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Smith Drives Australia On Rain-Hit Day

Steve Smith celebrates his maiden Test century.
©Action Images / Paul Childs Livepic
Joe Root and Alastair Cook (right) saw out the opening overs for England in their first innings.
©Action Images / Andrew Boyers Livepic
Rain had frustrated he crowd - and those watching from nearby flats - at the start of the day.
©Action Images / Andrew Boyers Livepic

Australia 492-9d (Smith 138no) v
England 32-0
Fifth Ashes Test, The Oval

England’s openers survived a tricky final hour of a rain-affected second day at The Oval to keep their hopes of earning at least a draw in this final Ashes Test match very much alive.

Play didn’t get underway until 1430 local time as a steady drizzle frustrated the crowd and the Australian batsmen. With more rain forecast for Saturday, a draw is very much a possibility on what remains a flat and true Oval pitch.

Steve Smith and Peter Siddle eventually resumed for Australia, with the latter not lasting long before being cleaned up by a beauty from James Anderson, which pitched and straightened to knock over his off-stump. Both Anderson and Stuart Broad actually found some movement in the first few overs as the pitch appeared to have sweated slightly under the covers. However, any moisture soon evaporated and Australia found it relatively plain sailing thereafter.

Smith brought up his maiden Test century with a straight six off Jonathan Trott, who then got his revenge by enticing Brad Haddin to chop onto his stumps shortly before tea when on 30. Smith played brilliantly throughout his innings and looks a different player to the one that struggled so much in the last Ashes series in Australia.

He played mostly second-fiddle to Australia’s lower-order hitters after bringing up three figures as the tourists heaped the misery onto England’s attack in the final session. James Faulkner made a breezy 23 off 21 balls before being caught well on the deep square-leg boundary by Trott to give Chris Woakes a maiden Test wicket.

Woakes was again solid without being spectacular with the ball. Perhaps the truest test of his credentials at this level will come tomorrow with bat in hand because, on the showing so far, he looks no better than a fourth seamer at this level; albeit on what has been an unforgiving pitch. Of England’s other debutant, Simon Kerrigan, there was no sign as even Graeme Swann wasn’t introduced into the attack until late in the piece.

Swann soon made up for lost time by having a free-swinging Mitchell Starc bowled in his first over as Australia continued to press on with a eye on the declaration. Ryan Harris then held things up with a powerful 33 that spanned just 27 balls. He twice launched sixes before being brilliantly caught and bowled by Anderson.

The ball was skied high in the air, but with most of the fielders on the boundary, Anderson was forced to run about 30 yards to his left to complete a tumbling catch. Australia declared one ball later with just over an hour left in the day.

Alastair Cook and Joe Root then survived the 17.3 overs that they faced before bad light brought a slightly premature halt to proceedings. Australia’s bowlers delivered opening spells of varying quality, with Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris again impressing and Mitchell Starc again struggling with his line.

Root was given a working over outside off-stump by Siddle, who used the crease intelligently to lure him into playing at balls that he shouldn’t, while Harris didn’t concede a run until his fourth over and was his usual naggingly accurate self.

England, though, will be relatively content with what they witnessed in the final hour. All the signs are that as the shine wears off the ball, batting shouldn’t be too difficult and there should be runs to be had. Their first target, of course, is the 293 that they need to avoid the follow-on. They ought to manage it comfortably.

© Cricket World 2013