MANCHESTER: Australia's Steve Smith took his run-spree this Ashes to a new level as he returned to international cricket with a superb double century on the second day of the fourth Test against England at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Smith's 211 was the cornerstone of Australia's commanding 497-8 declared.
England then lost Joe Denly, a makeshift opener after swapping places with the struggling Jason Roy, for four when he was brilliantly caught at the second attempt by Matthew Wade at short leg following a genuine glance off Pat Cummins.
England were 23-1 at stumps, 474 runs behind, with Rory Burns 15 not out and nightwatchman Craig Overton unbeaten on three.
They now face an uphill task to deny Australia a win that would see the holders retain the Ashes at 2-1 up with one to play in a five-match series.
Smith, the world's top-ranked Test batsman, missed England's series-levelling one-wicket win at Headingley with a concussion suffered when struck by a Jofra Archer bouncer during the drawn second Test at Lord's.
Third century in four innings
Even so, he has now made 589 runs this series -- his first since completing a 12-month ball-tampering ban, including three hundreds, at a colossal average of 147.25.
This innings followed his scores of 144 and 142 in Australia's 251-run win in the first Test at Edgbaston, with Smith's lowest total in four knocks this series the 92 he made at Lord's.
The 30-year-old former Australia captain was, however, dropped on 65 on Thursday when fast bowler Archer failed to hold a caught and bowled chance off a hard-hit full toss.
Smith was also reprieved on 118 when caught by Ben Stokes at slip off Jack Leach only for replays to reveal the left-arm spinner had bowled just the eighth no-ball of his first-class career.
But those two let-offs did not detract from Smith's latest impressive demonstration of the art of Test-match batting.
He faced 319 balls in total, including 24 fours and two sixes, in what was his third double century at this level, all made against England.
Smith was eventually out when he reverse-swept a leg-break from England captain and part-time spinner Joe Root to Denly, who had been at short third man.
Smith received good support from Australia captain Tim Paine in a sixth-wicket partnership of 145, the pair batting through the whole of Thursday's second session.
Fast bowler Mitchell Starc, in his first match of the series, then showcased his proven batting talent with a blistering 54 not out off 58 balls, including seven fours and two sixes, before Paine closed the innings.
Australia resumed on 170-3 under sunny skies after Wednesday's rain-marred first day and Smith drove Archer through extra cover for a superb back-foot four in the second over to go to 65. The next delivery, however, saw Smith hammer a full toss straight back at Archer, who dropped the two-handed caught-and-bowled chance, with the ball going for four.
England also gave Paine a 'life' when he edged Stuart Broad on nine only for Roy to drop a second-slip catch he should have held.
Then came Leach's no-ball, with Root gathering his team around him afterwards as he issued a rallying cry.
England took the new ball as soon as they could but that did not stop Smith cover-driving Broad for a majestic back-foot four.
Wicketkeeper Paine, dropped on 49, fell to the first ball after tea when caught behind off Overton.
But there was no stopping Smith, who twice drove Leach for six.
Meanwhile left-hander Starc hit four fours in a row off Broad including two classic straight drives before he slog-swept Root for six.