Curious case of Archer’s sudden drop in pace
After losing their first showdown by knockout, Steve Smith responded by reclaiming his status as the best in the world to land some blows of his own in his latest duel with rising England star Jofra Archer.
It looked like England had found their Smith kryptonite in the form of Archer's hostile bouncers, which floored the Australian in such ugly fashion at Lord's last month.
Certainly, all anyone wanted to talk about in the lead-up to the fourth Test was how Smith and Archer would resume hostilities.
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But the expected fireworks fizzled out in the Manchester drizzle. On a strangely subdued day for the young firebrand, Archer looked a shadow of the player who wowed the fans at Lord's and Headingley.
He was well down on pace, bowled just five overs in the first session and finished the day 0-28.
In conditions which didn't suit, the youngster had more trouble adapting than Australia's complex superstar.
The explosive 150km/h thunderbolts had petered out to 135km/h efforts and Smith happily ducked inside some and whipped others to the men on the boundary, who were optimistically waiting for a skied mistake which never came.
Archer's pace ally, Craig Overton, defended the 24-year-old's sudden dip in speed - as did former England quick Chris Tremlett who described any criticism as "harsh".
"I get there is a huge expectation on the guy because of the impact he's made on cricket this summer but I feel it's harsh everyone jumps on Jofra Archer's back the moment he drops below 90mph," Tremlett wrote on Twitter.
"He's had a long summer and isn't a robot. Give him a break please, it's his 3rd game!"
Overton, who nabbed the wicket of Labuschagne for 67 in his comeback Test, added: "We all tended to struggle with the wind today, I wouldn't look too much into it.
"He'll be raring to go and coming again tomorrow, firing in and bowling as quick as he can."
Stuart Broad had spiced things up pre-game, saying Archer would be champing at the bit when Smith came to the crease and would be demanding the ball from his skipper.
He didn't need to. Australia's openers fell to pieces so quickly that when Smith appeared Archer was still only three overs into his spell - and just warming up.
But after being hailed by coach Justin Langer as cricket's ultimate problem solver, Smith proved just that on day one at Old Trafford as normal service resumed and the world's No. 1 run machine calmly defused all of England's attacks on him.
There was a clear directive to bowl short and prey on any mental scars which might have lingered from the bouncer barrage he endured at Lord's - where he was left concussed by a savage Archer delivery which struck him high on the neck, forcing him to miss the third Test defeat in Leeds.
However, without having to also negotiate the troubles of a two-paced pitch which made Archer's ferocious short-pitched bowling even more unpredictable, Smith was completely untroubled.
He barely played a false stroke as he once again dug Australia out of trouble from 2-28 to be 3-170 at stumps, with Smith finishing unbeaten on 60 from 93 balls and well on his way to a third century of the series.
"That's one thing he is very good at," said Marnus Labuschagne of Smith's ability to adjust his game to any tactical onslaught from the opposition.
"I see it from the other end but I think you can see it as a spectator, when different guys come on how he changes different guards, the way he bats, different pre-movements - I think that's what makes him the best in the world.
"That he's always kind of one step ahead and thinking ahead, not being reactive. He's being proactive.
"(It) makes him very hard to bowl to, because he's always thinking ahead."