Superb Steve Smith sets Australia up for consolation Test victory

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If day one of the fifth Ashes Test was all about Shane Watson, then day two belonged to his teammate Steve Smith.

Unlike Watson following his masterful 176 on the first day, Smith was able to walk off the pitch undefeated following a first Test century which may just have batted the game away from England and made a record 4-0 Test series victory for the hosts impossible.

Indeed, with the south London rain rendering the price for the draw too short at 4/11, the only backable option at The Oval now seems to be a first Australian win of the series at 3/1.

Smith’s 138 not out was a stunning answer to the critics who claim that the 24-year-old was not worth a place in the Test side.

The all-rounder had his impressive moments in the series before Thursday, including a six-over spell of 3-18 in the second Test at Lord’s and a well-compiled 89 in the drawn third Test at Old Trafford, but the fact that this one has put Australia in such a strong position means that it will surely live longer in the memory.

Smith’s innings – a first hundred in his 12th Test – was the bedrock of Australia’s total of 492-9 declared, and the tourists might find that it is now the weather and not this re-jigged England team who are their biggest enemy. Rain is forecast on Saturday.

On Thursday though, openers Alastair Cook and Joe Root survived 17.3 overs at the end of the day to ensure that 9/1 outsiders England will start day three with a full complement of batsmen.

But unless one or two of them follow in Smith’s footsteps then the prospect of the hosts winning four Tests for the first time in an Ashes series will surely evaporate.

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