Aussies surge as Smith resumes his Ashes rampage
Visitors grab late wicket before stumps, holding 474-run advantage after Steve Smith's third career double ton on day two
Andrew Ramsey at Old Trafford
6 September 2019, 07:00 AM AEST
England might well have feared what Steve Smith would do in his comeback innings, but they could scarcely have foreseen the consequences if they foolishly gifted him two.
That was the case when Smith was 'caught' at slip from spinner Jack Leach having already made 118 in his first dig at Old Trafford on Thursday, only to be recalled to the middle when it was shown that rare lapse had come from an illegal front-foot no-ball.
The 30-year-old then added an additional 93 after the reprieve as his abject domination of England's bowlers reached levels not seen since the days of Don Bradman, and Australia posted a formidable 8(dec)-497.
In the 135 years that Test cricket has been played at Old Trafford, no team has scored more than 400 having batted first and gone on to lose the match, and England resume at 1-23 facing an uphill battle.
The wicket of newly elevated opener Joe Denly, who fell to a stunning, juggling catch by Matthew Wade at short-leg, made a mockery of the much easier chances England had squandered earlier in the day.
With rain forecast for Manchester on Friday, a draw already looms as the hosts' best hope of keeping the Ashes series alive heading to the final Test at The Oval next week.
Certainly, the hoopla that accompanied the heroics of Headingley were but a distant echo on Thursday as Smith, Tim Paine (58) and then Mitchell Starc (54 not out) heaped misery on a tiring attack that was hobbled by a string of glaringly costly errors.
Nothing exemplified the turnaround since the remarkable third Test finale than England's fiery fast bowler Jofra Archer – who had felled Smith at Lord's and who was expected to terrorise him again – returning his worst figures from a first-class innings (0-97 from 27 overs) as his target made merry.
Australia's immediate past leader and its current captain capitalised on the England's costly mis-steps to forge Australia's biggest partnership of the series and put their team in command.
They added 145 for the sixth wicket as Paine posted his first half-century of the campaign, but it was the wicket of Smith that ultimately wasn't which told the story of a lopsided day.
Smith had reached his 26th Test century with a typically unerring tuck to square leg moments before lunch, but after the break he encountered some rare turbulence which culminated in his faux dismissal.
Aiming an extravagant drive at a ball from left-arm spinner Leach that pitched full and spun away, the resultant edge to slip was accepted by Headingley hero Ben Stokes who immediately hurled the ball into the turf as if to announce 'finally'.
But that finality lasted less than a minute, as the video replay revealed no part of Leach's right boot landed behind the crease and as England contemplated their tormentor's return to the crease, their captain Joe Root read the riot act to his disconsolate players.
It did little to stir them into action as Smith simply re-set, and kept batting.
Not even the arrival of the second new ball and a resumption of hostilities from Archer could dislodge the world's number-one Test batter a second time and he duly reached his third Test double-century three and a half hours later.
Upon completing a couple of runs off England's most impressive bowler, Stuart Broad (3-97), Smith took a moment to stand in the centre of his fiefdom with arms raised and bathed in deserved acclaim.
His eight-and-a-half-hour innings (plural) formally finished as Australia chased quick runs in the final session, and fittingly it required that Smith engineer his own downfall – holing out from a reverse sweep off occasional spinner, Root.
The tail then enjoyed some free-hitting against England's foot-weary bowlers, with Starc clubbing seven fours and a couple of sixes before he took the new ball with 14 overs remaining in the day.
England resume with opener Rory Burns (15 not out) and nightwatchman Craig Overton (three not out) at the crease, after a day that was perhaps the home team's worst of a wildly fluctuating series to date.
While Leach's foot-fault was the most graphic and galling opportunity that England missed on a blustery but mostly fine day in Manchester, it was far from the only one.
Nor was it the first.
Smith might well have been removed in the morning's second over, having added just a boundary and a single to his overnight score of 60 and given every indication he was struggling to reclaim his mastery from the previous day.
He had played and missed twice in the space of six deliveries from, firstly, Broad and then Archer before the latter sent down a shin-high full-toss that Smith attempted to wallop down the ground.
The resultant chance flew back to Archer along a similar trajectory to which it had been delivered, and even though the bowler reacted sufficiently quickly to get a hand to the catch, it burst through and instead rolled to the rope.
While the breakthrough arrived soon after, it was not the wicket England so keenly sought.
Rather, it was vice-captain Travis Head who once again fell to a right-arm seamer (Broad) operating around the wicket and targeting the left-hander's stumps.
Wade then engaged in an hour-long battle against the opposition, firstly, and then with himself as he found runs difficult to come by and frustration tough to disguise.
After a 12-minute rain delay that coincided with the day's first drinks break, Wade became fully becalmed having endured almost 20 minutes without scoring.
He tried to remedy that by advancing down the pitch at Leach and blasting him over the leg-side, only to send a top-edge hurtling into the low clouds over Old Trafford and into Root's hands at mid-on.
That dismissal saw Australia uncomfortably poised at 5-224 and, given the propensity their tail has shown to collapse throughout this series, potentially pondering a sub-300 total.
But the former skipper, and the man who succeeded him, methodically, and maximising their good fortune, hauled them initially to safety and then to a position of strength.
The pair should have been separated when Paine had made just nine, and they had added 22, as the Australia captain slashed hard at a full out-swinger from Broad that caught the toe of the bat and flew comfortably to Jason Roy at second slip.
But as he's done previously in the series at crucial moments, Roy fluffed his lines and Broad's celebration for a deserved fourth wicket turned to disbelief.
Soon after, Smith made a charge at Leach and miscued completely but the looping mis-hit somehow fell safely between the fielder haring back from point and the one charging in from the extra-cover boundary.
Then Paine miscued a pull stroke to substitute fielder Sam Curran – filling in for Stokes who had been unable to complete his 11th over due to shoulder soreness – who spilled the straightforward chance bending low to his left.
Between those costly misses, Smith appeared to be battling to rediscover his concentration and composure, especially in the half-hour that followed lunch.
However, the annoyance he showed immediately after being 'caught' at slip conveyed his belief there was still runs to be made against England's wearing attack and frustrated fielders on a slow and largely true Old Trafford pitch.
And when he was granted the unexpected reprieve that allowed him to keep batting, he showed just how many remained out there.
England XI: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Craig Overton, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach
Australia XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matt Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval