Steve Smith closes in on second Edgbaston century
He put together a stand of 130 with Travis Head.
Steve Smith moved within touching distance of a second brilliant century of the match as he led Australia to a handsome lead of 141 on the fourth morning of the Ashes opener at Edgbaston.
He carved out a brilliant 144 to rescue his side in the first innings and Smith once again proved a class above an England attack badly missing the injured James Anderson, reaching 98 not out at lunch.
In all, the tourists scored 107 for the loss of only one wicket as they reached 231 for four, grabbing the initiative in unequivocal fashion with every run taking the game away from England.
Smith was responsible for 42 of them quite effortlessly, the bulk coming in a stand of 130 with Travis Head, the only wicket to fall when Ben Stokes took his edge for 51.
The last player to score twin hundreds in an Ashes Test was Matthew Hayden in Brisbane 17 years ago but it would be a major surprise if Smith did not join that club early in the afternoon.
With Anderson’s calf injury ruling him out of bowling again in the match it was a surprise to see Chris Woakes not bowl a ball before lunch, particularly given he was fit enough for fielding duty. Whether he was not available to bowl or simply withheld, it was an unexpected turn of events on his home ground.
England took the field hoping for a big show from spinner Moeen Ali, who removed Cameron Bancroft on day three but also shipped 47 runs in his nine overs.
His ball scuttled low off the pitch and his fifth looped accidentally out of the hand, passing well above Smith’s head for a no-ball. It was an ominous start to a seven-over spell which failed to build pressure or bring chances, Smith and Head in full control.
In the end England were forced to replace him with Joe Denly, whose part-time leg-breaks briefly offered a point of difference but included too many cheap runs.
Stuart Broad started soundly at the other end, with a pair of early lbw shouts around the wicket to Head. The angle of delivery was always against Broad, with both deliveries sliding down leg, but his length was full enough to ask the right questions.
For all his efforts Broad could not unlock the door, Head at one point taking him for two fours in three balls to top up the otherwise gentle accumulation.
The hundred stand ticked by in 172 balls, with Stokes joining the attack. Digging in the occasional bouncer he finally got England on the board when Head’s outside edge sailed into Jonny Bairstow’s gloves for 51.
The umpires checked Stokes’ delivery stride before confirming the wicket, with his trailing foot seemingly close to no-ball territory.
Australia’s vice-captain might have fallen five runs earlier, and become Denly’s first Test wicket, when Denly beat his outside edge but Bairstow could not gather cleanly with the batsman out of his crease.
Smith began the final over of the morning on 97 but managed a solitary single off Moeen’s last delivery, deciding he did not need to rush to his landmark.