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Smith century keeps England at bay

Australia recovers from 143 for 5 to reach 326 for 6 by close of play on first day

Smith century keeps England at bay - Cricket News
Steve Smith of Australia celebrates his century.
It was all so familiar. Australia winning the toss and batting, England getting right on top, and then an Australian rescue act, starting with consolidation and then moving to domination. For the third successive match this Ashes series, England’s bowlers began the Test by getting Australia right where they wanted them, only to let them get away.
 
Australia was 132 for 6 at its worst in Brisbane and then 257 for 5 on a superb batting pitch in Adelaide. Then it was on 143 for 5 at Perth after a careless start on a fast and bouncy deck. By the end of the day, though, it had recovered to 326 for 6, thanks largely to an unbeaten 103 from Steven Smith with support from the newly minted rescue specialist Brad Haddin.
 
It was not a toss England would have been too concerned at losing. Alastair Cook suggested that the second innings is often easier for batting in Perth, while the fast bowlers might make use of the wicket’s bounce and speed. But with Chris Rogers’s years of Sheffield Shield cricket on this ground for Western Australia, and David Warner’s Test-best 180 coming at the same venue back in January 2012, the task held no fear for their openers.
 
But, perhaps, Australia’s 2-0 lead, coupled with the supposed impossibility of English success in Perth, led to the home side losing focus for the first time. There was certainly an air of complacency or over-confidence from a side that can ill afford it.
 
Rogers looked far more at home than he has in a hitherto nervy series. Cruising to 11 from eight balls with two controlled boundaries in the second over of the match, there was a brief flicker that this could be Rogers’s day to shine. But the last ball of that over brought a wastefulness that would make the thrifty weep: Rogers nudging to mid-wicket, calling confidently for a run, but stuttering for a fraction of a second until he saw that Warner had committed to the call. James Anderson’s direct hit caught Rogers inches short.
 
It was the kind of gift England needed in a series where it hasn’t taken charge with the ball. Warner kept them focused, crashing four boundaries in two overs, moving at one stage to 22 from 17 balls. Shane Watson scored a couple of his own, but nicked Stuart Broad to slip for 18, the trademark “Oh no!” audible through the stump microphone as the thick edge lifted from the bat.
 
At 52 for 2, Michael Clarke’s arrival meant Australia’s key pair was together earlier than they would have liked. But they took Australia towards the hundred mark, Warner smashing an uncatchable return that Tim Bresnan could only deflect with outflung arm, then producing a monstrous pull to a barely-short ball that landed way over wide long on.
 
Clarke had struck five classy boundaries when the partnership was broken at 55 runs just before lunch, the captain attempting to drive Graeme Swann’s second ball of the match to long on, but skewing the stroke to Cook, who dived forward at a short mid-wicket to grab the chance.
 
Smith faced 15 quiet deliveries before getting off the mark with a six from Swann, but Warner was out soon afterward, looping a top-edged cut to Michael Carberry at backward point. Unlike in Adelaide, Carberry had no issues grasping the simple chance. George Bailey had the chance to make a statement, but it was limited to one cover driven boundary before his injudicious hook shot found Kevin Pietersen in the deep.
 
That was England’s chance. But with Australia at 143 for 5, according to bowling coach David Saker, his charges might have got too excited at the thought of going for the kill. “We mixed our lengths too much, we went to the short ball too often. There are a few disappointed bowlers and a disappointing bowling coach,” he would say after the day’s play.
 
So they should be. Smith and Haddin were rarely troubled thereafter, taking the game away with a freewheeling partnership. They cruised through 18 further overs to tea, Smith reaching the break on 58 and Haddin 34, then 17 overs after it. The partnership had developed a headlong momentum, the pair raiding 15 fours and four sixes between them – three of those off Swann.
 
By the time Haddin miscued a short Ben Stokes delivery to midwicket, Smith was on 85, the score was 267 for 5, and the initiative had been lost. With 16 overs to be bowled in the day, and an England attack sapped by the blistering heat, the stage was perfectly set for England’s nemesis Mitchell Johnson.
 
Smith, in the meantime, approached his hundred with the strokes that had been the signatures of the innings. First he moved to 96 with a straight drive off Stokes, then crossed the threshold two balls later with a pull – shooting away, as every one of his had on the day, well in front of square.
 
He barely scored a run through the final ten overs, but Johnson chipped in with a healthy 39 from an array of handsome strokes. With 350 or even 400 in their sights, the Australians are strongly placed. But Saker was quick to insist that no one should write England off, saying, “You can’t judge a Test match on one day. The (press) in this room and the people in our room have seen enough Test cricket to know that it’s far from over.”

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