Day three of the Ashes – Smith still holds the key

Steve Smith once again held Australia’s Ashes hopes on his shoulders as England’s bowlers fought in vain to dismiss their nemesis on the third evening of the opening Test.

The home side claimed a handy first-innings lead of 90, all out for 374 after Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes backed up Rory Burns’ maiden international hundred with vital tail-end runs.

They then prised out three wickets before Australia had cleared the deficit, Broad, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes dovetailing to see off the top order, leaving the fate of the game revolving around Smith.

He produced a sensational 144 to drag his side back from the brink on day one, his first Test knock since his year-long ban for ball-tampering, and when bad light intervened shortly after 6pm at Edgbaston he had effortlessly reeled off another unbeaten 46.

Australia will resume on 124 for three, 34 in front, knowing their chances might well live and die with their former skipper.

Tweet of the day

Snap shot

David Warner shows a baying Hollies Stand crowd his hands after being heckled for 'sandpapergate' while fielding on the boundary (Nick Potts/PA)
David Warner sees the lighter side as he shows the Hollies Stand crowd his hands after being heckled for ‘sandpapergate’ while fielding on the boundary (Nick Potts/PA)

Eyes on the skies

The Met Office expects any early morning showers to give way before the scheduled start while there is just a 10 per cent chance of rain throughout the hours of play. Those hoping for sunshine may be disappointed as it is anticipated the cloud will hang around with temperatures rising to a peak of 23 degrees in the afternoon.

Jofra enters the fray

Jofra Archer
Jofra Archer had a spell as a substitute fielder (Mike Egerton/PA)

The surprise figure of Jofra Archer made a brief appearance as a substitute fielder to cheers from the crowd shortly after Australia had wiped out the first-innings deficit. Archer, England’s leading wicket-taker in their triumphant World Cup campaign, was omitted from the XI to face Australia amid concerns about a side strain but he featured in the Vitality Blast for Sussex at Hove on Friday night. He was back in Birmingham on Saturday afternoon, and he briefly stopped play on his exit as he went upstairs behind the bowler’s arm.

Who’s the captain?

Steve Smith, right, offers his input to captain Tim Paine
Steve Smith, right, offers his input to captain Tim Paine (Nick Potts/PA)

Smith became increasingly animated in the field as Woakes and Broad wrestled back the initiative for England, at times appearing to direct fielders from first slip ahead of captain Tim Paine. The former Australia captain is banned from a leadership position for the next year because of his role in the ball-tampering affair but Paine seemed happy to delegate duties at times in a frustrating period for his side.

Warner not a walker

David Warner walks off after being dismissed
David Warner had to walk off eventually (Nick Potts/PA)

On two occasions in this Test, Warner has feathered behind off Stuart Broad and stood his ground. It is a stance – irrespective of anyone’s views on the sensitive subject of batsmen walking – that is slightly incongruous to Australia’s ‘elite honesty’ policy since the ball-tampering scandal. Warner is not the only Australian to not walk in this Test but his blatant edge while attempting to withdraw late meant he must have known he made contact.

Top of the shots

Chris Woakes, right, hits Nathan Lyon, not pictured, for six
Chris Woakes, right, hits Nathan Lyon, not pictured, for six (Mike Egerton/PA)

Chris Woakes had a couple of nervy moments against Nathan Lyon early on but on the stroke of lunch, he cast off the shackles by getting down on one knee and slog-sweeping into the crowd beyond the deep midwicket boundary. Woakes and Stuart Broad went on to add 65 for the ninth wicket as England claimed a potentially crucial 90-run advantage in the first innings.

Money ball

Moeen Ali shoulders arms and loses his off stump to Lyon
Moeen Ali shoulders arms and loses his off stump to Lyon (Nick Potts/PA)

Moeen Ali’s batting continues to cause concern. His duck here was the sixth time in his last eight Test innings he has failed to get out of double figures while Nathan Lyon remains his bete noire. Dismissed seven times in nine innings in the last Ashes series Down Under, Moeen succumbed to his fellow spinner once again, offering no shot to one that went straight on, the ball going on to clatter into off stump for a wicket that got worse with each viewing.

What’s next?

August 4: England v Australia, day four of the first Ashes Test, Edgbaston.

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