MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Steve Smith and an unresponsive pitch combined to dash England’s hopes of a first win of the series on Saturday, but captain Joe Root praised his team’s “character” for rallying in the wake of their meek surrender of the Ashes in Perth.
The fourth test ended in a draw late on day five, with home captain Smith’s unbeaten 102 saving Australia and doling out another portion of frustration for England’s bowlers, who toiled fruitlessly on a flat Melbourne Cricket Ground strip.
England will head to the fifth and final test in Sydney still 3-0 behind in the series but in a far more positive frame of mind after dominating the hosts for most of the match.
“In terms of our squad, the character is never something that I question, and the way that we apply ourselves and the attitude that we take is always there,” Root told reporters.
“It proved this week after three tough games and tough results to come back and put in a performance like that was extremely pleasing for me as a captain.
“They had a lot of disappointment coming away from Perth and you could see the way they went about training that they were desperate to prove a lot of people wrong and make sure we get something good out of this tour.”
Root will have been buoyed by the belated return to form of opener and former skipper Alastair Cook, who scored an unbeaten 244 in a Man-of-the-Match performance.
With Smith dismissed for “only” 76 in the first innings, Root’s bowlers were also able to contain Australia to 327, a below-par score on such a lifeless deck.
England still sniffed victory at lunch on day five, having reduced Australia to 178 for four, but the Australia skipper carried his team once more and remains the tourists’ most confounding problem.
Root tried unconventional fields as his bowlers threw everything at Smith but his team finished the day no clearer about how to dismiss their nemesis without a moving ball.
“It’s difficult on that surface,” said Root. “Fair play to him and he played extremely well.
“And even when it is a bat-friendly pitch like that, under the pressure of knowing you have to bat all day to try and get a draw is quite difficult and he obviously played very well, and made it quite difficult for us.
“Especially when the ball moves, we are more than capable of getting him out.
“We just have to keep trying every option if he does get in and if it is a good surface, to bat on and keep trusting and believing in what we do.”
Editing by John O'Brien