England on the brink as Australia dominate in Brisbane
Hosts need another 56 to take first Test after Lyon, Starc and Warner torment tourists
Nathan Lyon celebrates the early dismissal of Mark Stoneman in Brisbane. Photograph: Dave Hunt/EPA
England 302 & 195, Australia 329 & 114-0 (Australia need a further 56 to win)
The chances of England storming the Brisbane fortress diminished to almost zero as the Reverend kept the assembled throng entranced on a sunny Sunday evening. David Warner held sway and the Gabba congregation applauded every stroke, not so much with an Alleluia as a “C’mon Aussie, C’Mon”. He was guiding his flock home in some style.
Australia, having bowled England out for 195, required 170 to win the first Test and preserve their remarkable record in Brisbane. By the close Warner had led the way alongside a fresh and willing disciple, Cameron Bancroft.
At the close Australia were 114-0, with Warner on 60, Bancroft 51 and the retiring curator, Kevin Mitchell, could sleep easily. His remarkable record was intact. As Warner could no doubt confirm Australia have not lost at the Gabba since Robert Runcie was the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The English bowlers lacked the pace or zip of their Australian counterparts as the sun beat down on a blameless strip of turf. Suddenly batting was a breeze. In part this was because the tourists had not had much respite since leaving the field on Saturday evening. Moreover they lack the pace that can overcome a true surface.
After biding their time against the new ball and England’s old guard Warner in particular expanded his repertoire. Neither Chris Woakes nor Jake Ball could make an impression as Warner skipped around the crease and it was not long before Joe Root replaced Moeen Ali, who has struggled here partly because of a lack of bowling but also due to a cut on his spinning finger, an injury that can obviously be a major impediment. Bancroft cruised along impressively in Warner’s wake. Barring thunderstorms of biblical proportions the game was up. England had been unable to score enough runs.
There were moments of hope but no expectation throughout their innings. Little partnerships were formed but they could never flourish. The Australians, even though their pace attack was not quite so ferocious as on Saturday night, were on their game.
Root was required to undergo another concussion test before resuming his innings and he showed no ill effects from Saturday’s blow to the helmet. A crisp cover drive for four off Mitchell Starc confirmed that all was well. He was able to score quicker than most – because he is better than most – usually square of the wicket and it only took 35 minutes for Steve Smith to call up Nathan Lyon.
At the other end Mark Stoneman had dealt with the pacemen with aplomb but this proved to be a morning when Australia’s off-spinner would torment two of England’s left-handers. Lyon now bowls quickly for a finger spinner and when the ball is gripping that makes him ever more dangerous. He becalmed Stoneman and then found his outside edge from a forward defensive stroke. Within six overs Dawid Malan was dismissed in identical fashion.
Lyon relishes the left-handedness of England’s line-up. When his confidence is high – as it is now – he offers no freebies. The only way one could imagine Stoneman and Malan scoring off him was from the occasional square cut. Of Lyon’s five wickets in this Test four have been left-handers. Root played him far more easily conjuring singles without much trouble. England, like Australia, lean too heavily upon their captain for their runs. Root had hit 51, which was never enough, when he was dismissed in similar fashion to the first innings. Josh Hazlewood slanted a full-length delivery inwards and the ball thudded into Root’s left pad as he aimed to hit it wide of mid-on. There is a chink here.
After lunch there was another tantalizing partnership for English supporters. Moeen Ali was determined to be proactive against Lyon and he took two fours in an over with a lofted drive and a firm sweep; Jonny Bairstow skipped down the pitch and hit the off-spinner for six over mid-wicket. At last Lyon was being challenged and oddly enough he was no longer as pinpoint accurate.
Then came the excruciating dismissal – for those in the English camp – of Moeen. The ball beat his outside edge as he pushed forward to Lyon and Tim Paine whipped off the bails. Then the replays from every conceivable angle began. Was any part of Moeen’s boot behind one of the thickest, though perhaps not the straightest, of white lines ever painted on a cricket pitch? Umpire Chris Gaffaney eventually concluded that the answer was “No”.
So Moeen’s cameo was ended; so too were England chances of setting Australia a taxing target.
There was one other small partnership between Woakes and Bairstow that at least allowed the English supporters to dream as the score crept up to 185-6. But England would only muster another 10 runs. Starc produced another well-directed short ball, which Woakes could only fend into the slip cordon; Bairstow, no doubt scenting that he was running out of partners, tried an upper cut but only sent the ball straight into the hands of Peter Handscomb, who had been stationed at third man for just such a shot.
Broad was bemused to be caught behind after a review and Ball received a succession of bouncers – in another age the umpires might have intervened – the last of which flew from his bat handle to Handscomb loitering conveniently behind the keeper. As in 2013-14 it is hard to imagine England’s tail ever wagging against such a barrage.