Ashes: Steve Smith 'the best player in the world', says Australia's Tim Paine

Captain pays tribute to predecessor for scoring two centuries in first Test at Edgbaston after tourists crush England

Australia's Steve Smith celebrates defeating England by 251 runs during day five of the Ashes Test match at Edgbaston, Birmingham. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday August 5, 2019. See PA story CRICKET England. Photo credit should read: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the ECB. Still image use only. No moving images to emulate broadcast. No removing or obscuring of sponsor logos
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Tim Paine hailed Steve Smith for "probably the best Test match performance we have seen" after Australia completed a crushing 251-run win over England in the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston.

For much of the match it was unclear which of the two players was actually captaining the away side.

Smith led from the front with a remarkable pair of centuries, and he was often seen gesticulating to fielders and instructing bowlers during Australia’s fielding effort.

Paine, who took over the Australia captaincy from Smith in the wake of the sandpaper furore in South Africa last year, played a far less striking role in the win.

But he will be unperturbed if Smith – whom Paine labelled “the best player in the world” – keeps performing the same way over the remaining four Tests.

“I wouldn't say surprised,” Paine said in his post-match TV interview, referring to the fact Australia won so convincingly, despite being 122-8 on Day 1.

“I thought we were up against it at one stage but we had the best player in the world at the crease.

“We are running out to things to say about him. [It was] probably the best Test match performance we've seen.”

Cricket - Ashes 2019 - First Test - England v Australia - Edgbaston, Birmingham, Britain - August 5, 2019   Australia's Steve Smith gestures to teammates in the field   Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

It was the first time Australia had won a Test at Edgbaston, which is regarded as England’s traditional stronghold, since 2001. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Australia won an Ashes series in England.

The away side needed little more than half of the final day to take the 10 wickets they needed to force the win.

Nathan Lyon took 6-49 and Pat Cummins 4-32, as England were bowled out for 146.

Nobody did more to bring about the win than Smith, and he fittingly took the catch of Chris Woakes which sealed the win in his side’s favour.

“I'm just grateful to be back playing for Australia, doing what I love and contributing to wins,” Smith said after accepting the player of the match award.

“It’s been a special comeback and I'm over the moon to be standing here now and contributing to a win for Australia.”

Smith said it had been an “amazing atmosphere” at the match, even though he had been subjected to a variety of chants from home supporters referencing his misadventure last year.

The home fans had taunted him by singing, “We saw you cry on the telly,” and he appeared close to doing similar in the first innings at Edgbaston – tears of joy, after reaching his century.

“It was pretty emotional, I had to take a few deep breaths and take it in, realise what I'd done,” Smith said. “It was probably as special as my first hundred for Australia in 2013.

“I’m really pleased, and hope I can keep contributing throughout the series. It has been a long 18 month for me, and friends and family got me through some difficult times and got me back where I am.

“To have started as well as we have, and as well as a team, I just hope we can continue."

Joe Root, England’s captain, defended the decision to play James Anderson.

Anderson was declared fit following a calf injury, but succumbed to the same complaint after bowling just four overs at the start of the match.

"It was a group decision in terms of the selection of him," Root said.

"He passed all the fitness tests, and it's just one of those freak things that can happen in in cricket. It's disappointing, but we've got to try and respond to that and make sure that we get things exactly how we want them at Lord's."

The second Test starts at Lord’s on Thursday, August 14.