Australian batter Steve Smith has spared Australia from an embarrassing day in the fifth Ashes Test with some drama-filled batting heroics.
With his form and future questioned before the match, Smith hit 71 at The Oval on Friday to help Australia to 295 in reply to England’s 283.
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Smith’s innings was not without controversy, though, after England believed they had him run-out by substitute fielder George Ealham on 43.
It was the flashpoint of the innings and it came when Australia was in a heap of trouble.
At 7/193, Smith was diving for his crease as England keeper Jonny Bairstow broke the wicket.
The controversial moment Bairstow tried to run out Smith. Credit: AP
It was the closest of run-out chances and Smith appeared to be short of his ground.
Smith seemed to think he was out, too, and started to head back to the pavilion.
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But replays showed Bairstow had broken the stumps early and the bail did not properly dislodge in time.
Former England great Mark Butcher said in the commentary: “Well the crowd is not happy.
“Steve Smith had walked halfway back to the dressing room, but it was a really, really tough decision. Really tough, because Jonny Bairstow had made contact with the stumps prior to getting the ball in his hands.
“The off-stump bail had jumped out of its groove … had Bairstow taken that cleanly and not nudged the bail off, that would have been out. But Jonny Bairstow makes contact with that bail and it jumps out of the groove before he had the ball in his hand.
“That was the decision that the third umpire had to make. Was the bail out of both grooves before he then had the ball in his hand and made contact?”
England may not have been happy, but it looked like the right decision was reached. Credit: Getty Images
Australian cricket great Ricky Ponting said: “There are a few things to take into consideration with that decision.
“Was it the fact that Jonny had bumped the stump, and the bail had started to move out? Or was it that the bail was still in the second groove by the time that Smith had made his ground?
“There was lots to look at. Looks to me, thankfully, he’s come up with the right decision.”
Smith was then guilty of attempting to counter-attack too early, caught after he skied a leading edge when trying to hit Chris Woakes (3-61) over the legside.
But fortunately for Australia the tail wagged.
Cummins was solid and spinner Todd Murphy hit Australia towards parity when he hooked Mark Wood for three sixes.
Todd Murphy was seeing them well, blasting three big sixes. Credit: PA Images via Getty Images
It was a result Australia would have taken halfway through the day given their collapse, but not early on given the foundation they had built.
They looked like they were building a sizeable big first-innings lead, but fell from 1-91 midway through the morning to 7-185.
Marnus Labuschagne chewed up 82 balls for his nine before being caught by a superb one-handed diving catch by Joe Root at first slip off Wood (2-62).
Usman Khawaja was lbw after lunch to Stuart Broad (2-49) after using up 157 balls for his 47, before Travis Head (four) and Mitch Marsh (16) fell in quick succession.
Alex Carey was caught at cover when he attacked a tossed-up delivery outside off stump from Joe Root (2-20), before Mitchell Starc was caught on the hook.
Australia are still in front in their push for a win that will wrap up their first Ashes series victory in England in 22 years, but the path there is not as easy as it could have been.
FULL SCOREBOARD: Check out all the runs and wickets here
After the day’s play, a defiant Smith hit out at critics who were suggesting this would be his last Test.
The 34-year-old simply said: “I’m not retiring.
“I have no idea (where it’s come from), because I haven’t said it to anyone. I am not going anywhere yet.”
Smith’s comments followed that of David Warner, who also rejected similar claims about him from former England captain Michael Vaughan before the Test, labelling it a joke.
In a tour that included a century against India in the World Test Championship final last month and another at Lord’s against England, Smith had failed to reach 50 in all other innings before Friday.
But he looked fluent on Friday.
“I felt pretty good,” Smith said.
“Today is the best I have batted maybe outside of the Test Championship.
“I would have liked more runs (on this tour) of course but two hundreds in six games for the winter here, I think it’s reasonable.”
– With Digital Staff
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