Steven Smith's Ashes torment of England recalls nothing quite so much as Kevin McCallister's encounter with the burglars Marv and Harry in Home Alone. It's the lead-up to Christmas and the unwelcome visitors intend to ransack the house, but the baby-faced defender of home territory has all manner of dastardly, unorthodox genius to unleash upon them.
Like the McCallister's multi-storey Chicago home, the WACA Ground, with its rock-hard pitch and pristine outfield, provided ideal circumstances for Smith to deal out punishment, something he relished with a simple sense of hungry glee that is childlike in its purity. In raucously celebrating his 100, then 150, then 200, Smith could almost be heard shouting "you guys give up, or are you thirsty for more?" By the end of day two, Joe Root and his deputy James Anderson looked as bedraggled as Marv and Harry, their ownership of the Ashes slipping away just as surely as the wet bandits headed for prison.
The monumental nature of Smith's achievements are matching Home Alone's astronomical box office takings (US$467.7 million against a budget of $18 million) in ways that are placing him in the rarest of company. After 108 Test innings, no-one has made more runs, leaving Sir Garfield Sobers in the shade. Among Australians, only Sir Donald Bradman has taken fewer than Smith's 59 Tests to reach 22 Test hundreds. At 229 and counting, this Perth innings is Smith's highest in Test cricket.
McCallister, of course, did not seal the fate of Harry and Marv alone. He had important help from a figure considered sinister and unwanted for much of the film's duration - "Old Man" Marley. Derisively accused by Kevin's older brother Buzz of murdering his family with a snow shovel, Marley's presence is forbidding until the pair meet in church, and he then shows up right on time to apply the final blows. He does so, naturally enough, with the aforementioned snow shovel.
In the remodelled hands of Mitchell Marsh, his cricket bat became just as damaging, and his arrival on the scene just as helpful for Smith. Australia still trailed by 155 runs when Marsh replaced his brother Shaun at the crease, with plenty of questions still hanging in the air about his capabilities as a Test batsman. But five hours and 181 unbeaten runs later, both Marsh and Australia sat back with a sense of confidence greatly enhanced and domination of England ruthlessly maintained.
Reflecting on the problems created by Smith, England's assistant coach Paul Farbrace outlined the kinds of headaches he had created for opponents around the world. "We're trying very hard to get him out," he said. "We're trying to bowl lengths to get him out, trying to set fields to get him out, but he's played exceptionally well over the last two days.
"Every team will talk about where to bowl at him, you try to bowl a fifth-stump line, you try to drag him across his stumps, but the way he's playing at the moment - he seems to get into some awkward positions - but the thing he does do is get his head back into the ball and he keeps the bat face open. He hits the ball from what seems like strange positions but he seems to hit the middle of the bat on a consistent basis. We've had plans for him and been thinking about them for quite some time, but we've come up against a player in the form of his life playing absolutely fantastically.
"Anybody who moves around the crease, it is very easy to start following them, so when someone moves across the stumps you can easily think we can attack the stumps and his pads a little bit more, but that's exactly what he wants. We've tried to be disciplined and hit a good length and get the ball through somewhere around a fifth-stump line, but he does get into positions where he's able to score both sides of the wicket. One thing he does do, which all the best players do, is they score off your good balls and put you under pressure to bowl bad balls, and he doesn't miss."
While Smith's abilities to score runs right around the ground are well known - tiresomely so for England - the approach to be taken by Marsh was a source of far more intrigue. In his previous 21 Tests, reaping only two half-centuries and both of those in Asian conditions, Marsh had struggled to find the mental application and technical proficiency to survive in the middle for extended periods, offering an approach where he often propped on the front foot and threw hard hands at the ball, creating the possibilities not only for edges but also bowled and lbw dismissals.
However an extended period out of the game due to shoulder surgery allowed him the chance to reset his mindset and his method away from the spotlight of the international game. Working quietly with his batting coach Scott Meuleman and also the Western Australia coach Justin Langer, Marsh was able to build a more three-dimensional game, better utilising both front and back feet to be more secure in defence and versatile in attack.
Two years ago in England, James Anderson and Stuart Broad glimpsed Marsh's firm feet and hard hands, and this time around offered the sorts of deliveries that might well have undone him early. One of Marsh's key drills with Meuleman was to deliver throw-downs of an "in-between" length to press the batsman to make more decisive decisions about moving forward or back. Over numerous weeks and hundreds if not thousands of throw-downs, Marsh built confidence in better weight distribution, and when challenged early on by bouncing balls around off stump offered sure-headed leaves of the ball and solid defence to straighter deliveries.
Frustrated by this newfound security, England's bowlers then floated up fuller, more tempting stuff, which drifted handily into what has always been Marsh's "kill zone", the cover and straight drives. At times it seemed Marsh had murderous intentions for the umpires at the bowler's end, so straight and powerful was his driving straight back down the pitch as to cause Marais Erasmus in particular to take the sort of evasive action he would have required in his playing days. Anything short, particularly wide of the stumps, was then attacked with plenty of enthusiasm, including the forcing stroke that took Marsh to a first Test hundred in his 22nd match - four fewer, incidentally, than it took Steve Waugh.
The emotion of Marsh's subsequent celebration, charging towards the dressing room and screaming with the purest of joy, demonstrated the pent-up emotion he had channelled so effectively throughout, showcasing a pre-ball routine that has allowed him to more effectively "switch on" and "switch off" between deliveries. As the day wore on and England's bowling and fielding slackened, it was a lapse in concentration alone that was likely to bring a wicket, but Marsh refused stoutly to offer it. At the same time he was able to take some scoring pressure from Smith's shoulders, allowing the captain to preserve some of his remaining energy for further run-making on day four: it was that sort of mutually supportive partnership.
In captaining WA against Smith's New South Wales recently, Marsh empathised with England. "I think he's certainly got an aura," Marsh said of Smith. "I know what its like because I've captained against him a couple of months ago and it's not very nice. You come up with all these plans and none of them seem to work. He's a special player for Australia, he's a great captain, leads by example, and hopefully he and I can keep going tomorrow."
It would be unkind not to conclude the Home Alone parallels without mentioning the men whose roles most closely mirror those of the film's producer and screenwriter John Hughes and its director Chris Columbus - Australia's selectors. Faced with plenty of questions about their thinking when choosing Shaun Marsh and Tim Paine for the first Test, then recalling Mitchell Marsh for the third, the panel comprising the chairman Trevor Hohns, the coach Darren Lehmann, Greg Chappell and Mark Waugh have had their decisions handsomely vindicated with a series of vital displays by the players they ran against popular opinion to choose. In each case they have chosen players feeling comfortable in themselves and their games, ready to perform under pressure.
As Marsh put it: "The whole build-up for this game I've been a lot more relaxed than in the past, quietly a lot more confident in my game because I've worked so hard. When you go into a game knowing you've done everything possible to try to succeed then you can hopefully just relax and enjoy it, and that's what I've been doing the last couple of days."
Those successes, then, raise the possibility for England that Home Alone may well be followed by Home Alone 2 and 3 in Melbourne and Sydney. Perhaps fortunately for those cast as the wet bandits, there is no plan to extend this Ashes series any further than that.