Australia lead by 460 runs with three days of the match remaining after second day of the fifth Test at The Oval.
Steven Smith's hundred puts pressure on England in fifth Ashes Test
Steven Smith’s first Test hundred ensured that Australia maintained their grip on the Ashes finale at The Oval yesterday,
Smith’s 138 not out powered Australia to an imposing first-innings total of 492 for nine declared on the second day as they sought a consolation win after England had already taken the series at 3-0 up.
When bad light ended play for the day, England were 32 without loss, a deficit of 460 runs going into today’s third day, with captain Alastair Cook unbeaten on 17 and Joe Root on 13 not out.
It was Smith’s day, however.
“I’ve worked pretty hard over the last year or so on a few things and I’m pretty happy with where my game is at,” he said.
“Obviously a big score was what I was looking for and to get one out here today was very pleasing.”
Smith got to three figures in memorable fashion as he struck a Jonathan Trott delivery for six, leading to an emotional scene as he was embraced by teammate Brad Haddin.
Of the stroke, he added: “I said to Hadds [Haddin] before the start of that over, what do you reckon about just trying to hit him over his head?
“It ended up in the right spot and I got a hold of it in the end, so I was happy with that. I knew I’d got enough of it to go over the top. I was just hoping I had enough to go for six and it felt pretty good.”
Smith, whose previous Test best was a 92 against India in Mohali in March, batted for more than six-and-a-half hours and faced 241 balls with 16 fours and two sixes.
Despite his efforts, which followed up Shane Watson’s 176 on the opening day, Smith still feels there is more to come as he and Australia prepare for the return Ashes series in the winter on home soil.
“I’m close to where I want to be,” he said. “There are a few things I need to still tinker with but I’m getting there.”
Australia’s hopes of forcing a result had been frustrated initially as rain washed out the first session.
Smith was 66 not out and nightwatchman Peter Siddle 18 not out when play finally did begin after lunch.
The overcast conditions, despite the glare of floodlights, were more friendly to the bowlers, especially the seamers, than Wednesday’s blue skies, when England debutant bowlers Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan struggled.
Indeed, so poor was left-arm spinner Kerrigan’s first-day return of none for 53 in eight overs, he didn’t bowl at all on Thursday.
It did not take long for paceman James Anderson, who on Wednesday moved past Bob Willis into second place in England’s all-time list of leading Test wicket-takers, to make the breakthrough.
Anderson bowled Siddle with a superb ball that clipped the top of off stump.
But when seam-bowling all-rounder Woakes dropped short, Smith pulled him for four to go to 89 – the same score he made in the drawn third Test at Old Trafford.
Smith made sure he went on to his hundred against Trott, but four balls later, Haddin played on to the same bowler for 30 to give Trott a measure of revenge.
An embarrassing post-tea session then followed, where Cook set excessively defensive fields even when the tailenders, rather than Smith, were on strike, saw England concede 95 runs in 11.5 overs as Australia went on the offensive in a bid to end any hope of an England victory, while boosting their own in the process.
James Faulkner holed out to give fellow debutant Woakes a first Test wicket before Graeme Swann, who did not bowl until three hours into the day’s play despite being arguably the world’s leading off-spinner, struck with his second ball to dismiss Mitchell Starc.
Ryan Harris hit 33 at better than a run-a-ball clip to keep the scoreboard ticking along before he was caught and bowled by the diving Anderson, who had to run some 20 yards to the vacant mid-off area to successfully take the catch.
Anderson led England’s attack with four wickets for 95 runs in 29.5 overs, but he was denied the chance to take his fifth wicket of the innings when captain Michael Clarke declared, leaving the home side with an awkward 80-minute period to navigate, which they did successfully.
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