STEVE SMITH’S unbeaten century and a fearsome blast from Australia’s fast-bowling attack left England clinging on for dear life in the First Test at the Gabba.
Captain Smith carved out a patient and classy 141 not out as the Aussies crept into a 26-run first-innings lead.
Then Josh Hazlewood swiftly ripped out Alastair Cook and James Vince – and Mitchell Starc clattered Joe Root on the helmet as the Test exploded into life after almost three days of slow-burning drama.
Smith’s 21st Test century – and his 13th in just 27 Tests as skipper – was a mighty eight-and-a-half hour effort which turned the tide in Australia’s favour after England had enjoyed success early on day three.
It allowed Hazlewood to charge in and dismiss Cook, for just seven, hooking to a tumbling Starc on the fine leg boundary.
Vince soon followed when he was squared up by Hazlewood and edged to Smith at second slip.
England captain Root was then struck hard on the head by Starc’s nbumper, which damaged his helmet before he had scored.
The tourists limped to the close of day three at 33-2 – a lead of just seven.
England had begun the day with a significant breakthrough when Shaun Marsh chipped Stuart Broad’s slower ball to mid-off for 51, ending his 99-run partnership with Smith.
Root packed the leg-side with fielders as Jake Ball and Chris Woakes peppered Smith with bodyline bowling – and when the new ball arrived, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad each struck in their first over with it.
Anderson nipped one away from Tim Paine and Jonny Bairstow clung on to a screamer of a catch.
Then after Starc had got off the mark in extraordinary fashion by despatching Broad for six over the bowler’s head, England’s blond bombshell struck back with an excellent catch off his own bowling.
At that point England were eyeing a significant first-innings lead – ahead by 93 with three wickets to take.
But then a post-lunch momentum shift, as Root failed to bowl Broad or Anderson for 50 minutes as Pat Cummins, playing like a top-order batsman carved out 42 in a partnership of 66.
Smith reached his painstaking century, from 261 balls, with a drive to the cover boundary off Broad.
But Cummins edged Woakes to slip and Moeen Ali bowled Josh Hazlewood with England just three in front.
Smith hooked Ball for four to give Australia the lead, which they extended to 26 before Root accounted for Nathan Lyon with his occasional off-breaks, dismissing the Aussies for 328.