Smith continues to punish England as double ton puts Australia in control

Australian batsman goes on to make 211 after a number of let-offs on day two

 

4th Test - Day 2 of 5: Australia 497-8 dec (S Smith 211, M Labuschagne 67, T Paine 58, M Starc 54no; S Broad 3-97, M Leach 2-83, C Overton 2-85) lead England 23-1 by 474 runs

It is that man again. Currently he averages 147.25 in the series and the parallels with Bradman are no longer delivered with a wry grin. Steve Smith has done it again.

He is never beautiful, but he is brilliant and forever mesmerising, especially during his increasingly eccentric post-delivery antics. Then he resembles one of the great mime artists as he demonstrates – very occasionally – how he has just received an excellent delivery that has beaten his outside edge or – more frequently – how he might have clipped that ball a little squarer to score four runs rather than one.

He gives the spectator a visual running commentary of what is buzzing through his head; he gives English bowlers ever more gruesome nightmares and his Australian team-mates a comfort blanket so big that the entire team could be wrapped inside it.

Australia have lost one Test in this series and Smith did not play in it. Here at Old Trafford he was back; within a few overs on Wednesday he dispelled the notion that he was suffering any adverse effects from concussion. He picked up his bat and played as if he was still at Edgbaston.

By Thursday afternoon Smith had delivered a double century, the third in his Test career, all of which have been against England. It may not be a match-winning innings, though there is a strong likelihood of that. It certainly ensures that Australia will not lose this contest.

It was not a flawless knock. Unusually he needed some assistance from his opponents. On 65 he offered a tough return catch to Jofra Archer from a low full-toss; on 118 he was caught at slip by Ben Stokes off Jack Leach but then came the realisation that the left-armer had overstepped.

Leach had deceived Smith with a slower delivery but often the planting of the front foot is delayed when propelling such a ball. As a consequence the foot creeps forward. This was a crushing blow to England’s chances of having any hope of victory here. Now Joe Root and his team would settle for a draw with as much jubilation as the Aussies displayed here in 2005.

Regular Smith watchers know the form: the extravagant footwork which takes him towards cover-point, the seemingly risk-free flicks through the leg side, the occasional firm footed cover drive, the unerring dispatch of wayward deliveries and the constant impression that the pitch is five yards longer when he is on strike. If somehow Australia fail to retain the Ashes, a decreasing possibility, then Smith will be as mystified to be on the losing side as Shane Warne and his 40 wickets in 2005.

Despite the drop of Smith by Archer, which was little more than a half chance, there was early encouragement for England. Stuart Broad dismissed yet another left-hander, Travis Head, lbw. Then Matthew Wade, who is not the type to grind down spin bowlers since he does not trust his defence, drove wildly against Leach and the ball hovered in the air for ages. Awaiting its descent was Root, who judged a swirling catch well. Australia were wobbling at 224 for five.

But the middle session, which lasted two and a half hours, was a torment for England. The tone was set in the first over when Tim Paine stretched to reach the widest delivery Broad had delivered in the match and succeeded only in edging the ball towards Jason Roy at second slip. The chance, a straightforward one – if there is such a thing in the slip cordon – was spilt.

Roy is in alien territory at second slip in a Test match. After this aberration he was, later in the afternoon, surreptitiously replaced by Stokes. A feature of so many of England’s new recruits in their batting line-up has been their inability to hold on to chances coming their way. This has less to do with their catching skill than their ability to stay relaxed yet alert amid the special tension and scrutiny that is part and parcel of Test cricket.

Then came the catch to Stokes from Leach’s no-ball. That was the final straw in England’s efforts to dismiss Australia for a manageable total. This was followed by another moment indicative of England’s plight: Stokes left the field before completing his over. It later transpired he was suffering from soreness in the shoulder. Another dropped catch by the substitute, Sam Curran, when Paine was on 49 compounded the misery. A session of 32 overs had produced 124 runs, no wickets and three major English blemishes. And we are constantly told “you can’t afford one bad session at this level”.

After tea Craig Overton and Leach picked up a wicket each and then Smith was out for 211, reverse-sweeping Root to backward point. “Ah”, mused the old timers, “Bradman never got out like that”. Then Mitchell Starc swung merrily, smashing 54 from 58 balls with enthusiastic support from Nathan Lyon.

England had to face 10 overs and there was nothing merry about that process. The opening position awaits a resolution. Out came Joe Denly; he was lucky to survive for six overs as the ball sped past his defensive bat on several occasions but then he was unfortunate to be the victim of a brilliant catch by Wade at short-leg after the ball had been hit by the middle of his bat. Overton, the latest nightwatchman, hung on alongside Rory Burns, but there is a lot of batting to be done to keep the destination of the Ashes a mystery at the Oval. – Guardian

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