Steve Smith the man in the middle again

Australia lose three early wickets but edge into the lead in opening Ashes Test

Australia’s Steve Smith is struck by a ball bowled by England’s Ben Stokes during play on the third day of the first Ashes test. Photograph: Getty Images

Australia’s Steve Smith is struck by a ball bowled by England’s Ben Stokes during play on the third day of the first Ashes test. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Australia 284 & 124-3
England 374

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. England, meanwhile, are juggling a depleted attack. James Anderson was able to make a brief cameo with the bat but did not join his team-mates in the field, his right calf injury clearly serious enough to keep him out of the fray.

At one stage Jofra Archer appeared as a substitute fielder, his first appearance in the Test environment, and whatever transpires over the next 48 hours it seems increasingly certain the World Cup winning seamer will debut in Anderson’s place in the second Test at Lord’s.

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