Steven Smith caps epic 2017 with hundred to deny England

Australia 327 (Warner 103, Smith 76, S Marsh 61, Broad 4-51, Anderson 3-61) and 4 for 263 (Smith 102*, Warner 86) drew with England 491 (Cook 244*, Root 61, Broad 56, Cummins 4-117, Hazlewood 3-95, Lyon 3-109)

The Boxing Day Test started as a dead rubber, and by day five rigor mortis had well and truly set in. David Warner scored the slowest half-century of his Test career and Steven Smith ground out his second-slowest Test hundred as Australia dead-batted their way to a draw that ensured there was no consolation victory for England at the MCG, despite Alastair Cook’s monumental bat-carrying effort of 244. But neither will there be an Australian clean sweep.

The day began with Australia on 2 for 103, still trailing by 61 runs. England could reasonably have hoped that a couple of early wickets might give them a strong victory chance. But on the most docile of pitches it took a batting brain-explosion to break the partnership between Smith and Warner, when Warner inexplicably tried to smash the part-time offspin of Joe Root over the infield. Only one more wicket fell for the entire day’s play.

When the captains agreed to call it off, Australia were on 4 for 263. They had eked out 160 runs in almost a full day of Test cricket. Their overall run-rate of 2.42 for the match was Australia’s lowest in a home Test for nearly 24 years. At the close of play, Smith was on 102 from 275 deliveries, and he had struck just six fours. Mitchell Marsh was on 29 from 166 deliveries, the kind of innings of which his father, the dour opener Geoff Marsh, would have been proud.

Still, Smith’s efforts in salvaging a draw for Australia should not be downplayed. This was his sixth and final Test century of 2017, and he joined Ricky Ponting as the only men in Test history to have scored six hundreds in a calendar year on multiple occasions. His century eventually came up from his 259th delivery; not only was it not his slowest Test hundred, it was not even his slowest this series, for Smith had taken 261 balls at the Gabba.

Smith will also finish 2017 as the highest run-getter in Test cricket for the year, with 1305 at 76.76. It is a remarkable individual performance, but this innings again showed how critical Smith is to Australia’s results in any given Test. He soaked up any remaining pressure on the final morning and by the time he and Mitchell Marsh had batted right through the middle session, a draw was all but certain.

The session was a much-needed steadier for Australia after England claimed the wickets of Warner and Shaun Marsh shortly before the lunch break to give themselves a sniff of victory. Warner had crawled to the slowest half-century of his Test career, a 161-ball effort that ran completely against type, but he threw his wicket away on 86 when he skied a catch off Root.

Marsh edged behind off Stuart Broad for 4 on the stroke of lunch, falling to a fine catch by Jonny Bairstow moving to his left, to leave Australia only 14 runs in front at the break, with six wickets in hand. It had been a slow-scoring two-and-a-half-hour session for the Australians; the first 14 overs of the day brought only 20 runs as Smith and Warner focused almost exclusively on survival.

And by the close of play their aim had been realised. If the MCG’s drop-in pitch was disappointingly bereft of character, it was still only the second draw at the ground in the past 20 Tests. But a little more life to this dead rubber would have appreciated by all concerned.


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