Smith in improbable pursuit of Bradman after another rescue act

Australia second innings 4-263 dec, match drawn

Steve Smith is mounting a record second only to Don Bradman after amassing another century as he and the dull MCG pitch denied England in the fourth Test.

Australia will head to Sydney with their clean sheet intact after securing a draw in Melbourne but another stumble by their batsmen gave the visitors the whiff of a consolation victory.

The hosts' slow scoring, borne out of their respect for the conditions, left the door ajar for much of the day but Joe Root's weary bowlers could not get past the Australian captain.

The 28-year-old batted for more than seven-and-a-quarter hours to save the match for his country and in doing so drew more comparisons to some of the greatest to have played the game.

If Smith can make 26 in his next innings he will equal West Indies legend Garfield Sobers for the second fewest innings (111) to reach 6000 runs. His average of 63.55 is second only to Bradman for players who have played 20 or more innings.

And after his century here only India's Sunil Gavaskar and Bradman have taken fewer innings to reach 23 centuries, well clear of modern day greats such as Sachin Tendulkar, Matthew Hayden and Hashim Amla.

A consumer of news, Smith is aware how he is seen in the game but says he does not think about it.

"I just go out and try and play and get better each and every day to be honest with you," Smith said.

"Playing this game, you can never be satisfied, never think you're too good for the game. The game can come back to bite you pretty quickly. You've got to keep working hard.

"Each time I go to the middle I'm making sure I have my same routines, doing my basic things really well, trying to get myself in the same zone each and every time, I just love batting and want to keep making runs and getting Australia into good positions."

Smith now sits eighth on Australia's century-makers' list and can draw level with Greg Chappell in seventh next week if he can start 2018 with another ton. Chappell played 87 Tests while Smith will be lining up in his 61st.

"I don't play for the personal accolades. I play to do everything I can for Australia. As a captain leading from the front and doing my job as a batsman," Smith said.

Smith has done just that this series in varying methods. He scored his slowest ton in Brisbane and his fastest in Perth.

Here was another slow one, off 258 balls, three fewer than in Brisbane, to save a game. It's the first time Smith has batted his team to a stalemate.

Although this match is a dead rubber, Australia will take confidence out of their ability to close out a draw, a trait which has not been a strength of recent teams wearing the baggy green.

But along with the draw in Ranchi, this side have now saved two games they most likely would have lost in previous years.

Smith's value to his team is not purely in the runs he scores but the confidence he instils in his teammates. More than half of Australia's score this series has come while their leader has been at the crease.

Aware of the dangers that came from forcing the issue, Smith was intent on survival first with scoring a distant second. He shelved expansive strokeplay in preference for nudges into gaps. Of his 102, only 24 came from boundaries.

"On a wicket like that it was very difficult to get him out," Root said.

Smith will finish 2017 as its leading run-scorer by a considerable margin. No player this series is within cooee of his 604. Even if he was to get a pair in Sydney he will be averaging over 100 this campaign.

England's hopes rose when Root tempted David Warner, who had shown tremendous restraint in his five-hour stay, into a false shot on 86 and Marsh fell to the last ball before lunch, leaving Australia effectively 4-14.

Mitchell Marsh's remoulded defensive game passed another test after he stonewalled for 166 balls to make an unbeaten 29.

"I'm really pleased with him the way he played. Walking off today he said 'I'm proud of myself, 12 months ago I wouldn't have been able to do that'," Smith said.

"He's come a long way. He had to change the way he normally plays. He's normally quite aggressive and positive. To face 160 balls was a really good effort."

This story Smith in improbable pursuit of Bradman after another rescue act first appeared on The Age.