Steve Smith reaches his 21st test century, helps Australia to 26-run lead

Steve Smith reaches his 21st test century, helps Australia to 26-run lead

Steve Smith confirmed his captaincy qualities again by grafting for 9 hours in a crucial unbeaten 141, dragging Australia out of serious trouble and into positive territory on Saturday in the Ashes cricket series opener.

His 326-ball innings wrestled control from England after three wickets tumbled in the morning session, and gave Australia the upper hand by stumps on day three.

After Smith and the lower-order batsmen lifted Australia from 209-7 to 328 all out, for a 26-run first-innings lead, Josh Hazlewood snared two wickets in a torrid opening burst to reduce England to 33-2 at the close - a lead of seven with two days to play.

Hazlewood had Alastair Cook (7) out hooking, caught by a tumbling Mitch Starc in the deep, and James Vince (2) caught at slip by Smith as England slid to 17-2.


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Starc chimed in with a short ball that damaged Joe Root's helmet, rattling the England skipper before he'd scored.

But after an assessment from the team doctor, Root continued and was not out on 5 at stumps. Mark Stoneman was on 19, and was also hit by a sharply-rising short ball from Pat Cummins on a Gabba wicket finally showing some of the pace and bounce for which it is famous.

The middle day of the first test belonged to Smith, who had gone to the crease with Australia at 30-2 on Friday replying to England's 302.

He knuckled down after Australia slipped to 76-4, anchoring crucial partnerships of 99 with Shaun Marsh (51) for the fifth wicket and 66 with Cummins (42) for the eighth.

Australia was still 27 runs behind at 275-8 when Cummins was out for his highest test score, leaving Smith to bat with Nos. 10 and 11 to get the hosts in front on a ground where they haven't lost a test since 1988.

He added 23 with Hazlewood (6) to move within four, and then 30 with Nathan Lyon (9), who was caught at slip off Root's bowling to end the innings.

Smith was deservedly unbeaten after an uncharacteristically slow innings that contained just 14 boundaries, including a drive off Stuart Broad to raise his 21st test century, and another down leg side off Jake Ball which put the Australians in front.

Batting with guarded determination, Smith scored 17 in the morning session, offering just one half-chance when a short ball from Stuart Broad clipped the shoulder of his bat and his body before landing in front of the slips. He added 32 between lunch and tea.

His 13th hundred as Australia captain came off 261 balls, his slowest in terms of balls faced and the slowest by an Australian in seven years, but it enhanced his reputation for producing a captain's knock when most needed. Smith averages more than 70 per innings as test captain, second only to the great Don Bradman.

His partnership with Cummins set the foundation for the rearguard rally, with the last three wickets contributing 119 runs after Australia lost three wickets in the morning.

Australia was in serious trouble at 209-7 after Broad (3-49) took two wickets and Jimmy Anderson (2-50) struck on the fourth delivery with the new ball.

Australia resumed at 165-4 and had only added 10 before Marsh paddled a regulation slower ball from Broad to Anderson at mid-off.

Anderson then had Tim Paine (13), the last of the recognised batsmen, caught behind in the 81st over and Broad took a return catch to dismiss Starc (6) and give England the upper hand before Australia's lower-order revival changed the complexion of the game.

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