Australian opener David Warner has scored a dramatic century on day one of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, gifted to him by England in a remarkable manner that has summed up their dismal Ashes tour.
Australia finished the day on 3-244 with not out batsmen Steve Smith on 65 and Shaun Marsh on 31. But it was Warner (103) who stole the show, with his 21st Test tonne coming in stunning circumstances.
Debutant English quick Tom Curran thought he had dismissed Warner on 99 for his maiden Test wicket, caught at mid on.
Warner – like he so often does – chipped a ball straight in the air trying to prod a ball to the on side with his bat diagonal instead of straight. He had played the same tentative shot the ball before being caught, thrown off by Curran’s crafty bowling.
The catch sent the English, who had been pummelled all over the MCG by Warner, into raptures. However, as Warner trudged from the field replays showed Curran had overstepped the crease and bowled a no ball, meaning Warner was not out.
“Me and Ussie were talking about it, pulling and cutting on that wicket at that stage. Your instinct takes over there and I sort of wasn’t committed to the shot,” Warner said.
“I hit it in the air, but luckily enough he overstepped the line.
“You just get frustrated because it was a poor decision. It was one of those ones that was a half-hearted shot, and you don’t deserve to stay in if you play a shot like that.”
The Australian contingent among the 87,000-plus crowd reacted in unbridled glee, and Warner returned to hit a single and make his century the very next ball.
Warner only scored three more runs before he was caught behind off the bowling of James Anderson, however the no ball fiasco was yet another psychological blow for the English who have already lost the Ashes, down 3-0 in the five test series.
Warner hit 13 fours and one six in his dominant innings, where his 99th run was also his 6000th Test run.
His dismissal was valuable for England, as Warner looked clearly Australia’s most dangerous batsman on a day where the others had to work hard for their time at the crease.
Warner’s opening partner Cameron Bancroft (26 off 95 balls) looked particularly under duress, struggling to deal with the short ball and to middle any of his shots
He eventually fell LBW to Chris Woakes. Usman Khawaja also looked horribly out of touch (17 off 65). He became Stuart Broad’s first wicket in 69 overs thanks to a loose shot that he knicked to English wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
It was Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh’s 84 run partnership at the end of the day that settled the Australians after a middle session that the English kept tight.
Anderson and Broad bowled tightly, as did Curran, who brought his Twenty20 skills to the traditional format of the game by bowling plenty of slower balls out the back of his hand.
Spinner Moeen Ali struggled yet again. He was eventually replaced by part-time spinner Dawid Malan in the English attack in what was another low point for the all-rounder on this tour.
Smith’s innings continued his remarkable run of form at the MCG. He hasn’t been dismissed at the ground since 2015.
Australia go into day two on top, however only slightly, thanks to a disciplined day of bowling from England on a pitch that looked extremely flat and slow.