It was a curate’s egg of a day. In the first session Australia raced to 102 without loss, 83 of which came from David Warner’s bat; in the second they were becalmed while losing two wickets. But in the evening Australia reasserted themselves, with Steve Smith back at the helm, protecting his side’s advantage as resolutely as a kangaroo does her joeys. At stumps Australia were sitting pretty once again on 244 for three. Smith, who barely missed a ball or played a shot in anger, was unbeaten on 65.
Smith is now so ruthlessly methodical that it is possible to perambulate the outside of this vast arena and still picture every stroke he plays. The great batsmen are so predictable and Smith undoubtedly is one of them. Yet the hordes of fans had probably come in the hope that it was Warner who would prevail, and he did not disappoint.
Forget the curate and his egg for a moment. It was the Reverend who delivered his Christmas message in front of a packed congregation and then most of them went to sleep or home. To put it more bluntly: Warner hit his 21st Test century to decorate Boxing Day, whereupon he was dismissed and thereafter nothing much of note happened.
On an otherwise pedestrian day of Australian ascendancy there were brief moments of high drama for the masses to enjoy and theynearly always involved Warner. By mid-afternoon he had cruised to 99 with barely a false stroke, though his progress through the 90s had been relatively slow and careworn as England’s seamers opted to bowl to him with a seven-two heavy off-side field.
Surrey’s Tom Curran, who had been given his first Test cap by Bob Willis, a debutant in Sydney in January 1971 when he was still with the Oval club, bowled from around the wicket; Warner attempted to work the ball towards the empty leg-side and only spooned to mid-on where Stuart Broad held a simple catch. The feelings of elation – for the bowler – and despair – for the batsman – were soon reversed as a replay revealed…