|Men’s Ashes: First Specsavers Test, Edgbaston (day four of five)|
|Australia 284 (Smith 144, Broad 5-86) & 487-7 (Smith 142, Wade 110)|
|England 374 (Burns 133) & 13-0|
|England target: 398|
Yet another Ashes century from Australia’s Steve Smith, his second of the match, left England facing a huge battle to save the first Test at Edgbaston.
In his first Test since returning from a ban for his part in the ball-tampering scandal, the former captain added 142 to his first-innings 144.
With Matthew Wade moving into Smith’s slipstream for 110 of his own, Australia took their overnight 124-3 to 487-7 and declared to set England 398 to win.
Chasing such a total is out of the question, but the hosts’ survival hopes were boosted by openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy coming through seven overs to close on 13-0.
England will have to bat out the final day if they are to avoid losing an Edgbaston Test for the first time in 11 years.
They must do so on a surface that will offer plenty of assistance to off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who opened the bowling and immediately proved a much greater threat than England’s Moeen Ali.
As Moeen was unable to tie up an end and the part-time spinners were expensive, pace bowlers Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes pounded away on a surface giving them little.
They again did so without their leading Test wicket-taker James Anderson because of a calf injury, while Chris Woakes bowled only seven overs.
Smith silences Edgbaston with display for the ages
While it is fair to highlight the fact Smith has not faced one ball from Anderson in the match, given the context of his return and the circumstances in which he arrived at the crease in both innings, he has returned one of the all-time great Test batting displays.
In the first innings he came out at 17-2, the second 27-2, only to grind England into the dirt with his concentration, judgement, maddening fidgeting and ability to seemingly place the ball wherever he pleases.
Not only that, but his continuing occupation of the crease – this was his sixth ton in seven Ashes Tests – left an Edgbaston previously keen to taunt him silent. Both England’s players and their supporters are sick of the sight of him and there are still four matches remaining in this series.
He resumed on 46 and extended his stand with Travis Head to 130 before adding 126 with Wade. The trademark nudges to the leg side continued, but were joined by handsome drives through the covers.
One miscued drive, on 51, was the closest England got to removing him before a missed throw from the deep would have seen him short of his ground on 133.
At one point, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow resorted to trying to stump him by rolling the ball at the stumps when stood back to Broad.
It was a complete shock when Smith finally played a wild drive at Woakes and was caught behind. As he departed, there were some boos, but almost all of Edgbaston stood to acclaim the brilliance it had witnessed.
Wade piles on the pain
Head moved from 21 to 51 without alarm, but when he played a loose slash at Stokes, Australia’s lead stood at 115 and England had hope.
It was snatched away by Wade, a wicketkeeper playing his first Test in almost two years as a specialist batsman after some stellar form in domestic cricket.
The left-hander drove through the covers, clipped off his toes and swept to up the urgency of the Australia scoring.
He overturned being given lbw off Broad on 69 – another error by umpire Joel Wilson – and completed his third Test century, his first for more than six years, with a reverse sweep off Joe Root’s off-spin.
Wade and captain Tim Paine, who made 34, fell in the space of nine deliveries, but by that time Australia were past 400.
James Pattinson’s plunder of 47 not out from 48 balls, including four sixes, was the final torment of England’s dispiriting day in the field.
England’s Sunday struggle
Even if it was poor judgement by England to pick Anderson barely a month after he tore his right calf, it is still true that they have been disadvantaged by his absence, a problem compounded by Woakes’ lack of overs on Sunday.
Given the lifeless conditions for Broad and Stokes, England desperately needed Moeen – Test cricket’s leading wicket-taker in the past year – to provide a threat.
Not only was he unable to do so, but he leaked runs at almost 4.5 an over and sent down only one maiden in 29. It meant Root had to use himself and leg-spinner Joe Denly, who were just as expensive.
Bar a circular field for Smith at the beginning of the day, England were bereft of ideas – Wade in particular benefited from a pressure-free start as the fielders retreated.
As flat as England were by the end of the Australia innings, it is to the credit of Burns and Roy that they came through some nervy moments against Lyon.
The negotiation of those 42 deliveries gradually brought Edgbaston to life and, by the end, the Hollies Stand was louder than it had been at any other point of the day.
‘It’s extremely special’ – what they said
Steve Smith on BBC Test Match Special: “It’s extremely special. I’ve never scored a hundred in both innings in any form of cricket in my life. To do it my first game back, in an Ashes Test, knowing how important the first Test is, I’m pleased.
“We’re in a great position now. Hopefully we can make use of that tomorrow. There’s quite a bit of spin out there. You’d think a day-five wicket will wear even more.”
England batting coach Graeme Thorpe on TMS: “You have to give him (Smith) a great deal of credit. He’s a world-class player. “He’s got the hunger back. He hasn’t lost any of his skill and desire to score runs. He’s been a thorn to us in this game.”
“The pitch is taking turn. Nathan Lyon will be important – Australia will want him to bowl well. He’s under pressure as well – he’s probably got 200 deliveries through the day.
“We’ve got to play positively – you’ve still got to have positive intent. You have to show plenty of character and plenty of skill too.”
Former England captain Michael Vaughan on TMS: “Australia have a chance of winning this Test because of one batsman who got his team into a position of huge strength.
“The pitch is going to be fine. There will be the odd bit of movement and pressure does strange things to players, but England should have enough, in terms of quality and strength, to see out 90 overs, if they play Nathan Lyon well.”
- Steve Smith is now level with Steve Waugh on 10 Ashes centuries. Only Don Bradman (19) and Jack Hobbs (12) have more
- Smith’s past six Ashes innings read 239, 76, 102*, 83, 144 and 142. He is only the second player after Mike Hussey to score six consecutive Ashes fifties
- Smith moved up to 18th in the all-time Ashes run-scorers list after 24 Tests. No other player in this series is in the top 50
- Since making his first Ashes century at The Oval in 2013, Smith averages 78.12 in 17 Tests against England