December 30, 2017 / 8:33 AM / 23 days ago

Captain Smith leaves England empty-handed again

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A short captains’ conference saw the fourth Ashes test drawn with more than an hour to play on Saturday, but such was Steve Smith’s gluttony for runs that the home skipper would have gladly kept batting until the final ball and beyond.

Smith strode off the Melbourne Cricket Ground with an unbeaten 102 from 275 balls, having spent another seven hours at the crease to push his side to safety late on day five, while denying England a pride-salvaging win.

Following an unbeaten 141 in Brisbane and 239 in Perth, Smith now has 604 runs for the series at an astonishing average of 151.

Another century in next week’s final test in Sydney would see the 28-year-old join Don Bradman, Wally Hammond and Herbert Sutcliffe for the most centuries in an Ashes series.

Alastair Cook was named Man-of-the-Match for his monumental unbeaten 244 in England’s first innings but he was left marvelling at Smith’s formidable powers of concentration, even on a featherbed wicket offering nothing for the bowlers.

“He’s playing very well, he’s played very well over the last four or five years,” the former skipper told reporters.

”Probably, when we first saw him, we didn’t think he’d turn out to be the player he’s turned out to be.

”But you have to give him a lot of credit for the way he’s obviously worked out his game, and he sticks to it for an incredibly long period of time.

“He’s kind of setting a new benchmark for what can be possible.”

It was high praise, indeed, from a venerated opening batsman who hammered 766 runs during England’s 3-1 triumph in the 2010/11 tour Down Under.

Cricket - Ashes test match - Australia v England - MCG, Melbourne, Australia, December 30, 2017. Australia's Steve Smith and team mate Mitchell Marsh walks off the ground at the end of the fourth Ashes cricket test match. REUTERS/David Gray

But Cook might have been grateful that Smith played a part in his turnaround in Melbourne given his forgettable efforts with the bat in the first three tests.

Smith’s usually vice-like hands dropped Cook on 66 and again on 153 to allow the 33-year-old his moment and England to a 164-run lead.

There was still a sniff of victory for Joe Root’s men when Australia fell to 178 for four at the cusp of lunch on day five.

Cricket - Ashes test match - Australia v England - MCG, Melbourne, Australia, December 30, 2017. Australia's captain Steve Smith hits a shot during the fifth day of the fourth Ashes cricket test match. REUTERS/David Gray

But there was no really no hope while Smith remained out in the middle, comfortable in his unique trance of fidgety concentration.

He has little concern for bowlers’ plans, Smith said, and only worries about his plans for the bowlers.

“I feel like my game’s in really good order, I‘m adapting to each of the bowlers, I‘m changing my plans to them and how they’re trying to get me out,” he told reporters.

”Hopefully I can just keep working and keep getting better as well.

”I don’t actually like watching cricket that much.

”I’d prefer to be out there batting and just getting the job done.

“That’s what I‘m trying to do, just bat for as long as I can really.”

Editing by Amlan Chakraborty

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