Michael Clarke dragged Australia back into the Ashes series by hitting his 24th Test century against a lacklustre England on Thursday, taking the spotlight away from more umpiring controversy on the opening day of the third Test.

The captain became the first Australian to make three figures this series, as he reached stumps on 125 not out, with the tourists in command on 303-3, as they look for a victory to stay alive in the Ashes.

On a hot and humid day at Old Trafford, Australia’s batsmen finally found some form with opener Chris Rogers hitting a Test-best 84 and Steve Smith adding 70 in an unbeaten 174-run stand for the fourth-wicket with Clarke.

That helped them overcome the dubious dismissal of Usman Khawaja, who was given out caught behind off Graeme Swann for one, despite replay technology showing the batsman hadn’t touched the ball. Third umpire Kumar Dharmasena upheld the on-field umpire’s decision to the amazement of most in the ground as well as Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who tweeted - “That was one of the worst cricket umpiring decisions I have ever seen.”

Australia’s batting has been far too open and expansive this series the team hadn’t reached 300 before today but the performance was noticeably more patient here after winning the toss. Clarke, in particular, picked his moments to pounce, with a lofted uppercut for four off Broad when 79 and then a straight drive down in the 90s being his highlights.

Rogers shared a 76-run opening partnership with Watson and splayed England’s pace attack to all corners of Old Trafford, with five fours in the two overs after the drinks break, bringing up his fifty off just 49 balls.

Smith by contrast grew into his innings, hitting seven fours and looking just as well set as Clarke by the time stumps was called.

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