Ton-up Smith strengthens Australia’s grip
Steven Smith’s maiden Test hundred ensured Australia maintained their grip on the Ashes finale at The Oval on Thursday.
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.
England captain Alastair Cook was 17 not out and Joe Root 13 not out.
For Smith, a first hundred in his 12-Test career was all the more welcome as he’d fallen 11 runs short during the drawn third Ashes match in Manchester.
But he achieved the coveted landmark in style Thursday with an on-driven six off occasional medium-pacer Jonathan Trott.
“I was a bit nervous after getting out for 89 at Old Trafford but I had a chat with Hads (Brad Haddin) and said with Trotty bowling I thought I’d give it a go,” Smith told BBC Radio’s Test Match Special.
“I’m very happy to get the hundred under my belt, I feel like my game’s going OK at the moment, I’m probably leaving the ball better than I have done before.
“The pitch is still pretty good, while the ball is still hard it will be important to take a few wickets in the morning,” he added.
Australia resumed well-placed on their overnight 307 for four after rain delayed Thursday’s start by three-and-a-half hours.
Smith was 66 not out and nightwatchman Peter Siddle 18 not out following Shane Watson’s Test-best 176 on Wednesday.
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 before the six off Trott got him to his century.
However, four balls later, Haddin played on to Trott for 30.
An embarrassing post-tea session for England where Cook set excessively defensive fields even when the tailenders, rather than Smith, were on strike, saw a mere 11.5 overs in just over an hour as Australia still scored 95 runs.
“I didn’t really think about the over-rate, I was just trying to get as many runs as I could,” said Smith.
James Faulkner holed out to give fellow debutant Woakes a maiden Test wicket before Graeme Swann, who didn’t bowl until three hours into the day’s play despite being arguably the world’s leading off-spinner, struck with his second ball Friday to dismiss Mitchell Starc.
No 10 Ryan Harris hit 33 at better than a run-a-ball before he was caught and bowled by Anderson, who had to run some 20 yards to the vacant mid-off area.
Anderson led England’s attack with four wickets for 95 runs in 29.5 overs before Australia captain Michael Clarke declared.
Smith, whose previous Test-best was the 92 he made 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.