Jofra Archer took six wickets as England bowled Australia out for 225 to gain the upper hand on the second day of the fifth Ashes Test on Friday despite another Steve Smith masterclass.
Joe Root’s team are desperate to level the series at 2-2 to end their historic World Cup-winning season on a high but have been consistently dogged by the peerless Smith.
The former Australian skipper has now amassed 751 runs in just six innings — more than double the tally of the next highest runscorer on either side.
But he was forced to settle for his lowest score of the series — 80 — when Chris Woakes trapped him lbw in the evening session, leaving the sun-drenched Oval crowd dumbfounded.
Australia conceded a first-innings deficit of 69, paceman Archer finishing with figures of 6-62. Sam Curran took three wickets on his return to the side.
England openers Rory Burns and Joe Denly, dropped in the slips in the final over, survived a tricky four overs as the light faded to reach 9-0 by the close — an overall lead of 78.
Barbados-born Archer only made his Test debut last month but already has 22 wickets midway through his fourth Test.
“It was a tough wicket to bowl on to be honest,” said a tired Archer, who touched speeds of 90 miles per hour. “I didn’t feel there was much assistance.”
He said Smith was almost impossible to shift, even though he “didn’t look himself today”.
“It’s weird because every time he bats, I don’t know what it is,” he added.
“He literally cannot get out. The ball just lands, especially if he plays a bad shot, the ball just lands in no-man’s land for the whole series.”
– Smith rescue act –
Smith came to the crease with Australia in trouble at 14-2 in reply to England’s first-innings total of 294 after Archer had removed openers David Warner and Marcus Harris.
AFP / Glyn KIRK Australia’s Steve Smith bats on the second day of the fifth Ashes Test against England
Smith, who only returned to Test cricket last month following a year-long ban for his role in a ball-tampering scandal, was watchful at the start of his innings but soon found his touch.
Marcus Labuschagne fell for 48 but Smith brought up his 10th consecutive Ashes fifty with a six over midwicket off left-arm spinner Jack Leach.
Smith appeared to be playing a completely different game from all the other batsmen but he had a lucky escape after tea when, on 66, he edged a Curran delivery to Root in the slips, only for the England skipper to shell the chance.
Wickets continued to tumble after tea, with Curran removing Australia captain Tim Paine and Pat Cummins in successive balls, but the unruffled Smith eased to his half-century off 91 balls.
Smith’s dismissal left the Australians struggling at 187-8.
Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon added 37 for the ninth wicket before Archer bowled Lyon and Burns took a sensational catch to end Siddle’s knock.
Smith said he had been feeling under the weather during the day.
“I’ve been struggling a bit today. I’ve got a bit of the flu but I was loading up on the cold and flu (medicine) throughout the day and just tried to stay as focused as I could be,” he said.
“Unfortunately I couldn’t bat with the tail for as long as I would have liked.”
At the start of the day England added just 23 runs to their overnight score, with Jos Buttler out for 70. Mitchell Marsh took five wickets on his return to the Australian side.
Australia lead the five-Test series 2-1, meaning they will retain the Ashes urn regardless of the result at the Oval.
But they are hungry to wrap up their first series win in England since 2001.
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