MANCHESTER: Australia star Steve Smith looked like he had never been away as he marked his first Test since suffering concussion with a fourth fifty in as many innings against England this Ashes series at Old Trafford on Wednesday.
Smith, a shining light for the tourists on a dull day in Manchester, was 60 not out in an Australia total of 170-3 at stumps on the rain-marred first day of the fourth Test where only 44 overs of a scheduled 90 were bowled.
This was Smith’s eighth succesive Test fifty against England – a run that started during Australia’s 4-0 home series win in 2017/18 – with the 30-year-old extending his own Ashes record.
The star batsman had come in with Australia struggling at 28-2 after an early double strike by Stuart Broad, who had 2-35 from 10 overs at the close.
But together with Marnus Labuschagne, whose 67 was his fourth successive Test fifty since replacing Smith as a concussion substitute, the former Australia captain added 116 in 33 overs for the third wicket.
Smith missed England’s dramatic one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley that levelled this five-match series at 1-1 after being felled by a bouncer from paceman Jofra Archer during the drawn second Test at Lord’s.
Tim Paine, Smith’s successor as Australia captain, took the decision to bat first after winning the toss, even though both top orders have struggled this series.
Broad snares Warner again
But just four balls into the innings Broad, again leading England’s attack in the absence of regular new-ball partner James Anderson, had Warner caught behind for nought as he tried to withdraw his bat.
It was the fifth time Broad had snared Warner this series.
Marcus Harris had kept his place alongside Warner after Australia dropped the struggling Usman Khawaja but the left-hander fell for 13 when Broad trapped him lbw from around the wicket with a ball that nipped back.
Harris’s exit brought Smith to the crease for his first Test innings since Lord’s, where he made 92 despite being struck by Archer.
Smith, who had scored 144 and 142 in Australia’s 251-run win in the series opener at Edgbaston — his first Test since a 12-month ball-tampering ban — got off the mark fifth ball by expertly driving Archer through extra-cover for four.
All-rounder Ben Stokes — whose 135 not out at Headingley saw England to an improbable win — cut one back sharply to Labuschagne but a review of Marais Erasmus’s not out lbw decision was umpire’s call.
Australia were 98-2 at lunch, with rain then stopping play for more than two hours before Labuschagne completed an 88-ball fifty.
Smith then played one of the shots of an increasingly windy day, with the bails being repeatedly blown from the top of the stumps, when he drove Broad down the ground for four.
Smith reached his fifty with his seventh four in 81 balls when he ended up on his knees following an extravagant cover-drive off Stokes.
Labuschagne, however, was eventually bowled by a nip-back ball from seamer Craig Overton, the only change to England’s side, having faced 128 balls including 10 fours.
Travis Head survived several close calls, including a Stokes review for lbw, to reach a rescheduled tea on 18 not out and further rain during the interval ended play for the day.