspapers said on Friday.
England, boosted by Ian Bell's third hundred in successive Ashes matches, fought back from an early collapse at Lord's on Thursday.
Yet just when it seemed England had regained control, part-time leg-spinner Smith took three wickets for 18 runs in six overs late in the day to reduce England to 289 for seven at stumps, having been in dire straits at 28 for three.
Australia's press made much of Smith's late contribution coming into the attack after the team's regular bowlers had failed to force home their early advantage.
"England teased Steve Smith during the last Ashes series about being in the Australian team for his jokes. But the home team wasn't laughing after Smith's raw leg spin caused a late flurry of wickets at Lord's," Fairfax Media's Chloe Saltau said.
"Smith succeeded where the regular bowlers failed, capturing three English scalps including that of Australia's nemesis, Ian Bell, as England collapsed from 4-271 to 7-289 at stumps."
Saltau said although leg spin was Smith's second skill nowadays, he could still bamboozle with the ball and was a much-improved cricketer than when he last played against England as an unorthodox-looking batsman.
The Australian's Wayne Smith mused that "if a bowler not in Australia's original Ashes squad could star as a batsman in the Trent Bridge Test, why not an initially overlooked batsman as a bowler at Lord's?"
Australia looked down and out at 117 for nine in last week's Nottingham Test when left-arm spinner Ashton Agar, a late addition to the touring party, blitzed 98 in a world record last-wicket stand to put them momentarily in front.
"The situation was starting to look almost as dire for Australia at Lord's when, with England threatening to take the match by the scruff of the neck, Michael Clarke tossed the ball to Steve Smith, a specialist batsman who was also a selectorial afterthought," said The Australian writer.
"By the time Smith had finished, Australia was not only back in the game but, as at Trent Bridge, marginally in the lead, with England limping to stumps."
Seamer Ryan Harris also came in for praise, playing his first Test in more than a year after recovering most recently from shoulder surgery to claim 3-43 from 20 carefully managed overs.
"It was felt that if Australia could just get him there, his quality as a new ball bowler would work out," The Australian columnist Gideon Haigh wrote.
"If that meant a retinue of medicos travelling just behind him, in the fashion of a support crew in the Tour de France, then so be it. And so yesterday it proved."
The Melbourne Age's Greg Baum singled out Clarke's captaincy and shrewd bowling changes for Australia's successes.
"At first, Clarke was a King Midas. Everything he touched turned to wickets," Baum said.
"Displeased with James Pattinson's erring line with the new ball, he reassigned it after two overs to Shane Watson, who immediately trapped Alastair Cook. Three times Clarke's change of bowler would produce an immediate wicket."
The Daily Telegraph's Malcolm Conn added: "More inspired captaincy from Michael Clarke has dragged Australia back into the second Test. "