Jofra Archer flattened Steve Smith at Lord’s but Australia’s masterful talisman delivered what could be a knockout blow to England’s hopes of regaining the Ashes after being dropped by the paceman at Old Trafford.
Smith was ruled out of England’s astonishing series-levelling win at Headingley with concussion after he was struck by an Archer bouncer in the second Test.
It was Archer who was rattled on day two of the fourth Test in Manchester, though, after failing to grab a caught-and-bowled chance offered by Smith on 65.
Jack Leach also let the batsman off the hook after he had reached an 11th Ashes century, the spinner paying the price for overstepping when he looped up a delivery which Smith edged to Ben Stokes at slip.
Smith had 118 to his name at that point but he was nowhere near finished yet, striding back to make a magnificent 211 before the tourists declared on 497-8. They reduced England to 23-1 by stumps.
If ever proof was needed that fortune favours the brave, it was provided by Smith less than three weeks after being hit on the neck by a searing short ball.
The former captain has had boos ringing in his ears since arriving in England ahead of the Cricket World Cup for his part in the Newlands ball-tampering scandal, which landed him a one-year ban and cost him the captaincy.
Yet a packed Old Trafford crowd rose in appreciation for what they had witnessed when he brought up a third double hundred against England.
Steve Smith brings up a superb double hundred
It’s his third in Test cricket and his third against England. His Test average is now above 65
— ICC (@ICC) September 5, 2019
Smith saluted all corners of the ground when given another standing ovation following his dismissal to Joe Root, having struck two sixes and 24 fours in the 319 balls he faced.
The irrepressible Smith started the second day looking even more fidgety than his usual hectic self at the crease but was soon toying with England after riding his luck.
He mixed unconventional strokes with glorious drives on both sides of the wicket in another incredible display of skill and application, with Tim Paine also punishing England for two drops by making 58 in a sixth-wicket stand of 145.
Only the great Don Bradman has more Ashes hundreds than Smith, while Jack Hobbs (12) is the solitary Englishman to better the ex-skipper’s tally in Tests between the two old rivals.
The domineering right-hander averages 147.25 in his four visits to the crease in his first Test series since serving his suspension.
Smith showed you cannot keep a good man down and the bad news for England is there could be more runs to come, with Australia in a great position to retain the urn.