Australia and England draw 4th Ashes test

England's Mark Stoneman dives to field against Australia during the fifth day of their Ashes cricket test match in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Steve Smith batted through the entire last day to remain unbeaten on 102 as Australia held on to draw the fourth Ashes test against England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Saturday.

The Australian captain delivered another masterclass in concentration and discipline by occupying the crease for more than seven hours to steer his team out of danger and retain their 3-0 series lead heading into next week’s final test in Sydney.

”I just love batting and like being out in the middle and getting things done,” Smith said.

”I don’t really like watching cricket that much, I prefer being out there batting so that gives me extra motivation to be out there.”

England briefly held hope of snatching a morale-boosting victory after surrendering the old urn by losing the first three tests when they dismissed David Warner and Shaun Marsh before lunch but failed to take any more wickets as Smith and Mitchell Marsh (29 not out) survived the last two sessions to reach 263 for four, an overall lead of 99 runs, when the teams agreed to an early finish.

England ended a run of eight successive defeats in Australia but skipper Joe Root said it was of little consolation as his team was disappointed not to win after leading by 164 runs on the first innings.

”It is frustrating that we have not managed to force a win,” Root said. ”We did everything we could do on a very flat wicket that was not offering the bowlers very much at all.

”There was no pace and no spin and if we played for four (more) days it would be exactly the same. We did everything we could and have got to take pride in that and make sure we turn up to Sydney, back up this performance and get a win on this tour.”

Both teams were critical of the state of the portable drop-in pitch that was used in the match and the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) released a statement saying it would conduct a full review.

”While this test pitch did produce a good contest, it has not contained the pace and bounce that we expected,” MCC chief executive Stuart Fox said. ”As the game progressed, the surface did not deteriorate nor bring the level of unpredictability that was anticipated.”

Smith capitalized on the ideal batting conditions by following up his 76 from the first innings to take his series total to 604 runs at the astonishing average of 151, frustrating England’s bowlers with a near-flawless performance.

Abandoning his natural attacking game to ensure his team salvaged a draw, Smith took 259 deliveries to reach his 23rd test century and his third in this series after making an unbeaten 141 in the first test in Brisbane and 239 in the third match in Perth.

He brought up his hundred after tea with a single off Dawid Malan, one of seven English bowlers who tried unsuccessfully to get him out, raising his arms in triumph and embracing Mitchell Marsh, who was also a model of composure, surviving more than three and a half hours.

”Dead rubber or not it’s still a test match and every test match means something to each and everyone in both changerooms,” Smith said.

”I’m pleased for Mitch Marsh – he played really well and a different role to the one he usually plays.”

Australia had collapsed to be all out for 327 in the first innings and fell well behind when England made 491 in reply after Alastair Cook carried his bat and made 244 not out, earning him the man of the match award after he scored a total of 83 runs in the three previous tests.

Cook said there were plenty of positives for the England team as they turn their attention to the final match.

”The lads have been good on this tour, we’ve trained really well but we haven’t quite done ourselves justice on the cricket field,” Cook said. ”We’ve had too many people out of form to put Australia under pressure for longer periods of time.”

”In this game, it was nice that we did it for longer. We weren’t quite good enough to get over the line but we have one more chance to do it Sydney.”

Warner, batting with extreme caution when Australia was still a long way from safety, crawled to the slowest half-century of his career, reaching the milestone off 161 balls, before blowing his chance of making back-to-back hundreds when he fell for 86 to Root, who celebrated his 27th birthday with a rare wicket.

The left-hander picked up his scoring rate after reaching his half-century before mistiming an attempted drive off Root that went straight up in the air and was caught by James Vince at cover, giving the part-time English spinner just his 17th test wicket.

Shaun Marsh departed for four on the last ball before lunch when he edged Stuart Broad and Jonny Bairstow took a one-handed diving catch behind the stumps, but his younger brother Mitch safely navigated his way through the remaining two sessions before the teams shook hands.