England scrapping to salvage result following Smith masterclass
Steve Smith completed a majestic return to Test cricket with his second century in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston to leave England scrapping to salvage a result.
Smith, back in the Baggy Green 16 months after being banned for his role in the sandpaper scandal, followed a brilliant 144 on day one with an equally fine 142 on day four to become just the fifth Australian to hit twin hundreds against England.
Where the first rescued his side from the cliff edge at 122 for eight, the sequel helped set a monstrous target of 398. Matthew Wade also left his mark on the home team, chiming in with a fluent 110 before the declaration came at 487 for seven.
The more realistic task in front of England was the bat right through for a draw, with first-innings centurion Rory Burns and Jason Roy successfully navigating seven overs before stumps.
They and their nine team-mates must collectively see off another 90 on day five if they are to reach Lord’s all square, on a pitch offering plenty of turn for Nathan Lyon.
The 30-year-old from Sydney has single-handedly shifted the course of the match in a way that is rarely seen at this level, batting for 10 and a half hours and 426 deliveries in all, reasserting his dominance on an attack who will surely be having nightmares about the prospect of feeding him for the next five weeks.
England will rightly bemoan the loss of James Anderson on the opening morning, a right calf injury restricting their record wicket-taker to four overs and effectively leaving them a man down for the remainder.
Since heading for a scan at lunch on Thursday he has only been on the field for a first-innings batting cameo and may well be required for another before events conclude.
In his ongoing absence England needed a big performance from Moeen Ali but his off-spin provided neither the threat nor the constrictive control the team required.
If figures of two for 130 and an economy rate of 4.48 were not bad enough on a turning pitch, Joe Root’s decision to use 26 overs of part-time spin – his own and Joe Denly’s – spoke volumes.