Smith frustrates England as Australia creep ahead

Australia’s captain Steve Smith reacts after he was hit by the ball running between wickets during the fifth day of the fourth Ashes cricket test match. REUTERS/David Gray

MELBOURNE,  (Reuters) – Steve Smith frustrated England’s bowlers in a stubborn fifth-wicket partnership to push Australia to 225 for four at tea on day five of the fourth test yesterday, with the tourists’ hopes of a pride-salvaging victory all but extinguished.

Smith was 87 not out at the break, with Mitchell Marsh on 10, the pair having survived the entire middle session to nudge Australia’s lead to 61 runs on a cool and cloudy day at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Rain fell during lunch but cleared to give England ample time to find a breakthrough as Australia resumed on 178-4.

Steve Smith

But the tourists laboured fruitlessly on an unresponsive pitch as Smith and Marsh proceeded with discipline, content to bat time rather than set England a fourth innings chase.

Smith had survived 228 balls, with Marsh proving equally obstinate in absorbing 97 deliveries.

It had all looked so promising for Joe Root’s men when they grabbed Australia’s fourth wicket on the cusp of lunch to leave their opponents just 14 runs ahead with six wickets remaining.

Paceman Stuart Broad had dismissed middle-order batsman Shaun Marsh for four with the last ball before the interval but Smith has proved a constant bugbear throughout the series, having already scored centuries in Brisbane and Perth.

Opener David Warner has proved similarly irksome to the tourists in this match and soaked up 227 balls for his 86 before midday.

He brought up his slowest test fifty with a late cut for two off all-rounder Chris Woakes and appeared cruising to another ton after his first innings 103.

However, he handed skipper Root a present on his 27th birthday, top-edging the part-time spinner with an attempted slog-sweep to be caught by James Vince.

Marsh survived for most of the last half-hour of the session before he was caught behind by wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, who took a sharp one-handed catch moving to his left.

With his seamers garnering little movement off a stubbornly flat pitch, Root resorted to a series of funky field placements and had his bowlers persist with a line wide of off-stump to try to remove the Australian captain.

Smith was impervious to it all, playing straight and bunting the ball back to the bowler repeatedly.

Warner had played in a higher gear and stroked a sumptuous cover drive off rookie seamer Tom Curran for his seventh four to charge into the seventies before his brain fade against Root left him trudging off ruefully.

Australia have already regained the Ashes with a victory in the third test in Perth and hold an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series with the final test to come in Sydney.

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