Steve Smith hits double century to pile the pressure on England
Australia declared on 497 for eight.
Steve Smith helped himself to an imperious double century as his domination of England’s bowlers scaled new heights on day two of the fourth Ashes Test.
Smith made 211 as Australia declared on 497 for eight at Old Trafford, effectively batting a home win off the agenda – although any such predictions now come with an asterisk after Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingley.
Smith missed that match with a concussion but remains the dominant figure in the series having scored 144, 142 and 92 in his three previous knocks – totting up a combined 23.7 hours and 906 balls at the crease.
Faced with the prospect of 10 overs before stumps England reached 23 for one – Joe Denly’s return to opener yielding just four runs before he turned Pat Cummins to short-leg, where Matthew Wade held one-handed at the second attempt.
England will be ruing their own handiwork – Jofra Archer missing a caught-and-bowled chance from Smith in the second over of the day – while spinner Jack Leach will have nightmares about the front foot no-ball that reprieved the right-hander when he edged to slip on 118.
He shelved any notion that the 92mph blow to the neck which forced his absence in Leeds would negatively impact his output and he now boasts 26 Test hundreds, 11 of which have come in the Ashes and three of which have been converted into doubles.
Much of the pre-match hype had focused on the resumption of Smith’s battle with Archer but while the former was left toasting another wonderful achievement, the paceman left the field wicketless for the first time in Test cricket and with his worst first-class figures of nought for 97.
Joe Root was Smith’s unlikely downfall, reverse-sweeping one of the England’s captain’s occasional leg-breaks to short third man after 319 balls in the middle.
England’s poor day in the field also saw Tim Paine dropped twice on his way to 58, while their talisman, Stokes, did not bowl again after receiving treatment for shoulder pain midway through his 11th over.
The day began with Smith resuming on 60 but looking unusually vulnerable – a passage that turned out to be a mere prologue for his day’s work.
Smith was beaten by five of the first 10 deliveries, playing and missing twice, edging short of the slips and past his own stumps.
The only authentic chance came from Archer’s low full-toss, which Smith pushed back to the seamer at waist height. Archer failed to get a firm hand on it and a golden opportunity for England turned into four runs for Australia.
Smith was off and running now, effortlessly steering Stuart Broad to the third-man boundary to ram home the point.
As so often, England’s best hope was to chip away at his partners, with Travis Head (19) and Wade (16) offering only token resistance.
Head became Broad’s 17th victim of the series, and the 12th left-hander, when he fell lbw and Wade had a rush of blood, charging at Leach and looping high to Root at mid-on.
Smith was unmoved, easing to 99 with 10 successive singles and then flicking Craig Overton for two to reach a familiar milestone just before lunch.
The afternoon session was a debacle for England, with Australia adding 124 without loss.
The numbers tell on half the story though, Paine shelled on nine by Jason Roy at slip and 49 by Stokes’ replacement fielder Sam Curran.
Smith had one hack at Leach, a mis-hit landing safe between two fielders, but soon unfurled back-to-back fours against the out-of-sorts Stokes. The second, dabbed wide of gully at the top of the bounce, was precision itself.
Then came the most painful moment yet, Leach finding the outside edge and Stokes holding a smart slip catch.
England finally had their man and Stokes’ reaction, hurling the ball into the ground with force, showed how much it meant.
Smith began walking off but paused halfway back to the pavilion as the third umpire checked the front foot. Remarkably, completely unnecessarily, Leach had overstepped.
Root called his men together and gave a passionate rallying call but it went in vain. After tea Australia swung hard and often, racking up 128 in just 25 overs before Paine called his men in.
Smith was responsible for 38 of them, celebrating his 200 in front of the most grudgingly respectful crowd of the summer, before his extravagant flick at Root stopped the clock.
Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon heaved enthusiastically, scoring 54no and 26no in quick time, before the switch over.
Rory Burns and Denly were both hit on the body before the latter came unstuck, leaving nightwatchman Overton to see out the day.