Steve Smith kissed the badge on his helmet, as decorum demands, then thumped the badge on his chest. It was an appropriate one-two: Australia’s captain had thrown body and soul into an Ashes innings for the ages, rousing his side and deflating England. Truly, this has been a gripping first Test.
By the time Australia’s last man Nathan Lyon was out for nine, Smith had made 141 runs of the highest class and character. At 209 for seven, Australia’s unassailable record at the Gabba was looking distinctly assailable. At 328 all out, they led by 26. On such innings do series hinge.
And its value went up another notch when, with England’s second innings not yet four overs old, Alastair Cook hooked Josh Hazlewood to fine leg, where Mitchell Starc judged a tumbling catch to perfection.
Steve Smith produced a magnificent innings scoring 141 runs as the Australia captain helped his country gain the initiative
Smith’s innings proved the difference between the two sides as he scored the slowest Test century of his career off 261 balls
Smith was pumped up as he wrestled back the initiative from England with a captain’s performance for Australia at the Gabba
Australia then gained the early wicket of Alastair Cook for just seven runs, with Josh Hazlewood claiming the prize scalp
The pumped-up Hazlewood celebrates after Cook hooked and was caught by Mitchell Starc at fine leg
Cook can only look on in dismay as Australia as Hazlewood celebrates an important breakthrough in England’s second innings
Hazlewood then claimed the wicket of James Vince for two runs as England wobbled at the start of their second innings
Steve Smith is mobbed after taking the catch that removed James Vince off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood (left)
The dismissal had shades of Cook’s fatal flap at Mitchell Johnson at Adelaide four years ago. But by then England were mentally done and dusted, already on the brink of going 2-0 down.
This time, there is a game up for grabs. Having watched Smith leave everything short until he was into three figures, Cook was unable to resist the bouncer. It will not be a shot he dwells on in his dotage.
Worse, it got Australia’s tails up, and England still trailed by nine when Hazlewood squared up James Vince, who could only edge to that man Smith at second slip, his first-innings 83 a distant memory. As so often, the Gabbatoir smelled the blood of several Englishmen.
In roared Starc to land a horrible blow on the helmet of Joe Root, yet to score and understandably rattled. The sight of David Warner scurrying over to offer his condolences was confirmation that Australia spied their chance. It was the scenario Smith had spent the previous eight and a half hours constructing.
England had not bowled badly – far from it. They restricted Australia to 48 runs in a morning session which produced three wickets, and all told kept them to 2.51 runs an over.
Since England themselves had attracted opprobrium from the local media for scoring at 2.58 during their first-innings 302, this was a moral victory of sorts.
But it’s real victories that interest Root’s side, and Smith’s tour de force was spoiling their fun.
For much of the day, the Australian reply looked as if it would die a slow death. Stuart Broad out-thought Shaun Marsh with a slower delivery in the sixth over of the morning, before he and Jimmy Anderson each struck in the first two overs with the second new ball: Tim Paine caught behind off Anderson for 13, Starc caught and bowled by Broad for six.
Shortly before lunch, Australia were seven down and still 93 behind. Not since 2003-04 against India had they conceded a first-innings lead here. England prepared to create a small slice of history.
Instead, Pat Cummins knuckled down, and Smith buckled up. As they had done rather more successfully against Warner on the second evening, England tried to dry Smith up, either hanging the ball outside off stump or sending it over his head.
Stuart Broad reacts as Steve Smith brings up his century during the third day of the opening Ashes Test in Brisbane
Steve Smith laps up the acclaim of a packed Gabba crowd at the end of Australia’s first innings after his unbeaten 141
Stuart Broad celebrates after claiming first wicket of day three as Shaun Marsh leaves the field after his innings of 51
Alastair Cook, Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan celebrate after taking the wicket of Australia’s Pat Cummins for 42 runs
James Anderson shows the strain as he leaves the field at the change of innings during day three of the first Test in Brisbane
Smith had scored only 17 before lunch, but waited for England to get bored, which they inevitably did in the Brisbane heat. Anderson, who invited speculation over his fitness by leaving the field – speculation the ECB played down – gave nothing away, and nor did Broad. At tea, their combined figures were a heroic 50-20-91-5.
But with the ball going soft, the pitch yielding little and Moeen Ali contributing just four overs in the middle session, Australia dragged their way back into the game.
By the time Smith eased Broad, going round the wicket, through extra cover for four to move to 103, he had completed the slowest of his 21 Test hundreds, and possibly the most impressive. Since scoring the first of them at The Oval in 2013, he has reached three figures at a rate of one every four innings, averaging 70 in the process. He is the world’s best batsman, no question.
Chris Woakes lifted English spirits when Cummins edged low to Cook at the solitary slip to depart for a Test-best 42. But Australia were only 27 in arrears now, and Hazlewood helped his captain knock off 24 of them before playing round a straight one from Moeen.
England captain Joe Root was struck on the helmet by a fierce Mitchell Starc bouncer during the early stages of his innings
Starc was quick to go up to Root and check on his condition after the ball kicked up ferociously and struck him on the helmet
The England medical staff were quick to come on and ensure Root was fit to continue after taking the head blow
Hazlewood is bowled by Moeen Ali as England mopped up the Australian tail in a laboured fashion in Brisbane
Alastair Cook at first slip takes a low catch to remove Nathan Lyon, the final Australian wicket, off the bowling off Joe Root
Moeen Ali celebrates taking the wicket of Josh Hazlewood for six as Australia established a first innings lead of 26
Steve Smith ducks a bouncer bowled by Stuart Broad as England tried unsuccessfully to remove the Australian captain
Chris Woakes celebrates after taking the wicket of Pat Cummins, who’d dug in to score 42 from 139 balls to frustrate England
James Anderson jumps for joy after snaring the wicket of Tim Paine, who edged to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow
Stuart Broad celebrates with his England team-mates after dismissing Mitchell Starc caught and bowled for six runs
Broad dives low to his right to take the catch to remove Tim Paine off his own bowling. Paine had scored 13 runs
James Anderson and Steve Smith exchange words as England’s bowlers tried to remove the in-form Australian captain
Australia were not finished yet, and Smith – increasingly inventive since ticking off his hundred – persuaded a further 30 runs from Lyon and the last wicket. One pull off Woakes was simply dismissive.
Root showed what he thought of it all, wrapping things up when Lyon tickled one of his gentle off-breaks to Cook at leg slip, but as England left the field the force was with Australia.
As the world knows by now, they have not lost at Brisbane since West Indies turned them over in 1988-89, and they did not intend to start now.
Mark Stoneman began by cutting Hazlewood for four, and Cook collected four controlled runs to third man off Starc. But Hazlewood, who had a quiet first innings, now got in on the act, and it needed some defiant defence from Stoneman and Root to stave off more damage before the close.
England, seven ahead, are down but not yet out. Ever heard the one about the crucial first hour? Tune in tomorrow for the latest fascinating instalment.
Cricket fans cool down at the Gabba’s pool deck in sunny Brisbane as the action unfolds behind them
The swimming pool at the Gabba certainly proved a welcome distraction from the drama unfolding on the field