Smith falls for 142 but Australia building commanding lead at Edgbaston
Steve Smith was dismissed on the stroke of tea but his second century of the Test swung momentum firmly in Australia’s direction in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston.
The prolific batsman went to his 25th Test century as he became only the fifth Australian – and the first since Matthew Hayden in Brisbane in 2002 – to register twin tons in the same Ashes match.
His 144 in the first innings rescued Australia from oblivion while his 142 on the fourth day ushered the tourists to 356 for five and an imposing lead of 266 at tea.
There were supporting roles for Travis Head (51) and Matthew Wade (86no), both of whom shared century alliances with Smith, as the continued absence of England’s record wicket-taker James Anderson limited their options.
Anderson will bat if and when required during England’s chase but it was confirmed before play on Sunday that a calf complaint sustained on the first morning will preclude his involvement for the rest of Australia’s second innings.
Despite prodigious turn on an increasingly worn surface, the expensive Moeen Ali was woefully out of sorts, lacking the usual snap in his action, while part-timers Joe Denly and England captain Joe Root were largely ineffective.
Australia started the day only 34 ahead with seven wickets in tact, and it was clear from that stage that the primary goal was to remove Smith as early as possible.
Moeen’s first delivery to Australia’s talisman kept devilishly low but the fifth was a looping beamer, signalled a no-ball which hardly engendered confidence at the start of the spell that yielded no chances.
Broad had two lbw shouts against Head but neither was particularly convincing while Smith’s uppish drive evaded the fielder at cover before racing for four, one of precious few misjudgements from the former Australia captain.
Both batsmen had passed fifty and Australia’s lead was into three figures before Ben Stokes made the breakthrough, a short and wide off-cutter tempting Head into a cut that caught the edge and was pouched by Jonny Bairstow.
There was some speculation that a fraction of Stokes’ back foot had landed on the return crease on the initial point of contact, which would have led to a no-ball being called. However, the umpires reviewed the footage and the decision stood.
Smith went to lunch unbeaten on 98 after declining to go for a big hit in the final over of the session but he was soon celebrating another hundred with a sumptuous cover drive for four off Stuart Broad.
England went for a fanciful review when he was on 125 and, though there were a couple of moments of fortune for Wade, Australia’s pair settled for gentle accumulation to take the lead beyond 200.
England waited until the start of the 85th over to take the new ball and though Wade was able to overturn an lbw decision off Broad, Smith’s famed patience finally snapped off Woakes – who had not bowled at all on Sunday morning.
The first legitimate delivery of the Warwickshire seamer’s second spell was comfortably wide of off-stump but Smith, perhaps deceived by some late movement, loosely drove and was caught behind.
Having come through a couple of difficult patches early on, Wade was well-placed to become the second centurion of the innings.