Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne both hit fifties, but rain in Manchester saw to only 44 overs of play on day one of the fourth Ashes Test.
Smith finished the day unbeaten on 60, and it was his 116-run partnership with Labuschagne – who hit 67 – that helped Australia close the day on a healthy-looking 170/3.
After Tim Paine won the toss and elected to bat, Stuart Broad gave England the perfect start, removing David Warner for the fifth time this series. Warner lasted just two deliveries, departing after an attempted leave went awry, Broad finding the left-hander’s outside edge to send him on his way.
Marcus Harris hit 13, but once again Broad intervened, angling the ball back into the left-hander’s pads to leave Australia in a spot of bother at 28/2.
But then the pair of Labuschagne and Smith joined forces. Both had been thorns in England’s side over the course of the series thus far but had yet to feature in the Australian line-up together. It was double trouble for England.
Together the pair had the scoreboard ticking over at a quick rate. Jofra Archer was down on his usual speed and failed to trouble Smith as the pair faced off against one another for the first time since their incredible duel at Lord’s earlier in the series.
The Australian pair took their side to lunch on 98/2, their recovery work done with incredible ease. But then came the rain, wiping away over two hours of play.
Upon restart, Labuschagne and Smith continued to look immaculate, the strong winds across the ground causing them little discomfort. At one stage, Smith had the audacity to play a ramp shot against a beach ball that had sailed onto the field. He was ready to hit anything thrown at him.
It took a magical delivery to halt the partnership, and it was Craig Overton, playing his first Test in 18 months, who delivered it. The tall right-armer managed to jag the ball back into Labuschagne, beating the right-hander’s defence. The wait for a maiden Test hundred goes on.
Travis Head made sure England’s momentum wasn’t to grow any further, and together, the duo took Australia to tea. But the rain returned and on a day where the bails had to be removed by the umpires because of the wind, it was fitting that weather had the final say, calling play to a close.
Still, Australia will no doubt be pleased with their day one showing, and with Smith set and looking impenetrable at the crease, it’s hard not to envision another Test hundred coming his way.
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