Australia’s Steve Smith once again frustrated England as the home side’s hopes of engineering a match-winning position dwindled on the fourth morning at Lord’s.
Smith scored centuries in both innings as he almost single-handedly delivered victory in the Ashes opener at Edgbaston and England were once again driven to distraction by his refusal to budge.
Increasingly eccentric at the crease – theatrically pirouetting, pivoting and pointing the bat after almost every delivery – Smith’s ability to occupy the crease remained undiminished as he moved to 53 not out in his side’s lunch score of 155 for five.
After five sessions were washed out in the first three days, time was running short when the tourists resumed on 80 for four – 178 behind – with England seamer Stuart Broad admitting on Friday night that Australia needed to be all out in the first two hours of play to keep hopes alive.
Instead of the six wickets they needed to make that happen there was only one, Broad having Matthew Wade well caught by Rory Burns at third slip, and events will now need to accelerate swiftly for either side to press for anything other than a draw.
Smith has now soaked up another 122 balls, adding to the 426 he chewed through in Birmingham, with captain Tim Paine unbeaten on 21 at the other end.
It took England just over half-an-hour to make their first breakthrough on Saturday, Broad taking his third of the innings by coming round the wicket to Wade and drawing a thick outside edge that squirted low to Burns.
Smith continued to confound, though, beaten once by sideways movement from Broad and later failing to pick up a knuckle ball from Jofra Archer but otherwise watertight.
Alongside the calm nudges for one and two he occasionally took the invitation to open up, with a couple of clean drives to the cover boundary, and England’s enthusiasm dwindled when it became clear Paine would not allow them to open up the tail.
Finally, in the 58th over, Joe Root turned to left-arm spinner Jack Leach for the first time.
Hopeful suggestions that Smith might have a weakness against his style of bowling were quickly brushed aside, with the batsman dancing down the pitch and heaving Leach high into the leg-side to bring up his fifty.