Steve Smith’s titanic tussle with Jofra Archer, and the 92mph bouncer that ended their battle in gruesome fashion, dominated the fourth day of a second Ashes Test that is destined for a tense conclusion.
England lost their top order cheaply in the evening session and will begin day five 104 runs ahead on 96 for four, but events at Lord’s will be remembered for an unforgettable, adrenaline-fuelled duel in the afternoon.
Smith was on 80 and progressing towards his third successive century when debutant Archer clattered him in the neck at express pace, brutally flooring the Australian.
The England quick had already struck another nasty blow on Smith’s left forearm during a compelling spell that saw him clock one lightning fast delivery at 96.1mph, showcasing the sport at its most visceral, vital and ultimately violent.
Smith was led from the field, but returned just 40 minutes later after passing concussion tests, dismissed softly by Chris Woakes for 92 and looking understandably shaken.
There were worrying scenes when Smith limply tumbled to the turf after being clattered just below the left ear by a vicious ball from Archer. The delivery was clocked at 92.4mph.
Remarkably, just 54 balls after reluctantly retiring hurt, the former Australia captain re-emerged. He came back out to a mixture of cheers and jeers, with some spectators still seemingly not ready to let Smith forget his role in the 2018 ball-tampering scandal or, perhaps, concerned about England’s struggles to dismiss him in this series.
Smith then admirably hit successive fours, but, ultimately, fell eight runs short of a third successive century after bizarrely misjudging a ball from Woakes.
The contest appeared to have lost impetus before Archer and Smith locked horns during a brutal sequence of compelling cricket.
Archer’s pace increased throughout the day until he was repeatedly topping 90mph. Smith had only just expertly fended off a delivery of more than 96mph from the England debutant when he was wounded for the first time.
The 30-year-old Australian, as he attempted to duck, was smashed on the left forearm by Archer and clearly in pain as he was strapped up with protective padding. He then suffered the more concerning injury, with the incidents unfolding in the space of just six exchanges between the pair.
Smith did not field as he was taken to hospital for a precautionary x-ray which revealed his arm was not fractured.
After Jason Roy’s struggles as a Test opener continued, there was an unwanted first for Joe Root. The England captain’s thick edge off Pat Cummins flew into the hands of Australia captain Tim Paine and resulted in his first golden duck at this level in his 83rd Test match.
It gave Cummins, who had just caught and bowled Roy, successive wickets and left Root’s side in a sizeable hole in the second innings, faltering on nine for two. Roy, meanwhile, has now managed just 45 runs from five innings as an England Test opener, averaging nine.
Before the dramatic action of the afternoon, Smith frustrated the hosts’ attack while simultaneously entertaining spectators with his repertoire of theatrical leaves. After two match-winning hundreds in the opening game at Edgbaston, he brought up his third 50 of the series in style by smashing left-arm spinner Jack Leach over midwicket for four in the 62nd over. He could easily have bagged another ton had his momentum not been halted in painful circumstances.
Heavy rain on day one and torrential downpours on Friday severely reduced the chances of a result in this Test.
Despite uninterrupted play on Saturday, the loss of five sessions could see the match head towards a draw. After losing four second-innings wickets, England may be willing to accept that outcome.
The Met Office forecasts a dry day on Sunday which should result in a full day of action.News Now - Sport News