IT’S OVAL AND OUT
Smith signals start of new era with another ton at favourite ground
STEVE Smith returned to the scene of his maiden Test hundred and put a final exclamation mark on two years of rare dominance with his 11th career ton against England at The Oval.
The innings marked the start of a new era, with Smith soon to become Australia’s 45th Test captain.
The 26-year-old does not take over as skipper until the one-day series but wasted no time laying down a platform with a superb century on day two of the fifth Test.
Australia was bowled out midway through the second session, but thanks to Smith’s 143, the tourists were in a strong position nonetheless with 481 on the board.
This has been a disappointing Ashes campaign by Smith’s lofty standards.
He failed in the third and fourth Tests, where the series was lost.
A double century and a 50 at Lord’s and now a century at The Oval has Smith on the verge of finishing the series as the highest scorer, proof that even when he struggles, he is still a world-class batsman.
Smith was playing for his career when Australia arrived at The Oval for a dead rubber fifth Test two years ago. He had not scored a century in his first 11 matches.
Smith saved his career that day and now he has 11 Test hundreds. He has taken only 63 innings to pass 3000 runs, the fourth fastest to that mark in Australian Test history.
Smith did not get to three figures without an enormous slice of luck.
On the ball after Adam Voges was trapped lbw by Ben Stokes to end a 146-run stand, Smith, on 92, slashed loosely at a wide ball from Steve Finn to be caught at slip. He rocked his head back in disgust and started to trudge from the field before replays showed Finn had bowled a massive no-ball.
Australia suffered a mini slide in the shadows of lunch with Mitchell Marsh becoming Finn’s 100th Test wicket and Moeen Ali knocking over Peter Nevill and Mitchell Johnson in three balls.
After lunch, Smith and Mitchell Starc (58 off 52) posted the biggest eightwicket partnership ever by an Australian pairing at The Oval (91) to surge Australia towards 500.
But when Smith chopped on off Finn and Starc was given out lbw to Stokes after an England decision review, the innings ended quickly.
Smith has finished a disappointing Ashes series in style, but it remains to be seen whether it will be enough to convince him to remain at No.3 when Australia arrives in Bangladesh in October.
Former skipper Mark Taylor believes Smith will provide greater balance to the Aussies at No.4, and his former teammates Shane Warne and Ian Healy agree No.3 is not the best place for the new skipper.
However, former skipper and No.3 batsman Ricky Ponting is adamant Smith must stay exactly where he is.
Ponting thrived on the pressure and responsibility of batting at No.3 and captaining his country.
Meanwhile, Warne last night alleged Rod Marsh had overruled the Australian coach and captain on the omission of Pat Cummins.
Warne claimed on television that “the word on the street” was that Darren Lehmann and skipper Michael Clarke were both in favour of 22-year-old Cummins being blooded in a look towards the future.