LONDON • Australia cricket captain Tim Paine has hailed Steve Smith as the "best Test player in the world" after his successive centuries steered the visitors 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, the hosts 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 the knocks of 144 and 142 by Smith integral to their victory.
Of his teammate, Paine said: "Steve was unbelievable. 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 teammate Cameron Bancroft was caught on camera attempting to change the condition of the ball with sandpaper during a Test in South Africa last March.
Along with David Warner, also banned, the trio returned to Test action only last Thursday.
But while former vice-captain Warner endured a torrid time with the bat, scoring two and eight runs respectively in the first Test, 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," the former captain 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 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, before warning England his players were "here to win the Ashes, not just one Test".
"He's a bit the same as Smith - every Test or series they seem to get better, which is astonishing at their age (Lyon is 31, while Smith is 30)," the wicket-keeper batsman added.
And with the second Ashes Test fast approaching next Wednesday, England will not only have to deal with the fallout of their defeat, but also the absence of James Anderson owing to a calf injury.
Their record wicket-taker (575) broke down after just four overs in the series opener and did not bowl again.
Scans yesterday confirmed he has no chance of taking part in the game at Lord's.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan does not expect to see Anderson on duty again until the fourth Test at the earliest.
"My concern is you don't underestimate the psychological effect Jimmy has on the England team, but also the positive effect it sends through the Australia team," he said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS