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Ashes 2019: Steve Smith 211 punishes wasteful England in fourth Test

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Men’s Ashes: England v Australia, fourth Specsavers Test (day two of five)
Australia 497-8 dec: Smith 211, Labuschagne 67, Paine 58, Starc 54*
England 23-1
England trail by 474 runs
Scorecard

Steve Smith’s relentless double century demoralised England and put Australia in prime position to retain the Ashes after two days of the fourth Test at Old Trafford.

Smith remorselessly worked his way to 211 – taking advantage of being dropped by Jofra Archer on 65 and dismissed off a Jack Leach no-ball on 118 – to lead the tourists to 497-8 declared.

His third century of the series took his tally of runs to 589 runs at an average of 147.25, all despite having missed the third Test because of concussion.

Even with the brilliance of Smith, England may have had the chance to chip away at the other end had Australia captain Tim Paine not been dropped twice in his 58.

Instead, their tired attack was flogged by Mitchell Starc’s 54 not out as the tourists, who at various points could have been 246-6 or 273-6, surged towards a declaration.

England were given a difficult 10 overs to bat and lost Joe Denly to Matthew Wade’s superb reaction catch at short leg to close on 23-1. Rory Burns has 15 and nightwatchman Craig Overton three.

All is not lost for the home side – the placid pitch should provide no obstacles as they bid to bat well into Saturday in order to get close to the Australia total.

However, because Australia have such a large score on the board, any sort of England collapse could see the Ashes secured with a Test to spare.

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Superb Smith flattens England

In the same way that all of England’s plans for Smith have been exhausted – he also racked up 687 runs in the 2017-18 Ashes series down under – so too are there no more superlatives for unquenchable desire to bat for hours on end.

In just four innings he has become the leading run-scorer in Test cricket this year, a remarkable achievement considering he did not play a five-day match until 1 August because of his ban for the ball-tampering scandal.

If there was any question that he would be rattled by the blow from Archer that concussed him at Lord’s, Smith answered with another peerless display of patience, sound judgement and an ability to hit the ball in areas where only he is capable.

Yes, he had the fortune of the reprieves, but he capitalised to flatten both the home side and the Old Trafford crowd, the latter mercifully allowed to watch in more pleasant conditions after the rain and cold of Wednesday.

Throughout the World Cup and the first two Tests, Smith was booed at every opportunity – when he walked out to the middle, reached a milestone, even when he came back out to bat after being hit by Archer.

This time, when he was finally dismissed, Old Trafford gave him a standing ovation, recognition that we are witnessing an Ashes performance for the ages.

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England’s awful day

If England had the excuse of the elements for their below-par performance on day one, there was no hiding from their ragged and wasteful display on Thursday.

Archer has been lacklustre with the ball throughout – he returned 0-97 from 27 overs – and it was he who gave Smith his first life, getting both hands to the ball in his follow-through after the former captain drove a low full toss back to the bowler.

Paine was reprieved from simpler chances – Jason Roy put down an edge at second slip when he was on nine, while a diving substitute fielder Sam Curran failed to cling on to a miscued pull at mid-on on 49.

But the most galling was the Leach no-ball, discovered after Smith edged a beautiful delivery to slip. Leach at least continued to bowl tidily, but Smith added a further 93 runs.

England’s misery was compounded by Headingley hero Ben Stokes leaving the field mid-over with a shoulder niggle. After Stokes returned – he did not bowl again – wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow needed treatment on his right thumb.

Despite captain Joe Root’s attempts to rally his side, their frustration and dejection was palpable until Australia’s declaration gave them the opportunity to drag themselves off.

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Australia pile on the pain

At 170-3 at the start of the day, 183-4 when Travis Head played around a straight one to give Stuart Broad his third wicket and 224-5 at the point Wade inexplicably skied Leach, Australia were far from in charge.

That was changed by the stand of 145 between Smith and Paine, the captain making his first Test half-century for almost a year.

Smith was Smith. If the ball was not being left with comical flamboyance, it was tucked into the leg side or driven beautifully through the covers and down the ground.

There were times when he was troubled by Leach, or when England tried to test his patience, but Smith outlasted them. Only when the declaration became apparent did he open his shoulders, lofting two sixes before reverse-sweeping Root’s spin to short third man.

By that point, Starc was climbing into the bowling, hitting Broad for four successive fours, then slapping Root and Archer for a six apiece.

When Denly was brilliantly caught at short leg off Pat Cummins by Wade, who dived to hold a rebound off his own body, it epitomised Australia’s superb day.

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‘Smith is the greatest artist I have seen’ – what they said

Australia batsman Steve Smith on BBC Test Match Special: “I went through a period where I lost concentration for 20-odd minutes, gave a chance, got caught off a no-ball and tried to hit one for six that landed safely.

“After that I switched myself back on and it was a bit of a wake-up call for me. You always need a bit of luck and I got that today.”

England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow: “He is good, isn’t he? He is in some serious form. He has had a lay-off and has come back with the bit between his teeth to score as many as he can. To score the runs he has in the series so far is a commendable effort.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan on BBC Test Match Special: “Smith is an artist – the greatest artist I have seen. I love watching him bat.

“This is a must-win match. England had to arrive with the right mentality but what I have seen is an England side that looks a little dejected. England have three days of real discipline and technical nous ahead. It will test their mentality.”

Cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew: “Smith is a run machine. You can’t say he is pretty to watch. He is exhausting to watch.

“It is going to be a huge day tomorrow. England have got to bat well or they will lose.”

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How’s stat?!

  • Despite not playing until August this year, Smith is the highest run-scorer in Tests in 2019 with 589 from four innings
  • Smith has scored three Ashes double centuries, second only to Donald Bradman
  • Since making his maiden Test century, Smith averages 110.28 in the first innings of Tests
  • Since The Oval in 2015, Smith has scored 1,419 runs – including seven hundreds and three fifties – at an average of 141.9
  • Smith averages 174.33 since returning from his ball-tampering ban; David Warner averages 11.29
  • Smith has been out only twice playing a reverse sweep – Joe Root was the bowler on both occasions
  • Smith and Tim Paine’s partnership of 145 is the biggest of the series
Steve Smith wagon wheel

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