Steve Smith, Babar Azam ease into red-ball mode with tons
November 12, 2019
PERTH – After his Player-of-the-Series performance against Pakistan in the Twenty20 Internationals, Australia batsman Steve Smith expertly shifted gears to the red-ball format ahead of the Tests, bringing up a hundred in the Sheffield Shield. Batting for New South Wales against Western Australia on Tuesday, 12 November, Smith recorded the slowest century of his first-class career: He took 290 balls for his 42nd first-class ton, before walking back on 103 at a strike-rate of 34.92. When Smith came on during the 30th over, openers Daniel Hughes and Daniel Solway had set a foundation with a 73-run stand. He helped New South Wales cross the 300-run mark, adding 82 for the second wicket with Solway and 141 for the third with Moises Henriques. He took his time to reach three figures, finding the boundary just 11 times. Meanwhile, Pakistan's Babar Azam (157*) and Asad Shafiq (119*) registered unbeaten centuries in the three-day tour match against Australia A, ahead of the two-Test series starting on 21 November. They held off the pace attack to lift their side from 60/3 to 336/3 at the end of the first day on Monday. Both Smith, the top-ranked batsman in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Rankings, and Azam, No.1 in T20Is, will be expected to play key roles in the Test series. Smith has had an exceptional year so far, with 774 runs in just four Tests, including three centuries and as many half-centuries across seven innings. He is the top run-scorer in Tests in 2019 so far, despite having batted in just one series, the 2019 Ashes. He has also played at least three games less than any other player in the top five. He will be keen to end the year on a high, and with India's Virat Kohli just 11 points behind him in the batting rankings, will look to extend the gap. His numbers against Pakistan are impressive: two hundreds and five fifties in seven Tests, including a marathon 165* in Melbourne in 2017. The first of two Tests is at The Gabba in Brisbane.