Ashes 2019: Steve Smith's double century powers Australia to dominant position as England lose late wicket

Steve Smith’s third double century against England left the hosts on the back foot in the fourth Test of this rollercoaster Ashes series.

The seemingly infallible Australian batsman struck 211 runs, ably assisted by half-centuries from Tim Paine, Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Starc en-route to an imposing first innings tally of 497-8 at Old Trafford.

Although the visitors declared with 45 minutes remaining, England emerged from a difficult evening session in Manchester just one down.

It leaves Australia strong favourites to take the lead once more in the series, which is currently poised at 1-1.

Smith’s ordinarily imposing presence was uncharacteristically missing in the opening overs, presenting some chances - most notably a drop by Jofra Archer - in the opening overs of day two.

But when the apparent nerves had settled, after another thick inside edge, Australia’s lynchpin was back at it dabbing shots into the on side for singles on a frequent occasion.

Shortly before lunch, the inevitable occurred and the 30-year-old brought up his third century in his four knocks of the series.

Steve Smith, returning to the action after missing one and a half Tests, hit a huge century. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)
Smith's partnership with captain Tim Paine put the visitors in firm control (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

It was as always, when not concussed, the Steve Smith show - but what happened to the accompanying cast?

Travis Head added just one in the morning before being trapped LBW by Stuart Broad in classic style to the left-handed batsman, to depart for just 19.

Matthew Wade, without a significant score since his 110 in the opening Test, came to the crease and struggled before a lapse in concentration - an unnecessary and mis-timed slog off Jack Leach - saw him dismissed for 16.

All the while, Smith played a predominantly careful innings at the other end.

And the series produced another trademark emotional rollercoaster when Smith edged Leach to Ben Stokes at slip and sent the Manchester crowd into raptures - only for replays to reveal it was a no ball.

Broad continued to take wickets, ending Travis Head's stay at the crease early (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)
Matthew Wade was caught by Joe Root after a poor slog off Jack Leach (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

Smith returned to the crease while the home skipper Joe Root gathered his troops to rally them as heads threatened to drop at Old Trafford.

Paine, Australia’s existing captain, played a handy innings alongside his predecessor as Smith attempted to make the most of his third life.

But Paine himself was handed a lifeline when Jason Roy dropped a regulation catch with him on just nine runs.

Salvation evaded England with the coming of the new ball, with both batsmen playing a number of crisp drives en route to their hundred-run partnership.

Smith brought up his 150 and Paine matched it with 50 of his own - but not before being dropped again, this time on 49 by substitute fielder Sam Curran.

It was Paine’s first half-century in 11 Tests but it was the extended partnership which did the damage - and once again England were made to rue poor fielding heading into the tea break.

Craig Overton, finally, ended the 145-run stand when Paine edged the first ball after tea behind to Bairstow, before Pat Cummins fell in similar fashion shortly after.

Overton ensured Paine didn't survive a single ball after tea (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)
Steve Smith was dismissed for 211 and left the pitch to a respectful applause (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

But Starc - making his debut in this series - provided greater resistance than his fast bowling partner.

As he did so, with that equally grim inevitability, Smith brought up his double ton - his third in as many series against England.

His landmark brought about a series of shots from both batsmen, including lofted drives and sweeps as Australia accelerated at a rate of knots.

The Steve Smith show eventually ended when he reverse swept Root straight to Joe Denly, but the visitors kept the tempo high.

Nathan Lyon began finding boundaries with regularity, while Starc slog swept Leach for a gigantic six as the tail threw the bat at almost every delivery.

The Australian tail started swinging - and on several occasions found the boundary (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)
Starc hit 50 before the declaration arrived on 497-8 (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

Root’s frustrations were growing as the captain wasted England’s final review, before Starc then hit the Yorkshireman for consecutive boundaries in an over which ended up costing him 16 runs.

That frenetic period accounted for a spell of Australia hitting more than 10 runs per over, with Starc leading from the front with a rapid-fire 50 off 49 balls.

And when Paine declared on 8-497 with less than an hour remaining of play, the worst was feared.

Rory Burns and Joe Denly, though, both took early blows to the body but mostly stood firm.

That ended when Denly was caught fending off a short Cummins delivery by a fine Wade catch - at the second attempt - at short leg.

Overton was sent out as the nightwatchman and will return tomorrow as England saw off the final over from Josh Hazlewood without any further damage.

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