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Smith edges towards 4th Ashes Test return

By AAP Newswire

Steve Smith is set to make his return to cricket on Thursday against Derbyshire after facing bowlers in the nets for the first time since suffering concussion.

The in-form batsman faced throw-downs on Saturday for 15 minutes, but ramped up his recovery on Sunday by spending time against Australia's back-up bowlers in the outfield nets at Headingley before play on day four of the third Ashes Test.

Smith, ruled out of the Leeds match after missing the second innings of the Lord's Test, is building towards re-taking his place in the team for the fourth Test from September 4 at Old Trafford.

The former skipper's replacement Marnus Labuschagne again impressed at Headingley, scoring his third-successive half-century before being run out for 80 in Australia's total of 246.

The 25-year-old has done enough to keep his spot in the team even if Smith does return, leaving selectors with a decision to make on the batting line-up for the second-successive match.

Labuschagne admitted he felt part of the Test set-up after earning the full respect of his teammates with his recent gutsy displays.

"When you're scoring runs, you feel more part of it," he said.

"You feel like you're getting to know your game a bit better. But it definitely feels like I'm getting to know my game a bit better. I'm showing more discipline, which is good."

Cameron Bancroft was axed for the third Test and, despite Marcus Harris faring little better at the top of the order with scores of eight and 19, he would be allowed another opportunity to cement his spot alongside David Warner.

Usman Khawaja, Travis Head and Matthew Wade are the three players most vulnerable to being dropped to accommodate Smith and Labuschagne.

Khawaja's top score in five innings is 40 and the possibility of moving Labuschagne, who has impressed with his patience and ability to bat for long spells in his three innings, up to No.3 will be up for discussion.

Vice-captain Head, batting at No.5, was bowled twice at Headingley. He has not passed 50 since the second innings of the first Test when Australia scored their highest total of the series, 7-(dec)487, at Edgbaston.

No.6 batsman Wade also made a hundred in that innings. But he has chalked up scores of 1, 6, 1, 0 and 33 in his five other visits to the crease.