APTOPIX Britain Cricket England Australia Ashes
MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Steve Smith delivered another defiant innings on his return from a concussion to lead Australia out of early trouble and into a solid position at 170-3 on a rain-shortened first day of the fourth Ashes test on Wednesday.
The world's No. 1 test batsman defied England with an unbeaten 60 after putting on a third-wicket stand of 116 with Marnus Labuschagne (67), another player the hosts have struggled to get out cheaply this series.
The Australians had been reeling on 28-2 after David Warner (0) and Marcus Harris (13) fell to paceman Stuart Broad in the opening seven overs.
Craig Overton, recalled by England for a first appearance in 18 months, eventually bowled Labuschagne during a blustery afternoon session but Smith's continued presence — after he scored 144, 142 and 92 in his three previous knocks this series — was increasingly ominous as England attempted to keep the battle for the urn alive in Manchester.
The teams are tied at 1-1 with two matches left. Australia will retain the urn if the series is drawn.
The inclement conditions meant just 44 overs were bowled in the day, with stumps finally called at 6:10 p.m. local time, but that was still enough for Smith to bank another 2½ hours at the crease.
After Australia won the toss and chose to bat first at a windy Old Trafford, Warner went to leave a wide delivery from Broad on the fourth ball of the innings but ended up getting a nick behind to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Warner has only reached double figures once in seven innings this series, in which Broad has got him out five times.
Harris was then trapped lbw by Broad off the last ball of the seventh over. Australia reviewed but replays showed the ball was just clipping leg stump.
That brought Smith to the crease and he was soon facing Jofra Archer, the fast bowler who delivered a bouncer into the neck of the Australia batsman in the drawn second test at Lord's. Suffering with delayed concussion, Smith didn't bat in the second innings at Lord's and missed the third test won by England at Headingley.
Archer sent down an early bouncer that Smith easily evaded, and the batsman got off the mark with a well-timed cover drive for four. With little sideways movement, England often bowled too straight, allowing both Smith and Labuschagne to score freely on the leg-side.
With Ben Stokes wayward at the start his spell and spinner Jack Leach starting with a couple of loose offerings, the scoreboard started to get away from England, with the stand of Smith and Labuschagne worth 70 by lunch.
Labuschagne top-edged a pull, survived Stokes' lbw shout on umpire's call, and edged Leach just wide of slip, but Smith was resolute.
The weather turned during lunch, with the players staying off for three hours before getting back out for a messy second session.
Both batsmen passed 50, Labuschagne in 88 balls and Smith eight quicker.
Heavy winds brought some farce to proceedings as trash from the crowd repeatedly blew across the outfield, forcing numerous pauses in play. Smith swept a beach ball to the boundary when it skipped on to the pitch and the bails blew off often enough to persuade the umpires to remove them entirely for a brief period.
Overton made the breakthrough, nipping one back into Labuschagne and flicking the bails which by that time had been restored.
Stokes knocked Travis Head to the turf with a yorker but Joe Root frittered a review attempting to convert it into a wicket.