Smith scuttles England plans 

Melbourne: Australia captain Steve Smith (102 n o, 275b, 6×4) tormented England with another century as the fourth Ashes Test ended in a frustrating draw for Joe Root’s side on a lifeless Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) pitch here, Saturday.

Smith walked off to a round of applause from the sparse gathering, having nudged Australia to 263 for four and a lead of 99 runs before the captains called it off midway through the final session. No.6 batsman Mitchell Marsh was as stubborn as his captain, scoring 29 from 166 balls to protect his wicket through the last two sessions.

With man of the match Alastair Cook finding form with an unbeaten 244, the tourists can perhaps claim a moral victory after their batsmen built a first innings lead of 164 runs. But they will still head into the fifth and final Test 0-3 down in the series and desperate for a face-saving win at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

While stopping short of criticising the pitch, Root said his side had performed so well in dismissing the hosts for 327 in their first innings. “On a very unresponsive wicket, to perform how we did on that first and second day with the ball was outstanding,” he said. “Disappointed that we couldn’t quite crack it open today (Saturday) but we tried out absolutely everything.”

Smith came to the crease Friday, his team vulnerable at 65 for two. He had to dig them out of another rough patch when England grabbed two late wickets early Saturday to leave Australia wobbling at 178 for four. They lost before lunch David Warner (86, 227b, 88b) and Shaun Marsh (4).

Warner presented his wicket to part-time spinner Root, when trying to slog-sweep the bowler he holed out to James Vince at deep square-leg. There couldn’t have been a better presence for Root on his 27th birthday. Then Stuart Broad had Marsh caught behind by Jonny Bairstow with a ball that bounced steeply and suddenly the hosts looked vulnerable.

Smith remained unperturbed. The skipper brought up his century by cutting part-time leg-spinner Dawid Malan for a single, but there was no fist-pump or roar of celebration as in the previous matches.

Smith heads to Sydney comfortably top of the batting list with 604 runs in the series at an average of 151 but he was still rueful for dropping Cook on 66 and again on 153 as the former England skipper took the game away from Australia with his knock. “That probably cost us quite a bit, too,” the 28-year-old said. “It was pretty hard to get in front of the game after that.”

Brief scores: Australia 327 and 263 for 4 (Steve Smith 102 n o, Stuart Broad 1/44, Joe Root 1/1) drew with England 491.



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