Australia 244-3 at stumps against England

Australia's David Warner hits a single to score his century against England on the opening day of the fourth Ashes test in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 26. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)
Australia’s David Warner hits a single to score his century against England on the opening day of the fourth Ashes test in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Dec. 26. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

Melbourne, Australia (AP) — David Warner completed his first hundred of the Ashes series on Tuesday after getting a lucky break on 99 before Steve Smith ominously cruised to an unbeaten half-century to ensure Australia took the honors from England on the first day of the fourth test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

With the Ashes already back in Australia’s hands after the home side easily won the first three matches of the five-test series, England toiled hard on a placid surface that offered little assistance to the bowlers but had little to show for their efforts against a ruthless opposition chasing a second straight sweep on home soil.

When stumps were drawn, Australia were coasting along at 244 for three in their first innings with Smith not out 65 and Shaun Marsh with him on 31 after Warner had laid the foundations with an entertaining 103 in front of more than 88,000 spectators.

“Growing up, you always want a Boxing Day ton,” Warner told Australian radio. “It eluded me for a while until last year, and then I knew once I got in I really had to try to knuckle down and dig in.”

Warner dominated his 122-run partnership with Cameron Bancroft (26), but England succeeded in putting the brakes on Australia’s scoring when they removed both openers after lunch then Usman Khawaja (17) after tea.

England almost got Marsh before he was off the mark when Stuart Broad struck him on the pads but the appeal was turned down and the Australian settled down to share an unbroken stand of 84 with his skipper, who has been a thorn in England’s side throughout the series, scoring a hundred in the first test and a double in the third.

By his own high standards, Warner has had a lean series to date, making just one-half century in the first three tests, but the 31-year-old made amends, albeit with a slice of good fortune.

He smashed Moeen Ali straight over his head for six in the last over before lunch to go to the interval on 83 but slowed down after the re-start, spending 45 minutes in the 90s then almost coming unstuck on 99 when he chipped a simple catch to Broad at mid-on.

Warner was furious with himself as he started to trudge from the field thinking he had blown his opportunity to reach triple figures only to be given a reprieve when television replays showed debutant bowler Tom Curran had overstepped the crease for a no-ball.

Given a second chance, the left-handed Warner flicked the next ball he faced square of the wicket for a single to post the 21st test century of his career, and the relief was clear as he leapt into the air and kissed the Australian crest on his helmet, and began arguing with some of the England players before the umpires intervened and told everyone to calm down.

“I was quite annoyed and then getting recalled was obviously fantastic,” Warner told a news conference.

“It was a bit of roller coaster of emotions between those two deliveries, that’s for sure.

“I felt gutted about the ball before so I gave myself a bit of a kick in the backside in my head, then it was elation.”

Warner’s joy was short lived however as he departed shortly after, edging a catch to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow off James Anderson, who joined West Indian Courtney Walsh in fifth place on the all-time wicket takers list with 519 but later criticized the state of the pitch.

“People want to see entertaining cricket, especially in an iconic test match like the Boxing Day test match at the MCG,” Anderson said.

“I know it wasn’t exciting to watch. It wasn’t exciting to play in, to be honest, when it’s that attritional. But there’s not a lot we can do about it from here.”

Warner hit a total of 13 boundaries in his three-hour, 151-ball innings while Bancroft, playing in just his third test, was content to let his senior partner dominate the scoring, managing just two fours in his patient 95-ball knock before he was trapped leg before wicket by Chris Woakes.

Khawaja batted cautiously as England’s seamers began to tighten the screws by bowling a better line and length.

After piling on more than 100 runs before lunch, Australia managed just 43 in the second session and the buildup of pressure eventually told on Khawaja, who was caught behind by Bairstow off Broad after tea, before Smith once again put Australia back in control.

“He’s just a freak,” Warner said of Smith. “I don’t know how he does what he does. He’s very mentally strong.

“He’s seeing the ball like a watermelon and making it look so easy.”