Sport Cricket Steve Smith returns to lead Australia’s Ashes recovery act
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Steve Smith returns to lead Australia’s Ashes recovery act

Steve Smith in front of the Australian flag.
Steve Smith is on the cusp of 7000 runs. Photo: Getty
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Steve Smith picked up where he left off for Australia, making an important 60 not out on day one of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford.

Smith missed the miracle of Ben Stokes at Headingley due to concussion but returned in good form as Australia reached stumps at 3-170 on a weather-impacted day.

The former captain walked to the crease with Australia in trouble at 2-29 after David Warner (0) and Marcus Harris (13) failed.

But Smith linked up with the in-form Marnus Labuschagne (67) for a vital 116-run partnership that gave Australia the day one honours on a bitterly cold day in Manchester.

Multiple rain delays produced a stop-start day of play and stumps was called early to England’s frustration, given the helpful cloud cover that lingered and, at times, assisted the bowlers.

Even with a slow-looking pitch, winning the toss and batting was a gutsy call from Australia captain Tim Paine given the weather that was on the cards.

But the early indications are that this is a good batting pitch and Nathan Lyon will also be greatly encouraged by the turn on offer for England’s Jack Leach on day one.

Seamer Stuart Broad (2-35) did the early damage, though, dismissing Warner for the fifth time this series in the first over of play.

Warner changed his mind on his shot at the last minute and edged his attempted leave to England wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow to give the hosts an ideal start.

With Usman Khawaja dropped for Smith – one of two Australia changes as Mitchell Starc also came in for James Pattinson – Labuschagne strode to the crease at No.3.

But he saw Harris fall quickly, the left-hander dismissed by Broad, too.

Still operating from around the wicket, Broad trapped Harris on the pads and was soon celebrating his dismissal.

A review followed and a first look suggested Harris may have been saved by height until an umpire’s call verdict was produced.

Broad did not get much assistance from his new-ball partner, Jofra Archer (0-28), who was noticeably below-par and down on pace.

And that meant Joe Root initially pulled Archer out of the attack after bowling just seven balls to Smith, the man he hit at Lord’s, of which two were bouncers.

That seemed like an early win for Australia and Labuschagne and Smith both scored freely for the remainder of the first session, with Stokes, Leach and the recalled Craig Overton unable to make any inroads.

Australia was 2-98 at the break, Labuschagne on 49, and he had three hours to stew on his impending milestone due to a lengthy rain delay.

Heavy winds meant the players returned to chilly temperatures but Labuschagne seemed unaffected, passing 50 for the fourth time in a row this series.

A short five-minute rain delay soon followed and when play resumed, there was danger in the air for Australia.

But Archer continued to struggle and Smith made it eight Ashes half-centuries in a row with a four through the covers off Stokes.

England did eventually break through, Overton (1-41) getting an excellent ball to nip back to clip Labuschagne’s off stump.

And Travis Head offered chances and survived an lbw review in a cameo that saw him score 18 runs off just 17 deliveries.

He would survive until stumps as another downpour hit Manchester, the loss of just three wickets a good result for Australia given the gloomy conditions.

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