Steve Smith and Matthew Wade continued the punishment for England’s depleted bowling attack. (AP: Rui Vieira)
Australia will look to bowl its way to a decisive victory on the final day of the opening Ashes Test after building an enormous 397-run lead over England on day four at Edgbaston.
Another masterclass by Steve Smith (142) was paired with a century for fellow returning batsman Matthew Wade (110), guiding Australia to a declaration on 7-487, effectively batting England out of the game.
Smith’s century made him the fifth player to score hundreds in each innings of an Ashes Test, and Wade’s was his first in more than six years. Both were made all the more special by the fact that they could well have set up an Ashes victory.
No team has ever chased down more than 283 in the fourth innings to win in Birmingham, but captain Tim Paine must have wanted to break the spirits of England’s tiring bowlers, waiting until the light was fading and the lead was approaching 400 to put them out of their misery with a declaration.
The late declaration gave England openers Rory Burns and Jason Roy seven awkward overs to face, which they managed to negotiate successfully, ending the day on 0-13.
Having resumed day four with the match perfectly poised, Australia set about making a statement in the first hour.
With Smith and Travis Head at the crease, the Aussies did more than just survive. The pair batted with intent, scoring quickly and making England resort to defence rather than attacking for more wickets.
Travis Head and Steve Smith’s partnership needed to be big to give Australia hope. (AP: Rui Vieira)
Smith swiftly brought up his half-century, and Head was not far behind. The first hour passed without incident, and a wicketless session loomed as a distinct possibility.
That was until Head (51) played one cut shot too many, at a Ben Stokes (3-85) delivery a little too close to his body, and edged through to keeper Jonny Bairstow. His slow walk from the field was one of a man who knew he had let an opportunity slip.
But the wicket did not slow Smith who, now joined by Wade, continued to score freely and closed in on a century before lunch.
Steve Smith joined an elite club by scoring a century in each innings of an Ashes Test. (AP: Rui Vieira)
He was made to wait, but not long. With a stacked off-side field, Smith somehow found the tiniest of gaps with a blazing cover drive, reaching his historic milestone with yet another boundary.
Celebrations out of the way, Smith and Wade carried right on punishing England, stretching the lead beyond 200 and then 250.
England looked almost completely out of ideas, until the introduction of the second new ball and some extra swing for Chris Woakes (1-46) brought about an outside edge from Smith, and another catch for Bairstow.
Once the shock had subsided around the ground at Smith’s departure, normal service resumed. After tea, the focus switched to Wade’s pursuit of a century — an outcome that all of a sudden seemed an inevitability.
Wade reached three figures with a reverse sweep, followed by a joyous hug with fellow Tasmanian and childhood friend Paine.
With that out of the way, the pursuit of quick runs with an eye on a declaration was the order of the day. Wade and Paine pushed the lead past 300, before the former was caught on the hook by Joe Denly from a Stokes short ball.
Paine fell too, clean bowled through the gate by an absolute ripper from Moeen Ali (2-130). It was a rare moment of joy for the off-spinner, who struggled on the whole.
Despite Australia already leading by 319 when the captain went off, James Pattinson (47 not out) and Pat Cummins (26 not out) batted on for another hour.
Only the final stages of their 78-run partnership showed evidence of a licence to swing for the fences, as the innings headed towards the final half-hour of the day.
A chase of 398 would be the fifth-highest successful chase in Test history, and require a rapid scoring rate, meaning an Australian win or a draw are the only realistic results.
Look back at how day four unfolded in our live blog below.