Smith and Labuschagne lead Australia fightback on rain-hit first day of fourth Ashes Test

Tom HomewoodAssistant Producer

Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne frustrated England once again after Stuart Broad made early inroads on a rain-affected opening day of the fourth Ashes Test.

Broad, wily as ever, saw off both the visitors’ opening pair after Australia won the toss and chose to bat first at Old Trafford.

Warner, who departed for a duck, was dismissed by Broad for the fifth time this series, before Marcus Harris’ wicket left the holders reeling at 28-2.

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That bought Smith to the crease - who had missed the last Test through concussion - and the former captain dug in with Labuschagne, with the pair reaching lunch at 98-2.

Heavy rain settled in during the interval and pushed play back by more than two hours, but when it did resume Labuschagne and Smith both passed their half-centuries.

Both batsmen have been prolific in the series and struck again as Labuschagne made his fourth consecutive 50, while Smith made his eighth in as many Ashes innings.

In a bizarre day of Test cricket strong winds saw overs played without any bails, Smith hitting a beach ball to the boundary at one point while crisp packets halted play.

Craig Overton finally made the breakthrough that England needed, bowling Labuschagne for 67, but heavy wind continued to make things tough in the field, as Australia continued to put runs on quickly making it to a late tea at 170-3, before play was eventually abandoned.

Smith celebrates his half century (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)
Smith celebrates his half century (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

Smith and Labuschagne frustrate England once again

Before play began in Manchester, Australian captain Tim Paine announced that seamer Mitchell Starc would replace Peter Siddle, while Smith returned in place of Usman Khawaja.

As expected, England made one change with all-rounder Overton coming in for Chris Woakes.

The hosts made a superb start as Broad got the wicket of Warner with a delivery that nipped away and the left-hander, attempting to leave, edged behind to Jonny Bairstow for a duck - his sixth single-digit score in the series.

Broad appeals successfully for the wicket of Harris (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
Broad appeals successfully for the wicket of Harris (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

Broad struck again in the seventh over, trapping Harris lbw. The point of impact was high and Harris called for a review but umpire Kumar Dharmasena's call was upheld.

At 28-2 Smith's entrance soon brought him up against Jofra Archer but he safely negotiated two overs from the paceman - notably ducking well under two bouncers - before Ben Stokes was introduced to the attack.

Smith and Labuschagne steadily began to repair the early damage but the tourists survived a scare with the score 72-2. Labuschagne was struck on the pads by Stokes and a review went narrowly in Australia's favour.

Labuschagne had another escape when he misread Jack Leach and got a leading edge that flew just wide of Stokes at slip, but he then batted safely through to lunch.

Rain, rain go away

Dark skies over Old Trafford (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)
Dark skies over Old Trafford (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

It began to rain during the interval and covers were brought on, delaying the start of the afternoon session by more than two hours.

Australia reached the 100 mark which was shortly followed by Labuschagne reaching his 50 in the second over after the restart with a single off Broad.

After another short rain delay and the wind playing havoc with the bails at Old Trafford, Smith and Labuschagne reached their 100 partnership as the visitors moved on to 130-2.

After stoppages for both bails being dislodged and litter blowing across the field the umpires decided to play without bails for a period.

Smith reached his fifty not long after, with the pair frustrating England in tricky bowling conditions, but in the next over they finally had the breakthrough they needed.

Overton beat Labuschagne's defences and clipped the bails to see the batsman depart for 67.

Travis Head came in at five and scored at quick 18 before a late tea to lift Australia to 170-3 at the end of play.

Additional by PA.

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