Ashes: England face battle after Steve Smith century gives Australia the edge

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Pint-sized Ashes: Day three's best bits as Smith takes charge
First Ashes Test, Gabba, Brisbane (day three of five)
England 302 & 33-2
Australia 328: Smith 141*, Marsh 51
England lead by seven runs

Australia took hold of the first Ashes Test thanks to captain Steve Smith's epic century and two late England wickets on day three in Brisbane.

Smith, ranked as the number one batsman in the world, spent more than eight and a half hours at the crease for his chanceless 141 not out.

With Pat Cummins, who made 42, Smith dragged the home side from 209-7 to 328 all out, a precious advantage of 26 runs.

England took three wickets in the morning session to have the opportunity of a lead of their own, but were made to toil in the afternoon by the remorseless Smith.

When they eventually came to bat, they lost Alastair Cook and James Vince, both to Josh Hazlewood to slip to 17-2.

At the other end, Mitchell Starc and Cummins defied the slow surface to give Mark Stoneman and Joe Root a torrid time with sustained and vicious short bowling.

Root was struck in the grille by Starc and needed two lots of treatment, but, despite numerous scares, England got through without further losses and remain in the contest at 33-2, a lead of seven.

They may, however, have concern over the fitness of pace bowler James Anderson, who spent time off the field in the afternoon.

Thrilling Test tilts Australia's way

Joe Root receives treatment
Root received treatment after being hit on the helmet during a hostile spell of bowling

This was another wonderful day in a fascinating Test that has delivered on the pre-match hype and shown that the series is likely to be highly competitive.

England, the Ashes holders, still have the chance to inflict a first Brisbane defeat on Australia in 29 years, but it is the hosts who have the upper hand.

It was not just the runs that Smith scored that had such an effect, but the way he ground England down in the afternoon heat.

The Gabba erupted into a monstrous noise when he reached three figures and then demanded English casualties when the home side took the ball in the final session.

Indeed, when Cook was caught hooking and Vince held at second slip, it had the hallmarks of the England collapses that characterised their 5-0 defeat four years ago.

It is to the credit of Stoneman and Root that they made it to the close, especially after Root took such a sickening blow.

And if the tourists can battle to a lead of 200 or more, that would be a difficult chase for Australia on a pitch that looks set to become harder to bat on.

Superb Smith is immovable object

Steve Smith
Smith withstood everything the England attack could throw at him

The suspicion before this series was that Australia's batting depends heavily on Smith and David Warner. Here, the captain proved the theory with his patience, discipline and skill.

Since the final Ashes Test in 2013, Smith has made 21 centuries. No-one in the England team has made more than Root's 11.

This one, at 261 balls, was the slowest of his career, mainly because the sluggish nature of the pitch, England's tactics and the match situation demanded restraint.

On Friday, after England lost their fifth wicket, they added only 56 more runs. Smith coaxed 153 out of Australia's final five thanks mainly to a 66-run stand with Cummins.

The tourists tried everything to remove him, at one point having six fielders on the leg side, three of which were on the boundary, with no-one between gully and mid-on.

Smith though, chugged on, leaving anything outside off stump, refusing to be rattled by an abundance of short bowling and shovelling runs through the leg side.

When he brought up his century with a rare drive through mid-off from the bowling of Stuart Broad, he beat the Australia badge on his chest.

He even added 30 runs with last man Nathan Lyon and was unmoved when Root had Lyon caught at leg slip.

Anderson injury concern

James Anderson
Anderson took 2-50 from 29 overs but did not bowl at the last-wicket pair

England were superb in the morning session, giving them realistic hope of earning a first-innings lead at the Gabba for the first time since 1990.

From 165-4 overnight, Australia lost three wickets for 34 runs as Anderson and Broad threatened to dismantle the lower order.

Shaun Marsh moved from 44 to complete a half-century, but after he chipped Broad to mid-off, England exploited the second new ball.

Tim Paine was caught behind one-handed by Jonny Bairstow off Anderson and Broad, who was hit for a straight six by Starc, had his revenge with a tumbling return catch.

Cummins joined Smith to get Australia to lunch and, from there, England were subdued.

Fears that Anderson may be injured were raised when he did not return immediately after the break, but England insisted there was no problem with their all-time leading wicket-taker.

He returned and bowled again, but none of the last 16 overs of the Australia innings, after tea or at the last pair of Smith and Lyon.

Anderson's importance, along with Broad, was highlighted by their combined figures. Between them they took 5-99 from 54 overs. The rest returned 5-228 from 76.3.

Jake Ball was expensive, Chris Woakes disappointingly ineffective and Moeen Ali did not find as much turn as Australia counterpart Lyon.

Hostility like four years ago - analysis

Former England captain Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special

From what we have seen in terms of the hostility from Australia and the crowd, that was like four years ago and the way Mark Stoneman played was tremendous.

Everything we had spoken about before the Test, that one and a half hours is what England would have expected going into it. It was brutal.

Whether the pitch has quickened up or Australia were buoyed by their captain Steve Smith, we will find out tomorrow.

Credit to Joe Root - that was a bad blow. The doctor went out there twice. It rattles you as a player. The courage he showed was tremendous.

Who will win graphic

What they said - the players

Australia captain Steve Smith: "With the team in trouble at 70-4 I had to bat time and dig deep. I had to fight hard through difficult periods. They set defensive fields and boundaries were hard to come by. I had to get off strike, wait for balls in my area and be disciplined.

"I thought they were pretty defensive from the outset. It was as if they were waiting for batters to make mistakes."

England bowler Stuart Broad: "We had a fantastic morning and then Australia fought back. Today was the best day to bat so far. The spin had come out of the pitch and the ball wasn't doing very much.

"What is good for us is that it will be better to bat on tomorrow. It is such an even game so far and I've finished each day not knowing who is on top."

How's stat?!

  • This is the seventh consecutive Ashes Test in which Australia have gained a first-innings lead at the Gabba
  • This was Steve Smith's fourth Test century of 2017. Only South Africa's Dean Elgar (5) has more
  • Australia have never lost when Steve Smith has faced at least 220 balls in an innings (W7, D3).

Ducking and diving

Phil Tufnell
Tufnell averaged 5.10 with the bat in his 42 Test matches for England

In the Test Match Special commentary box, former England spinner Phil Tufnell, a true tail-end batsman, was living every moment as Australia's pace bowlers fired down a succession of 90mph deliveries.

"It was edge of your seat stuff in that final session. It was amazing," said Tufnell. "Fair play to England as they could have been four or five down and that's the game almost done. They've just managed to hang on."

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