LONDON - Steve Smith has walked the tightrope between next big thing and next man dropped this Ashes series.
But finally the talented 24-year-old, who started his international life as Australia's next blond legspinner, took the most crucial step in his career so far, scoring an emphatic unbeaten maiden Test century at The Oval.
Australia declared in a dominant position at 9-492 from 128.5 overs on day two of the fifth Test, with Smith still standing on 138 not out. The declaration gave England 25 overs to survive before stumps, and when bad light ended play a few overs early on an already rain-affected day, England were 0-32 with Alastair Cook (17no) and Joe Root (13no).
Australia hit the accelerator after tea, to pile on 95 runs from 11.5 overs, with Smith (16 fours, 2 sixes) sharing in valuable lower-order stands with debutant James Faulkner (23), Mitchell Starc (13) and Ryan Harris (33).
England's stalling tactics returned, with those 11.5 overs taking 64 minutes to bowl.
Smith took some advice from captain Michael Clarke to heart about putting milestone nerves to one side, as he became just the seventh Australian to blast a six to bring up a breakthrough Test ton.