Cricket-Smith finally fires to bolster Australia’s run tally

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By Nick Mulvenney

SYDNEY, Jan 8 (Reuters) – Steve Smith’s roar as he whipped off his helmet and flourished his bat after a century at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday left nobody in any doubt that Australia’s best batsman was back.

Smith’s 27th test century ended a 16 month wait and was his first on home soil since a 2018 ball-tampering scandal cost him the captaincy and a year of international cricket.

The cheers and applause from the sparse crowd and his team echoed Smith’s delight, Australia had struggled badly as he eked out only 10 runs in his four previous innings in the blockbuster series against India.

Smith’s 131 was the first century for an Australian batsman in the series and drove the hosts to a tally of 338 in their first innings of the third test, 138 runs better than their best effort in the two previous tests.

The 31-year-old said he had been unimpressed by reports of his loss of form — pointing to the two centuries he scored in one-day matches against the tourists at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in November — but was proud nonetheless.

“I missed out in the first two tests but I came back today and scored some runs and put us in a good position … Just proud to get three figures on the board and help Australia to a good score,” he said.

Any doubts about the ability of India’s bowlers to perform Down Under were blown away two years ago when, in Smith’s absence, Virat Kohli’s tourists became the first Asian team to win a test series on Australian soil.

Smith, though, looked impervious to the guile of spinner Ravindra Jadeja and the accurate pace of Jasprit Bumrah and it took a spectacular piece of fielding from the former to end his innings with a direct hit for a run out.

India had ground out 96 for two in reply before the close of play on Friday but Smith was confident Australia were in a good position as they look to take a 2-1 series lead into the final test in Brisbane next week.

“It’s a decent total,” he said of Australia’s tally.

“The boys bowled decently this evening and could have had four or five wickets. Hopefully we can start well in the morning and put some pressure on them.”

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