Steve Smith marked his return to international cricket in imperious fashion with a third hundred of the Ashes series on Thursday as Australia put themselves in a dominant position in the fourth Test.
Smith was 173 not out in Australia’s commanding 369-5 at tea on the second day of the match against England at Old Trafford.
It was his highest score of a series during which Smith’s lowest total in four innings is 92.
This was also the eighth time he had passed 150 in a Test and the third instance against England, although he was reprieved twice on Thursday.
Smith and Tim Paine (58 not out), his successor as Australia captain, have now put on an unbeaten 145 for the sixth wicket, with the tourists going through the second session without losing a wicket.
Despite England’s dramatic one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley in Smith’s absence to square the five-match series at 1-1, the top-order problems that saw them dismissed for just 67 in the first innings in Leeds remain intact.
And with Australia left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc looking to make a mark in his first Test of the series, England faced a tough task just to get back on level terms in Manchester.
But it might have been a different story had fast bowler Jofra Archer held on to a Smith caught-and-bowled chance.
Archer, whose bouncer at Lord’s concussed Smith and ruled him out of the Headingley match, dropped the world’s number one-ranked Test batsman on 65.
Smith was given another reprieve on 118 when he edged Jack Leach to Ben Stokes at slip only for replays to reveal the left-arm spinner had over-stepped for a no-ball -- a careless error for a slow bowler.
Smith’s innings followed his scores of 144 and 142 in Australia’s 251-run win in the opener at Edgbaston -- his first Test since completing a 12-month ball-tampering ban -- and the 92 he made at Lord’s, where he was felled by Archer.
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