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Smith was 173 not out in Australia’s commanding 369/5 at tea on the second day of the match against England at Old Trafford.

Steve Smith marked his return to international cricket in imperious fashion with a third hundred of the Ashes series on Thursday as Australia put themselves in a dominant position in the fourth Test.

Smith was 173 not out in Australia’s commanding 369/5 at tea on the second day of the match against England at Old Trafford. It was his highest score of a series during which Smith’s lowest total in four innings is 92.

This was also the eighth time he had passed 150 in a Test and the third instance against England, although he was reprieved twice on Thursday.

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Smith and Tim Paine (58 not out), his successor as Australia captain, have now put on an unbeaten 145 for the sixth wicket, with the tourists going through the second session without losing a wicket.

Despite England’s dramatic one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley in Smith’s absence to square the five-match series at 1-1, the top-order problems that saw them dismissed for just 67 in the first innings in Leeds remain intact.

And with Australia left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc looking to make a mark in his first Test of the series, England faced a tough task just to get back on level terms in Manchester.

But it might have been a different story had fast bowler Jofra Archer held on to a Smith caught-and-bowled chance.

Archer, whose bouncer at Lord’s concussed Smith and ruled him out of the Headingley match, dropped the world’s number one-ranked Test batsman on 65.

Smith was given another reprieve on 118 when he edged Jack Leach to Ben Stokes at slip only for replays to reveal the left-arm spinner had over-stepped for a no-ball – a careless error for a slow bowler.

Smith’s innings followed his scores of 144 and 142 in Australia’s 251-run win in the opener at Edgbaston – his first Test since completing a 12-month ball-tampering ban – and the 92 he made at Lord’s, where he was felled by Archer.

Australia resumed on 170/3 under sunny skies after Wednesday’s rain-marred first day and Smith drove Archer off the back foot through extra cover for a superb four in the second over to go to 65.

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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 after bursting through his grasp.

Broad, however, removed yet another left-hander this series when a full-length delivery had Travis Head lbw for 19.

Leach, who had played a key supporting role at No 11 while all-rounder Stokes’s superb 135 not out saw England to victory at Headingley, lured Matthew Wade (16) into a miscued drive to England captain Joe Root at mid-on.

Smith then clipped Craig Overton for a two through square leg that saw him to his 26th Test century in 160 balls, with 11 fours.

Paine was on nine when, in the first over after lunch, he edged Broad, only for Jason Roy to drop a catch at second slip 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 magnificent four off the back foot.

England’s woes intensified when, with Stokes briefly off the field with a sore right shoulder, substitute Sam Curran dropped Paine, on 49, at mid-on following a pull off Archer. Paine went on to make a stylish 113-ball fifty.