BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - A second successive century from Steve Smith swung an unpredictable Ashes opening test in Australia’s favour on Sunday as the tourists set England a daunting 398 runs to win.
The Australians declared on 487-7 before England, facing a huge battle to save the game at Edgbaston, reached 13-0 at stumps on day four.
Smith, in his first test back following a one-year ban following a ball-tampering scandal and who made 144 in the first innings, continued to put England to the sword after his side resumed their second innings on 124-3.
He passed 50 in the fourth over of the day, with Travis Head (51) and Matthew Wade (110)providing excellent support.
Without injured strike bowler James Anderson, England toiled as Smith, batting for just short of five-and-a-half hours, became only the fifth Australian to make centuries in both innings of an Ashes test before departing for 142.
Jason Roy and Rory Burns emerged unscathed from seven overs at the end of the day as the home side bid to save the game.
“I have never doubted my ability,” Smith said. “To score two hundreds in a match in a first Ashes test is incredible.
“I have never done that in any form of cricket. It is special. I’ve loved these last four days, it’s felt like Christmas morning every morning.”
After Head was dismissed by Ben Stokes, Wade came in to support Smith as the former captain reached his second century of the match with a boundary after lunch.
His 10th century Ashes century, which included 14 fours, takes him level with Steve Waugh, with only Don Bradman (19) and Jack Hobbs (12) having scored more.
Smith survived a leg before wicket appeal on 125 but was otherwise relatively untroubled, while Wade followed in his slipstream, contributing to another century partnership.
The 84th over brought the second new ball and an end to Smith’s resistance, caught behind off Chris Woakes.
Wade passed his century with a fine reverse sweep, before being caught on the boundary.
Spinner Moeen Ali, who endured a difficult afternoon to finish with 2-130, then bowled Tim Paine for 34, with a flurry of late runs from Pat Cummings and James Pattinson cementing Australia’s strong position.
The highest successful fourth-innings run chase in Birmingham was 11 years ago when South Africa posted 283-5 — the last time England lost at Edgbaston — but batting out day five for a draw looks like the most England can hope for.
“Tomorrow is a big day,” England batting coach Graham Thorpe said. “Smith’s innings have given Australia the momentum. We have to be confident that we can play the day out, but also believe we can keep scoring runs.”
Reporting by Peter Hall; editing by Tony Lawrence