Australia captain Steve Smith continued to be England’s Ashes nemesis on Friday as he passed 6,000 Test runs in an unbeaten knock of 44 to help his team to 193 for two at close of play on the second day of the fifth Test.
The world’s top ranked batsman and Usman Khawaja batted through the final session in a 107-run partnership after openers Cameron Bancroft and David Warner had departed earlier in Australia’s reply to England’s 346.
Khawaja notched a stylish 91 not out on the same ground where he made his Test debut in the corresponding fixture seven years ago but it was the wicket of Smith that England most desperately wanted.
They were to be disappointed with only a couple of half chances presenting themselves as Smith sent a couple of early edges fizzing through the slips.
The 28-year-old was soon looking comfortable and unfussily swatted a single to backward square to pass the 6,000 career runs mark in his 111th Test innings. Only the great Donald Bradman reached the milestone in fewer knocks.
Having started the day with a brilliant diving catch in the slips to dismiss Dawid Malan, Smith walked off his home ground in the brilliant afternoon sunshine with 648 runs to his name in the series so far.
“We’re stoked that he’s on our team so we don’t have to bowl at him,” Australia fast bowler Pat Cummins said of his captain.
“You lose a couple of wickets and he comes out to bat. He’s just incredible, I think he’s been the real difference between the two sides.”
The tourists, 3-0 down in the series with the urn already relinquished, earlier posted a competitive tally in the face of some fearsome pace bowling on the back of a hard wagging tail and some poor Australian catching.
Australia came out after lunch to begin their innings in front of another packed house only for Stuart Broad to clean bowl Bancroft for a duck in the second over.
Warner scored a measured 56 by his standards in a 85-run stand with Khawaja before was caught behind when James Anderson got the ball to move away from him.
Broad’s 31 had earlier been integral to a bright morning for the tourists after the hammer blow of losing two wickets in the last couple of overs of day one.
Malan (62) lasted less than half an hour after they had resumed on 233 for five, Mitchell Starc eliciting an outside edge which Smith caught brilliantly to make some amends for three spills in his otherwise impeccable series.
His fast bowlers then proceeded to produce a couple of howlers with Cummins dropping Tom Curran on 21 off Nathan Lyon and, in the next over, Josh Hazlewood letting Moeen Ali off the hook with the all-rounder on 22.
England’s tail made the most of the reprieves with Curran hitting a confident 39 and Moeen 30 before both fell victim to the pace of Cummins (4-80).
Broad braved the short bowling almost until the scheduled lunch break before becoming spinner Lyon’s first victim of the match and the innings ended in a mix-up that resulted in Mason Crane being run-out for four in his maiden Test innings.
The leg spinner later made a reasonably solid start to his test career with the ball, returning figures of 0-58.
“It’s awesome to be bowling to the best players in the world,” the 20-year-old said.
“Smith’s a key player for them, if we can get him and two or three others, hopefully we can get a first innings lead.”