Ben stokes celebrates his half century against Australia on Saturday. Reuters
Australia were left hoping for another major innings from Steve Smith as England took charge of the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston on Saturday.
When bad light cut short the third day’s play, Australia were 124-3 in their second innings -- a lead of just 34 runs.
Former captain Smith, who had made a superb 144 in the first innings of his first Test since completing a 12-month ban for his role in last year’s ball-tampering scandal in South Africa, was 46 not out.
Travis Head was 21 not out, with the pair’s stand worth 49 runs.
Ashes-holders Australia, looking to win their first series away to England in 18 years, were struggling at 27-2 after openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft -- also returning to Test duty after the ball-tampering scandal -- both fell in single figures.
In a match full of overturned decisions, England had to review umpire Joel Wilson’s original not out verdict when Warner feathered a catch behind to wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow on eight to give Stuart Broad his 450th Test wicket.
Warner walked off to raucous chants of “Same old Aussies, always cheating” from England fans.
It was an important blow for Broad, who took 5-86 in Australia’s first innings of 284 as new-ball partner James Anderson was absent with a calf injury that meant England’s all-time leading Test wicket-taker only bowled four overs first time around.
Birmingham-born off-spinner Moeen Ali then had Bancroft lob a simple bat and pad catch to Jos Buttler at short leg.
Smith’s arrival at the crease prompted a huge chorus of boos from England fans who earlier in the day had taunted him with chants of “Crying on the telly, we saw you crying on the telly” in a reference to the star batsman’s emotional press conference in Sydney after he was sent home from South Africa.
Usman Khawaja might have been out for 11 but Buttler, now in the slips, failed to hold a tough chance off Moeen.
The left-hander made an attractive 40 but Khawaja was undone by Ben Stokes’s second ball, a superb delivery that cut back sharply to have him caught behind.
Australia were now 75-3, still 15 runs behind.
Smith, on 41, was struck on the side of the head after missing an intended pull off a Stokes bouncer, but was passed fit to bat on by the Australia team doctor.
Soon afterwards, although the floodlights were on, the umpires decided it was too dark to continue and halted play shortly before heavy rain fell.
Earlier, England opener Rory Burns batted for nearly eight hours for 133 -- his maiden Test hundred -- in an innings of 374 featuring half-centuries from captain Joe Root (57) and vice-captain Stokes (50).
England lost three wickets for four runs to slump to 300-8 -- a lead of just 16 runs.
But a ninth-wicket partnership of 65 between Chris Woakes, who made 37 not out on his Warwickshire home ground, and Broad (29) boosted their total.
Australia fast bowler Pat Cummins took 3-84 in 33 overs on a placid but wearing pitch and off-spinner Nathan Lyon 3-112 in 43.5 overs.
England resumed on 267-4, 17 runs adrift, with Burns 125 not out and Stokes 38 not out.
Stokes was out for exactly 50 when he a loose cut off Cummins was caught behind by Australia captain and wicketkeeper Tim Paine.
Lyon then finally ended left-hander Burns’s marathon innings when a delivery that turned and bounced took the outside edge and was well caught by Paine.
Burns faced 312 balls, with 17 fours.
By contrast, new batsman Moeen lasted just five balls before he inexplicably shouldered arms to Lyon and was clean bowled for a duck.
Woakes and Broad’s stand started with both batsmen on nought.
But Woakes hoisted Lyon for six and the pair accumulated runs steadily before Broad, who batted for nearly two hours, turned Cummins straight to long leg.
Australia captain Tim Paine won the toss and chose to bowl in the fifth Ashes Test at the Oval on Thursday as they chase their first series win in England since 2001.
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