MELBOURNE: Steve Smith again proved the immovable obstacle for England as he posted another century to bat out a draw for Australia in the fourth Ashes Test in Melbourne on Saturday, denying the tourists their first win of the series.
The Australia skipper stonewalled the English bowling attack to remain unconquered on 102 for his third century of the series as the Test petered out to a draw late on the final day. He joined the legendary Don Bradman as the only batsmen to score centuries in four consecutive Melbourne Tests.
Smith has been the difference between the two sides in the series, and has now amassed 604 runs in six innings at an astonishing average of 151. “I’m enjoying (batting), it’s a shame we had to call it off in the last hour, I could have had another hour out there,” Smith said. “It was good fun … I feel like I’m hitting the ball really well and hopefully I can end the series really well in Sydney.”
Australia lost only two wickets on the fifth day and coasted through after lunch to finish on 263 for four, with Mitchell Marsh — not out on 29 off 166 balls — providing support for Smith. The hosts have already clinched the Ashes with an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series ahead of the fifth and final Test in Sydney next week.
It was just the second drawn Boxing Day Test in 20 years, although there was criticism of the lifeless state of the Melbourne Cricket Ground drop-in pitch. “I am very proud about the way we went about it,” England captain Joe Root said. “Off three very difficult games and to put in a performance like that is really pleasing and that’s what we’re about as a side,” he added. “That’s a fair reflection of what we are capable of as a team.”
Smith and Marsh comfortably batted through after lunch to prevent England from going for the win after leading by 164 runs on the first innings, following a record-breaking unbeaten 244 from opener Alastair Cook. Smith, who frustrated England with an unconquered 141 in Brisbane and his Test-best 239 in Perth, led the salvage operation in a 275-ball vigil after losing batting partners David Warner and Shaun Marsh before lunch.
After two painstaking hours of minimal scoring, the tourists grabbed the wickets of Warner and Marsh to briefly raise hopes of grabbing their first win in the already-decided series. Warner had looked set for his 22nd Test hundred and second century of the match before he attempted to slog the second ball of Joe Root’s first over.
The ball, pitched into the foot marks, skewed into the air and James Vince took a comfortable catch in the covers to give Root the perfect present on his 27th birthday. Warner dropped his head realising he had botched a golden chance to claim Test twin centuries for a fourth time in his career.
The normally adventurous opener played with great circumspection to keep England at bay, batting for 301 minutes and 227 balls in his slowest Test innings. His dismissal also ended a 107-run stand with Smith, which had helped Australia wipe out the innings deficit.
There was some rare excitement in the final over before lunch when Marsh edged Stuart Broad to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, who took a splendid catch. Cook was named man-of-the-match after carrying his bat in England’s first innings.
It was the highest score by a batsman carrying his bat in Test history, bettering New Zealander Glenn Turner’s 223 not out against the West Indies in Kingston in 1972. The last Englishman to carry his bat through a Test innings was Mike Atherton with 94 against New Zealand in 1997.
Cook also surpassed the highest score by a visiting batsman in a Test match at the famous MCG, bettering the 208 by West Indian great Viv Richards in 1984. There was a total attendance of 262,616 fans over the five days of the showpiece Boxing Day Test.