Smith hits ton, Australia take lead, rain comes down

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Steve smith scored 17th test hundred.

Australia’s captain Steven Smith beat encroaching bad weather by a matter of minutes to post his 17th Test hundred before a monsoonal downpour all but ensured a drawn Boxing Day Test at the MCG.

Moments after Smith reached his 100, the umpires suspended play, a decision followed soon after by a deluge that was more tropical Brisbane than Melbourne’s more typical southerly climate. It would take a pair of highly imaginative declarations from here to manufacture a result, with the hosts likely to be happy to sit on their 1-0 series lead.

Smith’s ease at the crease contrasted with two more low scores for Nic Maddinson and Matthew Wade, neither of whom can be sure of their places in the XI, and made life difficult for the visitors who were also inconvenienced when Azhar Ali was helped from the field after suffering a stunning blow to the helmet when fielding at short leg.

Usman Khawaja fell three runs short of a century for the second time this summer but the emerging No. 5 Peter Handscomb also made a useful contribution in Smith’s company before the monsoonal rain arrived. Whether either side is inclined to creativity to set-up a final-day run chase from here is a matter for conjecture.

As he had done in the Perth Test against South Africa, Khawaja made it to 97 before being dismissed, this time trying to cover drive Wahab Riaz and edging through to Sarfraz Ahmed. He had shelved the stroke when making an excellent century against South Africa under lights in Adelaide.

That wicket brought the Victorian Handscomb to the crease on his home ground, and he showed plenty of attacking intent to outpace Smith and close the gap with the visitors’ total. On a pitch offering precious little to the bowlers, Pakistan reverted largely to a short-pitched angle of attack with a leg-side field.

Neither Handscomb nor Smith had too many awkward moments before the second new ball was taken, the former passing 50 for the third time in as many Tests. However in Mohammad Amir’s first over with the fresh projectile, Handscomb was beaten by one delivery then, next ball, pushed a difficult return catch back to the bowler, who dropped it.

While Amir continued to bowl well, it was Sohail Khan who claimed the wicket, when Handscomb sliced an attempted drive to backward point. Maddinson accompanied Smith to lunch and made it as far as 22 after it, before yorking himself when dancing down the wicket to Yasir Shah to be bowled.

Wade connected with several meaty blows, one of which felled the double-centurion Azhar at bad pad, before he edged Sohail Khan to depart for another underwhelming score. It was around this time that the weather began to close in on the ground, and the umpires conferred over the matter of bad light before Smith forced one through an off-side gap for three runs to go to his second century in as many Tests.

That, then, was more or less that. A further 42 scheduled overs were lost from the match, meaning a more optimistic weather forecast for day five is most probably a moot point.

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