Thursday 19 July 2018

Smith puts dampener on England party


Scyld Berry

Steve Smith has not wasted time by waiting until Michael Clarke's retirement before launching his own era. His unbeaten 78 piloted Australia through the first day of the fifth Test and made a 4-1 victory for England ever less likely.

As Australia's next captain, Smith had to make a big statement, and he did as the tourists reached 278 for the loss of just three wickets.

His batting said that he had seen enough collapses for one series, and they will be kept to a minimum when he inherits the mantle worn by Clarke, Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh.

It is not too late for England to fulfil Alastair Cook's ambition to be the first England captain to defeat Australia 4-1 in this country. But they will have to bowl fuller and straighter with the second new ball, when it is taken immediately on the second morning, than they did with the first.

Wipe out Australia's innings before lunch and England should have the best conditions of the match for batting, which would amply justify Cook's decision to bowl first on a cloudy morning.

But if Australia pile up 500, England will be on the back foot, just as they were when they were blown away at Lord's.

A combination of factors thwarted England. For one, their pace bowlers did not bowl quite so full as they had been doing

The pitch, for a second factor, did not do as much as Cook would have hoped. While the Oval has never been a seamer's paradise, the grassiness suggested springiness and bounce. Yet several edges did not carry.

Third, Australia's batsmen - if they did not exactly throw off their party gear and don hair shirts - adapted themselves in disciplined fashion to English conditions at last. The frenetic stabbing of their Tests in the Midlands was gone. They let the ball come and played it in front of their own eyes.

The last series of Chris Rogers' career has not been in vain as his team-mates are finally following his example. He soaked up the pressure again and, in the old-fashioned English way, gave his first hour at the crease to the bowlers. At the end of it, he had made four runs off 42 balls.

Yet having scored 19 together in the first hour, Rogers and David Warner added 63 in the second.

Mark Wood had Rogers caught at slip to deny him a half-century, fencing at a wide one.

Warner looked set for a century until Moeen Ali induced an edge to dismiss him for 85. Michael Clarke failed again, caught behind off Ben Stoke for 15.

Smith was exceedingly scratchy in making his first 15 runs: following his triumph at Lord's he had scored 26 runs in five innings. But he rediscovered his bearings around off stump, and his former fluency.

Smith will be a formidable opponent in the return series in two years' time. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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