Smith double century puts Australia in charge
It was Steve Smith’s day today at Emirates Old Trafford.
Smith put Australia, resuming the day on 170-3, firmly in the driving seat with a magnificent, if quirky, double century on the second day of this Fourth Specsavers Ashes Test Match at Emirates Old Trafford.
Australia, who batted for all bar 10 overs of the day declared late in the evening session on 497-8 and had made a breakthrough to have England on 23-1 by the close, a deficit of 474 runs.
Smith, well supported by skipper Tim Paine, resisted England for most of the day to steadily gain control of the Australian innings after the hosts had enjoyed the better of the morning session.
In a frenetic morning session Smith, resuming on 60, had a nervy start beaten by both Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer several times.
And it was Archer who had an early, if difficult, opportunity when Smith hit a low full toss back towards the bowler who was unable to get more than a finger on the chance.
But England did enjoy success with the wickets of Travis Head, beaten by a full and straight delivery from Broad to be lbw for 19 in the fifth over of the day, and Matthew Wade (16) who, having clipped Leach for four over mid-on, attempted to repeat the shot but instead skied a high swirling catch off the left arm spinner to Joe Root positioned halfway back from the long-on boundary.
That left Australia on 224-5 and England at that point looked threatening, bowling a tight line and length to restrict the scoring opportunities.
Smith meanwhile continued to accumulate steadily reaching his 26th Test century and third century of the series just before lunch.
But England had a series of disasters during the afternoon that handed Australia the initiative.
First Paine was dropped at second slip by Jason Roy off Broad when he had made 9 while Smith, on 108, was fortunate that his wild top-edge heave off Leach fell just short of Craig Overton running in from deep square leg.
The big moment of the day arrived when Jack Leach had Smith caught at slip ten runs later via a lovely turning delivery, only for the bowler to find-via replays-that he had bowled a no ball, incredibly just the eighth in his first-class career.
That was a disaster for the bowler, and for England who have struggled to get Smith out throughout the series. Duly reprieved, the world’s current number one batsman continued to flourish.
At times Smith gave the impression he was just playing a different game to everybody else. Several drives were near-textbook but others breath-taking, such as a deliberate jab for four to third man off Ben Stokes that bisected second slip and gully. Another short ball from Overton was swatted away throat high as if Smith was just chasing an errant wasp with his bat.
It was enthralling to watch.
Meanwhile England’s fortunes dipped further when Ben Stokes pulled up injured during his eleventh over and left the field, although the all-rounder did return just before the break but did not bowl again.
Moments after Stokes’ departure his replacement Sam Curran gave Paine a second reprieve, one run short of his half century, after putting down a catch at mid-on off Archer.
Smith and Paine, having posted their century partnership inside 29 overs, reached tea with Australia 369-5 only for Paine to depart for 58 from the first ball after the break when Overton produced a great off-cutter that the Aussie skipper edged behind to end a 145-run partnership.
Pat Cummins followed quickly after edging a legitimate Leach delivery to Stokes at slip for 4, but it mattered not to Smith who twice thumped Leach for six and four.
England resorted to having Overton bowl wide of off stump to Smith with seven fielders on the off side.
But another six off Leach over long-off and a clip to leg for two off Broad brought Smith a double hundred off 311 balls (22 fours, 2 sixes), his third in Tests and the second by an Australian batsman in Ashes Tests at Emirates Old Trafford.
Smith eventually departed midway through the evening session to a standing ovation, with the score on 387-7, after he reverse-swept the spin of Root to Denly at backward point after making a quite magnificent 211. His innings spanned 319 balls (24 fours, 2 sixes) and Smith now has an incredible 589 runs in the series at an average of 147.25.
Mitchell Starc handed out further punishment with some big hitting, reaching his half century from just 49 balls (7 fours, 2 sixes) and he was on 54 alongside Nathan Lyon (26 not out) when Paine declared with Australia on 497-8.
That left England facing 10 overs and they lost Denly for 4 to a brilliant reflex catch by Wade at short leg off the bowling of Cummins.
Rory Burns remains on 15 not out with nightwatchman Overton 3 not out and England on 23-1 have a lot of work to do to stay in this game tomorrow.
Photos: Barry Mitchell & Getty Images