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Smith continues to pile on runs as England’s hopes are sapped in fourth Test

He has now occupied the crease for over 17 hours in four innings during the series, following prior knocks of 144, 142 and 92.

Steve Smith has now occupied the crease for over 17 hours in four innings during the series (Martin Rickett/PA)
Steve Smith has now occupied the crease for over 17 hours in four innings during the series (Martin Rickett/PA)

By Rory Dollard, PA Cricket Correspondent

Steve Smith’s latest Ashes masterclass sapped England’s hopes as he reached 173 not out on the second afternoon of the fourth Test at Old Trafford.

Australia were 369 for five at tea, close to batting the hosts out of the game – though all such predictions now carry an asterix after Ben Stokes’ heroics at Headingley – with Smith once again at the centre.

He has now occupied the crease for over 17 hours in four innings during the series, following prior knocks of 144, 142 and 92.

England had their chances but Jofra Archer failed to gather a caught-and-bowled when he was on just 65 and when Jack Leach had him caught at slip on 118 he was summoned back to the crease after replays showed the spinner had no-balled.

He put on an unbroken 145 with captain Tim Paine who was also dropped twice, by Jason Roy and substitute fielder Sam Curran, on his way to 58no.

England will rue the fact they did not get Smith in a nervy period at the start of play, with Stuart Broad beating the batsman with the first two balls of the morning as he resumed on 60.

Archer kept the pressure on at the other end and should have had Smith with his third delivery, a low, full toss which was pushed straight back at the seamer.

It appeared to be a relatively-simple return chance but Archer failed to get a firm hand on it and a golden opportunity for England turned into four runs for Australia.

Smith was being challenged, Archer drawing an inside edge that squirmed into the leg-side and then testing him with a more threatening bouncer than any he had managed on day one, but each minute that he spent in the middle seemed to reduce the bowler’s advantage.

An effortless steer to the third man boundary off Broad suggesting he was finding his feet once again and he soon began to accumulate effortlessly.

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Steve Smith reached 173 not out by tea on the second afternoon of the fourth Test (Mike Egerton/PA)

England were able to put an end to Travis Head’s sketchy innings of 19, Broad’s round-the-wicket angle to left-handers racking up another victim as he picked up his second lbw of the Test and 17th wicket of the series.

Matthew Wade was next to abandon Smith, making a deeply-unconvincing 16 before racing down the pitch in a bid to smash Leach over the top.

Instead of the mighty connection he envisaged, the ball soared skywards and eventually dropped into Joe Root’s hands at mid-on, notwithstanding a few nervy moments as England waited underneath.

Smith moved to 99 with 10 successive singles and then flicked Craig Overton to mid-wicket for two to bring up his 26th Test century, 11 of which have come against England.

England should have started the afternoon session with the scalp of Paine, who nicked a wide one from Broad on nine only for Roy to fumble the chance.

Remarkably, things only got more frustrating from there. First Smith hoiked Leach wildly into the off-side, but safe between two fielders, on 108 then he banked back-to-back boundaries off Stokes – the second a brilliantly-precise steer to the left of gully.

Then came the killer moment, 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.

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Sam Curran dropped Tim Paine on 49 (Mike Egerton/PA)

Then a pause as Smith was told the replays were being checked. Leach had overstepped and England’s bubble was burst.

Their best hope now was the new ball but its arrival was a false dawn, Smith digging back in after his reprieve to go past 150 and Paine upping his share of the workload.

Root sent for Stokes to make something happen but he lasted just five balls, wincing in pain before admitting defeat and spending 20 minutes off the field receiving treatment on a sore shoulder.

The blows kept coming for the hosts, Curran dropping Paine on 49 after he mis-hit Archer to mid-on.

PA

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