Day one of the fourth Ashes Test: Smith stays strong but weather the real winner
Steve Smith provided a familiar face of resistance as he returned from concussion to lead Australia to 170 for three on a rain-shortened first day at the fourth Ashes Test.
Forced to sit out at Headingley, where England levelled the series in dramatic fashion last time out, the world’s number one batsman was well and truly back in the groove at Old Trafford, defying the home attack with another unbeaten 60.
England’s day began promisingly, Stuart Broad seeing off both openers with the new ball, but Smith’s stand of 116 with his Leeds stand-in, Marnus Labuschagne (67), swung things in the tourists’ favour.
Tweet of the day
The series sponsor seizes an opportunity for a bit more publicity.
Quote of the day
“It was probably frustrating for everyone. I had to pull away and the chip packets kept blowing past, and the beach ball… When they put the bails on you could see the stumps shake. It was just a matter of time before they came off. It was very windy out there.”
Labuschagne speaks about the frustrations of playing in difficult weather conditions on a wet and windy day in Manchester.
Stuart Broad’s removal of David Warner – for the fifth time in seven innings in the series – with the score just one meant another failure for Australia’s opening pairing. The tourists have averaged just 8.85 for the first wicket in the series and their top opening stand is just 13.
Rain delays are nothing new in Manchester and on this occasion the wind also caused plenty of frustration. Play was interrupted as several crisp packets blew across the field in the gusts and Labuschagne’s hapless attempts to pick up one that refused to stay still certainly amused the crowd. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena had trouble keeping his glasses on his head and the officials also decided they would rather play without bails rather than constantly pick them up.
Smith as dogged as ever
Smith, the man England struggled to remove in the opening two Tests, was back at his determined best after being forced to miss the third match of the series at Headingley. Smith’s unbeaten 60 took his tally for the series to 438 in his fourth innings.
Archer battle proves a damp squib
Smith facing Jofra Archer again was one of the most eagerly-anticipated aspects of the match but it was a battle that failed to ignite on day one. Archer, perhaps affected by the tough conditions, was not bowling at his most ferocious pace. Surprisingly he bowled for only two more overs in his first spell after Smith came to the crease. Smith, who ducked well out of the way of any bouncers, dealt with him comfortably then and in his later spell.
Good umpire call
The International Cricket Council’s decision to switch the experienced Dharmasena from third umpire to on-field duties seemed a good one. It may have been harsh on Ruchira Palliyaguruge, who took up the TV position instead, but it makes sense to have a man of 60 Tests on the pitch in such a potentially high-pressured match. He did not seem to enjoy the weather much, but his decision-making was faultless.
What’s the weather for day two?
Manchester is set for a sunny start on Thursday but it is expected to start clouding over by lunchtime with possible showers following, according to the Met Office. It will remain cloudy for most of the afternoon with possible sunny spells later on.