For most of this Ashes series Steven Smith has, to crib from Bobby Jones on Jack Nicklaus, played a game with which we are not familiar. Australian Test cricket's biggest day - and the tension release of a dead rubber - coaxed David Warner to reach a similarly rarified level of batting, as he made light work of an MCG surface on which others struggled notably.
Yet by the end of the day Smith had once again provided a reminder of his greatness, this time by showcasing a level of orthodoxy thrust upon him by a sore and uncooperative right hand. Where Warner was unable to exert his will on these Ashes until their destiny had been decided, Smith has been a master of adaptability throughout, and this time was able to reshape his game to account for a personal, physical disadvantage as effectively as he has evaded all England's attempts to corral him.
An MCG crowd that ultimately swelled to 88,172 were still settling into their seats, or bar-side perches, when Warner and Cameron Bancroft walked to the middle after Smith had won his first toss of the series. As if to underline his aggressive intent, Warner waited only until his second ball to throw his hands at a James Anderson delivery angled across him, sending an airy forcing shot into the ground's cavernous outfield for three runs.
Where Warner spent most of the first three Tests trying not to be tempted into error by England's attempts to bowl "dry" with defensive fields, this time he was intent upon domination, hustling quick singles early on before punching Stuart Broad down the ground with the sort of checked swing that David Boon once delighted in. Next over he repeated the dose with a little more flourish against Anderson, drawing the coos of spectators who, a year ago, had seen him soar to 144 against Pakistan.
In this mood Warner gives bowlers the bare minimum of safe space in which to put the ball, sometimes reducing it to no space at all. Certainly Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali were made to feel this way as precise footwork and those powerful arms turned serviceable deliveries with only minute errors in length into boundary balls. So much at ease did Warner feel that, in the final over of the morning session, he sallied forth to deposit Moeen beyond the rope at long on - at that point he needed 17 runs for a century and briefly caused observers to wonder whether he might tuck similarly into the final three balls to go to his hundred.
Though they did not distinguish themselves in terms of either bowling discipline or field placings in the morning, England gave Warner further pause after the resumption, as Joe Root's bowlers reverted to a line wider of the off stump with a softer ball. It was attritional, boring even, and after play Anderson admitted this was not the sort of cricket that nearly 90,000 spectators had come to see. But for Warner it was a test of his patience, and it so very nearly ended his innings short of three figures.
As the debutant Tom Curran sought to frustrate, Warner resorted to the half-pull swivel shot that has brought him plenty of runs but also numerous damaging dismissals, notably in England in 2015 when he was unable to turn a series of starts into even a single hundred. Having tried it once in the over for no run, Warner went again and skied it to mid on, only for replays to reveal Curran had overstepped disastrously.
"I was disappointed with the way that I played that shot," Warner said. "I've played it many times over my career. Uzzy [Khawaja] spoke just before that over about being cautious of the horizontal cut shots and pull shots and making sure we were committed if we were going to play it. To play two in the same over, and one potentially dismissing me, I was quite annoyed, yeah. Then getting recalled was fantastic, but it was a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions.
"Live by the sword, die by the sword. I score all my runs there, I'm not going to change it. In England it's a tad slower wickets and [it was] a bit the same today, but today was more about a half-hearted effort to pull that. I should've committed to the shot but I didn't, and those dismissals in England were pretty much trying to tuck the ball in how I got the single to get my hundred. That's the way I have to play that, I can probably play it a lot more than what I can on slower wickets, that's for sure."
The subsequent single, celebration and exchanges with Curran and other members of the England team were all classic Warner theatre, complete with the Toyota-approved "oh what a feeling" leap and plenty of niggle towards the opposition. But the way his innings unfolded, attacking early before calming down, followed the plans he had set for himself pre-match, it was a measure of his talent that he was able to follow it so effectively as others like Cameron Bancroft and Khawaja struggled to impose themselves.
"We spoke a lot to a couple of guys who've played Shield cricket down here this year and they said the wicket's been quite flat and hadn't deteriorated as such and hadn't really turned," Warner said. "So we had a few conversations around what we could do with the new ball if we batted first. I felt the way I can play was to come out and have a bit more intent to score with the new ball. I thought he ball started shifting around after 20 overs when Jimmy came on for his second spell.
"There was then that second period where they set straight fields and bowled one side of the wicket and it was hard to score. We talked about having that intent in the first 20-25 overs with the new ball to make the most of that, and then we knew it was going to be tough and challenging. In the game of cricket, it's always hard to keep bowling those consistent areas, but that middle period they bowled very well."
When Warner did finally succumb, edging Broad to end the sort of drought less familiar to the Englishman than it had once been to Queensland farmers in the 1990s, Smith walked to the crease accompanied by expectant applause. But those crowd members who had availed themselves of Australian training sessions in the lead-up to Boxing Day would have realised that this was not the same Smith who outlasted England in Brisbane or dominated them in Perth. An already sore right hand had been inflamed by a freak blow from a Bancroft ricochet, something that Smith had admitted he would have to adapt to deal with.
The powerful influence of Smith's right hand on his technique, which has drawn numerous keenly-observed parallels to the widely known but seldom imitated method of Sir Donald Bradman, is clear from how expertly he can work the leg side field, yet with wrists limber enough to hit powerfully through cover - his two most consistent scoring zones. However side-on cameras captured Smith consciously loosening his bottom hand grip as the bowler moved into delivery stride, meaning he had to rely more heavily on the more traditional guide provided by the top, left hand.
A clear deficit in power was shown when Smith knocked several balls through cover where previously he would have crunched them, but he was both versatile enough to play new shots with sureness and patient enough to avoid lapsing into momentarily productive strokes that would have hurt his right hand further. In gliding to an undefeated 65 at just about a run a ball, Smith set the platform for yet another major innings, doing so with the sort of annoying impediment that Steve Waugh once had to deal with while crafting a second hundred in the same Manchester Test match in 1997. Warner, for one, was awed by it all.
"He's just a freak," he said of Smith. "I don't know how he does what he does, he's very mentally strong, we always talk about the way that he prepares, he likes batting time in the nets and then out in the game he just seems to be hitting every ball out of the middle. England said they came up with a game plan to get him out and it obviously hasn't worked so far this game.
"He's a freak talent, he's got a unique technique that you wouldn't teach any other kid - I hope there's some kids trying to mimic his technique because it'd be quite interesting to have a team full of those, there'd be a lot of fidgets. But he's a world-class player, he's the No. 1 ranked Test batter in the world. He seriously is a freakish talent."
Much as the hand injury had suggested Smith might be brought back to the field, so too did Anderson think the new ball would cause discomfort. But after beating Smith with one perfectly-pitched seamer, Anderson found himself running into what is now the all-too-familiar brick wall of Smith's broad bat. "Every now and again you come up against a player who is in the form of his life," he said. "I beat the bat and thought 'here we go' then the next 11 balls I bowled at him he played fairly easily. You've just got to hope for a mistake or hope you bowl a ball good enough to get rid of him."
After Jones' comment about Nicklaus, at Augusta in 1965, the "Golden Bear" won another four Masters titles over 21 years. Right now, Smith's hegemony looks like going on for almost as long.