England fighting to save the series

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England face a fight to keep their Ashes hopes alive after once again suffering at the hands of Steve Smith.

Smith hit an imperious double century on the second day of the fourth Test at Old Trafford to put the tourists on course for a potential Ashes-clinching victory.

With the series level at 1-1, Australia will retain the urn with victory in Manchester, regardless of the result of next week’s final Test at the Oval.

Smith hit 211 – his third century of the series – as Australia declared on a formidable 497 for eight in their first innings. England made a poor start in reply, losing Joe Denly for just four, ending the day on 23 for one.

Rain meant day three would only get underway after lunch.

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Ashes fourth Test LIVE: England and Australia resume battle with Steve Smith leading the charge

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Steve Smith provided a familiar face of resistance as he returned from concussion to lead Australia to 170 for three on a rain-shortened first day at the fourth Ashes Test.

Forced to sit out at Headingley, where England levelled the series in dramatic fashion last time out, the world’s number one batsman was well and truly back in the groove at Old Trafford, defying the home attack with another unbeaten 60.

England’s day began promisingly, Stuart Broad seeing off both openers with the new ball, but Smith’s stand of 116 with his Leeds stand-in, Marnus Labuschagne (67), swung things in the tourists’ favour.

Into day two, Smith went on to score his 26th Test ton despite losing Travis Head and Mathew Wade at the other end.

How big of a first innings score can he lead the Aussies to?

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Ashes 2019: Craig Overton confident England can wrestle back initiative from Steve Smith

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Overton claimed the wicket of Labuschagne on his return.

England seamer Craig Overton insists someone needs to “stand up and be the man” if they are to grab the initiative from Steve Smith in the fourth Ashes Test.

The Australian batsman proved his batting was in rude health after sitting out the famous home win at Headingley with concussion, easing his way to an unbeaten 60 after previous scores of 144, 142 and 92 in the series.

Smith’s efforts helped his side to 170 for three on an opening day that was restricted to just 44 overs after frequent delays for rain and heavy wind at Emirates Old Trafford and he has now batted for over 13 overs in his four innings to date.

Stuart Broad had earlier given England a strong start, removing David Warner and Marcus Harris cheaply with the new ball, with Craig Overton marking his recall after 18 months by bowling the obdurate Marnus Labuschagne for 67 late on.

The 6ft 5in seamer admitted the tourists had the better of the day but, little more than a week after Ben Stokes’ match-winning heroics in Leeds, knows one performance can flip matters on their head.

“We feel like we can come back with a positive attitude and try to make a difference, get someone to stand up and be the man to get conditions back in our favour,” he said.

“We’re probably slightly behind but we felt the conditions weren’t quite with us today, with the rain and wind. We can come back tomorrow, get a couple of early ones and we’ll be right back in the game.

“Smith is obviously a world-class player, and he’s back as Test number one. He’s always going to be difficult but we’ve got our plans so we’ll try to keep going to them and hope to get him out.”

Overton played his first two Tests in the last Ashes tour and added a third cap against New Zealand in Auckland before disappearing off the radar.

He was delighted to be lining up in a friendlier environment this time and equally pleased to pick up Labuschagne with a trademark delivery.

“Making my debut Down Under was really nice but making a home debut in front of my parents is special,” he said.

“It’s good to be in front of an English crowd and getting a bit of support rather than the Aussies jeering and booing you.

“The over before the wicket, Marnus cut me for four thinking it was the inswinger, but I told him it wasn’t. Then I bowled him the inswinger. It came out nicely and worked out quite well. There wasn’t a ‘send off’ or anything when I got him out, I was just saying ‘that one was the inswinger, make sure you keep an eye on it’.”

England’s pace attack will be hoping for less blustery weather when play resumes, with Overton revealing the crosswinds affected his run up. Smith and Labuschagne also had their concentration tested, with litter blowing across their eyelines and the bails temporarily jettisoned entirely after they refused to stay in place.

“It was frustrating for everyone,” said Labuschagne after his fourth successive half-century – a sequence which started when he became Smith’s concussion substitute.

“I had to pull away when the chip packets kept coming past and then a beach ball. It was just frustrating for the game in general and England were getting frustrated because we had to pull away.

“When they put the bails on you could just see the stumps shake and it was just a matter of time before they came off. It was very windy out there, I’ve never played a game where you’ve played with no bails and it was pretty tough conditions for bowling out there.”

Provided by Press Association Sports

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