Stuart Broad was in the thick of things as England and Australia vied for control on day two of the first Ashes Test, conjuring a big double breakthrough before reprieving centurion Usman Khawaja with a careless no-ball.
Broad raised the roof at Edgbaston in the morning when he dismissed old rival David Warner and the world’s number one batter Marnus Labuschagne with consecutive deliveries, but Khawaja batted from start to finish as Australia finished 82 behind on 311 for five.
Khawaja’s supreme 126 not out dragged the tourists back from a parlous 67 for three, but Broad will be kicking himself after bowling him late in the day only to be called for overstepping.
England had already squandered a couple of chances at the other end, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow fumbling a stumping against Cameron Green and dropping a regulation catch off Alex Carey.
While Ben Stokes has stayed true to his attacking principles – with bat, ball and by springing a surprise declaration at 393 for eight on Friday afternoon – Australia have dug their heels in with a more conservative, traditional brand of Test cricket.
Khawaja was the personification of that, occupying the crease for 279 balls across almost seven hours but the 36-year-old did so with no little style.
Amid long periods of studied concentration he picked his moments, striking returning spinner Moeen Ali for five fours and two sixes.
It was a mixed day for Moeen, entrusted with 29 overs and aggressive fields in his first bowling day since reversing his red-ball retirement, removing Travis Head (50) and Green (38) at a cost of 124 runs.
Australia began by blocking out three maidens in a row, one more than England allowed in their entire innings, offering further evidence of the growing culture clash between the sides.
It took just over half-an-hour for England to make their move and it was Broad, preferred to Mark Wood for his experience and big game mentality, who made it happen.
Warner, who was tortured by Broad in the 2019 series, attempted to pound him through the vacant cover region but lost his shape and dragged down his stumps.
It was the 15th time Warner had been dismissed by Broad, a stranglehold that the seamer refuses to let go.
Next up was Labuschagne, whose long stint at the top of the ICC rankings could not spare him the ignominy of a golden duck.
Broad spoke earlier in the season about designing a new outswinger with Labuschagne in mind and it worked first time, Bairstow diving low in front of first slip to pouch the outside edge.
Steve Smith survived the hat-trick ball, dragged down attempting to bring in leg-slip, but seemed in the mood for a long stay.
At the ground where he scored twin centuries four years ago, he soaked up 59 deliveries, including an unexpected cameo from Harry Brook’s modest medium pace, before Stokes took matters into his own hands.
England fans have spent months worrying about his chronic left knee problem and whether it would stop him bowling this summer, but he answered the question just before lunch.
The last ball of his second over skidded through, thumping Smith just above the knee as he sat deep in the crease. Stokes flung both arms into the air and implored Marais Erasmus to raise his finger, with the umpire obliging after a long look. Smith called for DRS and looked aghast when he saw three reds on the big screen.
The afternoon session checked English momentum as Australia added 110 runs for the loss of Head, caught at midwicket flicking Moeen off his toes.
Khawaja was impeccable, pulling reliably whenever England dropped too short, and joining Head in going after Moeen.
Bairstow’s failure to stump Green spared the all-rounder a duck and he went on to add 72 with Khawaja either side of tea.
Moeen returned to get Green, bowling him with a beauty that spun sharply through the gate, but Australia were decisive winners of the final session.
Khawaja moved assuredly towards three figures, reaching his first hundred in England with a late cut off Stokes and flinging his bat in the air as he celebrated with raw passion.
He came into this game with a top score of 54 in England and an average of less than 20, but put those statistics firmly to the sword.
Carey proved awkward as England visibly tired in the evening, making an unbeaten 52 after Bairstow grassed a thin edge off Joe Root’s spin.
But the real morale killer came when Broad speared the second new ball through Khawaja’s defences only to see the wicket chalked off as a no-ball.
They never quite recovered from that, with James Anderson and Ollie Robinson reaching the close without a chance between them, and will need to lift themselves on day three.