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By Stephan Shemilt
BBC Sport in Old Trafford
Steve Smith’s relentless dual century put Australia in prime position to keep the Ashes after two weeks of this fourth Test at Old Trafford and demoralised England.
Smith remorselessly worked his way – taking advantage of being shed from Jofra Archer on 65 and dismissed off a Jack Leach no-ball on 118 – to direct the visitors to 497-8 declared.
His next century of this show took his tally of conducts to 584 and moderate to 194.66, all despite having missed the next Test because of concussion.
With all the brilliance of Smith, England may have had the opportunity to chip away at the other end’d Australia captain Tim Paine never been fallen in his 58.
Rather, their assault was flogged from Mitchell Starc’s 54 not out as the visitors, who might have been 246-6 or even 273-6, surged towards a declaration.
England lost Joe Denly into Matthew Wade’s superb reaction catch at short leg to close on 23-1 and then were awarded a difficult 10 overs to bat. Rory Burns has 15 along with nightwatchman Craig Overton three.
All isn’t lost for the side – no obstacles should be provided by that the pitch so as to get near the Australia total, as they bid to bat.
However, since Australia have a massive score onto the board, some other sort of England collapse may see the Ashes secured to spare.
In the same manner that England’s plans for Smith all have been exhausted – he racked up 687 runs in the 2017-18 Ashes series down under – are there no longer superlatives for unquenchable urge.
In four innings he’s become the top run-scorer in Test cricket this season, a remarkable accomplishment considering he did not play with with a match until 1 August due to his ban to the scandal.
If there was any question that he would be mesmerized by the blow out of Archer that concussed him at Lord’s, Smith answered to hit the ball in locations he is capable.
He had the fortune of the reprieves, however, he capitalised to flatten the house side along with the Old Trafford crowd, ” the latter mercifully permitted to see after cold and the rain of Wednesday in more conditions.
Throughout also the first two Tests and the World Cup, Smith was booed at every opportunity – if he walked reached a landmark, after being struck by Archer, even when he came out to bat.
This time, when he was dismissed, Old Trafford gave him fame that we are witnessing an Ashes performance, a standing ovation.
There was no concealing from their wasteful and ragged display on Thursday, if England was the excuse of the elements because of their below-par performance on day one.
Archer was lacklustre with the ball throughout – he returned 0-97 out of 27 overs – and it was he who gave Smith his life, getting both hands to the ball at his follow-through after the former priest drove a low full toss back into the bowler.
Paine was reprieved from opportunities – even though a diving replacement fielder Sam Curran failed to cling to a pull mid-on on 49, Jason Roy put down a border at slip when he was on nine.
But the most galling was the Leach no-ball, afterwards Smith edged a gorgeous delivery to slip found. Leach continued to bowl tidily, however, Smith added that a 93 runs.
England’s misery was compounded by Headingley hero Ben Stokes departing the area mid-over with a shoulder niggle. Following Stokes returned – he did not bowl – wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow required treatment.
Regardless of the attempts to rally his side of priest Joe Root, dejection and their frustration was real until they were given the chance to drag themselves off by Australia’s announcement.
At 170-3 at the start of the afternoon, 183-4 if Travis Head played a straight one to provide Stuart Broad his third wicket and 224-5 at the point Wade skied Leach, Australia were charge.
This was changed by the rack of 145 the captain making his first Test half-century for a year.
Smith has been Smith. If the ball wasn’t being abandoned with flamboyance, it had been tucked into the leg side or driven beautifully through the covers and down the ground.
There were instances when Leach bothered him , or when England tried to check his patience, but Smith outlasted them. Only when the announcement became apparent did his shoulders offered lofting two sixes before the twist of reverse-sweeping Root to short third man.
By there, Starc hitting Broad for 3 consecutive fours, then slapping Root climbed to the bowling and Archer to get a six rebounds.
When Denly was brilliantly caught at short leg Pat Cummins from Wade, who dived to maintain a rebound it epitomised Australia moment.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on BBC Test Match Special:”Smith is an artist – the best artist I have observed. I enjoy seeing him bat.
“England have three days of actual discipline and specialized nous ahead. It will test their mentality.
“I have been disappointed with England. This really is a must-win match. England had to come with the right mentality but what I’ve observed is the England side that seems somewhat dejected.”
Cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew:”Smith is a run system. You can’t say he’s pretty to watch. He is exhausting to watch.
“It will be a enormous day . England have got to bat well or else they will lose.”
Was Ben Stokes’ Test at Headingley the England triumph of time?
Analysis and view by the cricket correspondent of the BBC.
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