England v Australia: Steve Smith repairs damage as Day 1 of fourth Ashes Test turns into damp squib

Australia batsman Smith was permitted to proceed unchecked to 60 not out, before weather caused a premature end to the day’s play at Old Trafford

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The hardy supporters who braved drizzle, strong winds, and temperatures that maxed out in the teens at Old Trafford were left disappointed as the headline act of Day 1 of the fourth Ashes Test turned out a damp squib.

No matter the conditions when they pulled back their curtains in the morning, anyone with a ticket for the game would have been in a rush to get to the ground for the start.

Jofra Archer v Steve Smith Part II topped the bill. And they didn’t have to wait for long to see it, as, after their captain won the toss and chose to bat, Australia’s openers proved just as supine as they had in the rest of the series so far.

Only it really did not amount to much. Archer, down on pace, was a shadow of the force of nature who had played such a leading role in getting England back into this series in his first two matches in Test cricket.

Smith, wearing stem-guards at the back of his helmet for the first time, in expectation of a bouncer barrage, was permitted to proceed unchecked to 60 not out, before weather caused a premature end to the day’s play.

So curiously out of sorts was Archer, the frostbitten crowd had to find their thrills elsewhere.

Instead, they resorted to cheering when crisp-packets stopped play, as well as the rare sight of play taking place with no bails on the stumps.

The wind had been so forceful that the umpires invoked a rarely-used law in which play could proceed without bails, or at least until the heavier variety had been located and applied to the top of the stumps.

It prompted the bizarre sight of Marais Erasmus, the umpire, having to placate Stuart Broad and Joe Root – two players with the experience of 214 Test matches between them – by informing them that all they had to do now was hit the stumps. With no bails, they would not have to worry about them falling off for a dismissal to be completed.

Which still remains easier said than done when Smith is in the way. Just as he had done at the start of this series, as he made two centuries in the opening Test, he did not miss a beat after a break from playing.

Back then, it had been a 16-month hiatus because of his ban for ball tampering. This time it was far shorter – stood down for a Test on medical advice after being concussed by an Archer bouncer at Lord’s.

But the way he played suggested that even that brief break had been too long for someone so clearly besotted by batting. His innings is his eighth score in a row in Ashes cricket.

His Mini Me, Marnus Labuschagne – who filled in for Smith in the second innings at Lord’s, and then at Headingley – is on a run of four half-centuries in a row himself.

He made 67 and shared in an alliance worth 116 with Smith for the third wicket. That helped the tourists repair the damage after Broad had again made incisions at the top of the order.

He dismissed David Warner for the fifth time in seven innings in this series – and his second successive duck. When he then trapped Marcus Harris for 13, Australia were 28-2.

Labuschagne and Smith then profited from some unthreatening English bowling, before Craig Overton, returning to Test cricket after an 18-month absence, beat the defences of Labuschagne.

Travis Head joined Smith, and just about made it to stumps unscathed, despite England unsuccessfully reviewing an LBW shout against him, as Australia closed on 170-3.