|Men’s Ashes: First Specsavers Test, Edgbaston (day three of five)|
|Australia 284 (Smith 144, Broad 5-86) & 124-3 (Smith 46*)|
|England 374 (Burns 133, Root 57, Stokes 50)|
|Australia lead by 34 runs|
England are once again searching for a way to remove Australia’s Steve Smith after a see-saw third day left the first Ashes Test deliciously poised.
Smith, who crafted a superb 144 in the first innings, moved serenely to 46 not out to take the tourists to 124-3, a lead of 34 when bad light ended play early at Edgbaston.
At 27-2, Australia were in danger of being blown out of the contest on Saturday evening, only for Smith – in his first Test since returning from a year-long ban – to add 48 with Usman Khawaja and an unbroken 49 with Travis Head.
Former captain Smith silenced a riotous crowd, one that was baying for Australian misery when David Warner was dismissed and, earlier, during a ninth-wicket stand of 65 between Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad.
Woakes made 37 not out and Broad 29 to rescue England from a collapse of four wickets for 18 runs, which included 3-4 in 11 balls.
They helped the hosts to 374 all out and a first-innings advantage of 90, which seemed about the minimum required to negate the challenge of batting last on a surface offering increasing amounts of turn.
However, the pitch is also losing pace, removing the encouragement on offer for the pace bowlers.
In their quest to dislodge Smith and run through Australia on Sunday, England again look set to be without their all-time leading wicket-taker James Anderson, who batted but did not bowl on Saturday because of a calf injury.
Superb Saturday sets up grandstand finish
Saturday at Edgbaston is renowned for its boisterous, beer-fuelled crowd, many of whom make the effort of fancy dress.
While the Pope, builders, some crayons and the England 1966 World Cup winners partied in the Hollies Stand, singing long after the light intervened, the game was manoeuvred into a tantalising position.
England began with the opportunity to bat Australia of the game, only for the collapse, then the Woakes-Broad partnership to have fortunes fluctuating throughout the morning and afternoon.
The key to the whole contest, though, appears to be Smith, who arrived when his team were wobbling but simply picked up from where he left off in the first innings.
If England can find a way to prise him out early on Sunday, they will be in prime position to limit the chase to something manageable. If he bats into the afternoon, he could put the game beyond the hosts.
Fourteen years on from the memorable Ashes contest that England won by two runs, Edgbaston could yet serve up another classic.
Smith steadies Australia
Even without Anderson, England made early inroads into the Australia batting, removing Warner and fellow ball-tampering conspirator Cameron Bancroft to fuel the fervour of the Edgbaston crowd.
When Warner got stuck between playing and leaving Broad to be caught behind on review, he was given a deafening a prolonged send-off, with Bancroft shovelling off-spinner Moeen to short leg soon after.
However, that signalled the arrival of Smith and a change in the complexion of the evening.
After being dropped by Jos Buttler at gully off the expensive Moeen on 11, Khawaja played some sweet drives, while Smith slipped into his trademark fidgeting, shuffling and working the ball off the pads.
It took a vicious delivery from Stokes to remove Khawaja, one that jagged back off the pitch and found the inside edge on the way through to Jonny Bairstow.
Head, though, was a solid ally to the former captain, and the only other hint of further alarm came when a Rory Burns shy at the stumps missed when Head was short of his ground.
The greatest discomfort Smith felt was being hit on the helmet by Stokes and, in truth, the bad light and rain that followed gave England a welcome opportunity to regroup.
Woakes and Broad battle after collapse
England were in danger of wasting the position earned on Friday as Australia got the rewards their second-day bowling deserved.
From 267-4, Stokes looked fluent in moving from 38 to 50, only for his loose waft at Pat Cummins to begin the slide.
Off-spinner Nathan Lyon finally took the edge of Burns, who added eight to his overnight 125, and in the same over, the horribly short-of-form Moeen shouldered arms and lost his off stump. When Bairstow slashed at Peter Siddle, England were only 16 ahead.
They were steadied by the experience and calm authority of Woakes and Broad, who defended stoutly and accumulated without risk, steadily raising the level of noise in a Hollies Stand that rejoiced when Warner fielded on the boundary and Smith was asked to bowl.
Curiously, Australia left gaps for singles and were reluctant to test Broad with the short ball. When they did, he helped Cummins into the hands of fine leg.
Anderson bravely offered hobbling support to Woakes for another six overs and nine runs, before the number 11 miscued Lyon to mid-on.