Following a quite remarkable day yesterday, England looked set to build a substantial lead over their tourists and secure a winning position in the game. Joe Root had passed a hundred, as England led by 214 with 6 wickets intact.
The day started with Mark Wood catching the eye, as he demonstrated his ability with the bat once again. In contrast to yesterday though, it wasn’t all plain sailing for England. Starc was getting some significant movement with the old ball, and he shaped one away from Root beautifully to dismiss the centurion. He then took care of Wood, making a mess of his leg stump. Hazlewood then got in on the act, getting Stokes caught behind. While England were having a bit of a lower order collapse, they still led by around 270 at this stage. On the evidence of the first day, that would be more than enough.
As had happened at Edgbaston, Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad formed a handy partnership for the penultimate wicket. Their efforts at Edgbaston had arguably been crucial, and while it wasn’t essential that England got loads more here, it kept the Australians out on the field a bit longer. Ali added 38 before he fell to a spectacular Steve Smith catch. Once again, shades of Andrew Strauss were plain for all to see. At 9 down, England might have been able to bat until lunch with Broad still there in the twenties. However, Cook decided to call his team in at around 12:40. A strange declaration perhaps, given the amount of time left in the game, but Rogers and Warner would now have to negotiate an awkward 3 overs before the break.
As it happened, the overs were safely seen off by the Aussie openers, but Cook’s thinking and tactical awareness was once again to be admired. Any presumptions that Australia might be skittled inside 20 overs for a second time soon disappeared, as Warner and Rogers built a healthy partnership. The score moved towards 100-0, as England shelled a couple of chances in the slips. Cook dropped one and Bell another, as lady luck decided she’d been a bit harsh first time round. Shortly after though, England had their breakthrough. Or did they? Not for the first time in his short test career, Mark Wood overstepped after having a batsman caught in the slips. England were denied their breakthrough. It seems that the umpires in recent times have begun to pay less attention to that all important front line, safe in the knowledge that they can always call for a review if they’re in any doubt. Regardless, overstepping really is inexcusable, especially for international bowlers.
Thankfully for Wood, the breakthrough did come. Stokes had Rogers caught in the cordon for 52, as England celebrated their first wicket. Warner then joined him back in the hut as he skied a pull shot. Stuart Broad couldn’t keep the limelight off him as he took the chance with a great deal of comfort at mid-on. Both openers getting out just before tea was a huge blow for Australia, as their fans had just begun to find their voices again. Shaun Marsh failed to make a contribution of note again, as he was dismissed by Stokes for 2. Steve Smith didn’t seem to be phased by the loss of his team-mates though, as he happily drove on the up through the offside. Unfortunately for him, Ben Stokes was positioned perfectly to reduce the visitors to 136-4. Realistically, it was a poor and needless shot from the world’s number 1, who has been unconvincing in English conditions.
The efforts of Ben Stokes, who had picked up three of the four Aussie wickets, had given England control of the game again going into tea. After the break, Clarke and Voges showed a bit of resistance, as the former left the ball alone very well. However, the Aussie skipper’s form has been a real issue all summer, and it wasn’t too long before he was England’s next victim. Wood had him caught by Bell for 13, and surely the only question now was whether England could wrap it up today.
That looked increasingly unlikely though as Voges continued to battle hard, also with the support of his new partner, Nevill. England became a little sloppy in the field, and Cook was visibly disgruntled after Finn took another wicket off a no-ball. Despite the resounding victory England will undoubtedly record, they will have to work on keeping their front feet behind the line.
All day it had looked an awful lot flatter, but Ben Stokes’ 3 wickets at the top of the innings had been borne out of the swinging delivery. He then came back into the attack, and exploited that movement once again. He produced a beautiful in-swinger to get rid of Nevill who, once again, had left a straight one. Then, he dismissed pantomime villain Mitchell Johnson to claim himself an ashes five-for. Throughout Stokes’ international career, he has struck everyone as a player who makes things happen. His aggression with bat and ball make him an invaluable asset to the side, and his five wicket haul today simply reinforces that ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, and turn it firmly in England’s favour. All the wickets this series have been shared around, with Anderson, Broad, Finn and Stokes all getting five-fors. Should those four be England’s four seamers for plenty of future games, the lack of one stand out performer will please the selectors immensely.
In the end, bad light stopped play with Australia still 90 behind, and 7 down. England are set to regain the ashes tomorrow, and I, for one, cannot wait. Australia showed a lot more fight today, but their batsmen still played poor shots to lose their wickets. They will have to learn their lessons from this summer if they are ever to improve in English conditions, as the ‘Australian aggression’ that is so pig-headedly maintained sometimes just has to be put to one side. From England’s perspective, the no-balls are hugely disappointing, as are the drops. However, perhaps the ease at which the slip fielders caught in the first innings made them drop their guard slightly here. England’s day again though, and Ben Stokes’ day with the ball.