MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Opening batsman David Warner enjoyed a gift-wrapped century after being reprieved on 99 as Australia emerged on top at the close of a meandering first day of the Boxing Day test against England on Tuesday.
Warner was caught at mid-on on the cusp of his 21st test hundred, and first of the ongoing Ashes, but the wicket was cancelled to the delight of a festive Melbourne Cricket Ground when the replay showed England’s debutant paceman Tom Curran had overstepped.
The home vice-captain reached his ton on the next ball and while he was unable to push on much further his 103 helped drive Australia to 244 for three at stumps, a strong position after skipper Steve Smith won the toss and opted to bat on a slow, flat wicket.
Warner said he was delighted to be given another life on 99.
“Getting recalled was obviously fantastic,” he told reporters.
“It was a bit of a roller coaster of emotions between those two deliveries, that’s for sure.”
Smith’s brilliant series continued, the Australian captain 65 not out at the close, with Shaun Marsh also unbeaten on 31.
The pair steered Australia to safety with an unbroken partnership of 84 after Stuart Broad ended a 70-over wicket drought to have Usman Khawaja caught behind for 17.
Smith now remains unbeaten in three consecutive Boxing Day tests, having scored a total of 434 runs in matches against West Indies, Pakistan and now England.
Australia reclaimed the Ashes in the third test in Perth and hold an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series but 88,172 spectators packed the MCG to witness a peculiar day’s play.
After Warner and fellow opener Cameron Bancroft piled on 102 runs to lunch, Australia added only 43 in the second session as England rallied with two wickets in brilliant sunshine.
All-rounder Chris Woakes broke Warner and Bancroft’s 122-run partnership by having Bancroft lbw for 26.
Warner was caught on 99 just before the drinks break, a clumsy pull-shot off Curran’s no-ball lobbing to Broad at mid-on.
He raised his hundred with a single on the next ball and celebrated with his customary running jump and fist-pump before offering Curran some choice words, angering England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Veteran paceman James Anderson then removed Warner with a fine delivery that jagged back off the seam to catch an edge on the way through to Bairstow.
The wicket drew Anderson level with West Indies great Courtney Walsh on 519 test victims, equal fifth on the all-time list.
It was tough going for the bowlers, however, and Anderson felt the bumper crowd was short-changed by the pitch.
“You’d think the 90,000 that turned up today don’t want to see 240 for three (at stumps),” the 35-year-old said.
“People want to see exciting cricket … It wasn’t that exciting to play when it’s that attritional.”
After dismissing Khawaja, Broad very nearly trapped new batsman Marsh in front but the lbw appeal was turned down.
Root reviewed but the decision remained the umpire’s call, with the tracking technology showing it clipping the bails.
Marsh survived another big shout for lbw but England’s brief moment of ascendancy disappeared as the left-hander dug in with Smith.
The skipper raised his 22nd test half-century by driving part-time spinner Dawid Malan for two runs through the covers before he and Marsh saw Australia to the safety of stumps.