Close Day 3: England 430 & 289 lead Australia 308 by 411 runs
There can be a fine line between controlled aggression and recklessness, and for a while in the evening session, until Mark Wood joined Moeen Ali, England crossed it, throwing wickets away in pursuit of unnecessarily rapid runs and in so doing giving Australia the sniff of a chance. It was not clever. After 207 for four at one time in their second innings had become 245 for eight, a considerable lead of 367, but with more than two days to play, not out of sight.
Instead, as the lights glared out, the pair added 43 for the ninth wicket, Wood's unbeaten 32 belying his No 10 status. Mitchell Johnson was dispatched to the square-leg boundary in a manner off one leg that was reminiscent of Gordon Greenidge, while Nathan Lyon was deposited straight out of the ground and almost into the river.
England were all out right on the whistle for 289, which means that the fourth day will resume with Australia requiring a daunting 412 to win and six full sessions in which to get the runs. The pitch is by no means unplayable (getting on for 1000 runs have been scored in three innings so far), and the imperative for Australia to get their skates on is not there. But having done much of the hard work, England will kick themselves if they do not win from here.
Once more, that part of a session aside, England were outstanding, the confidence running through the side palpable. In the first 75 minutes of play the three seamers, using first the old ball and then the new, disposed of the last five Australian wickets for 44 runs to establish an important first innings lead of 122.
That they then lost the wickets of Alastair Cook and Gary Ballance to the new ball, as they set about the task of establishing what they hoped would prove an unassailable lead on a pitch that is starting to play a few more tricks, proved of little consequence as Ian Bell and Adam Lyth, instead of battening down the hatches as might have been the reaction, went on the counterattack, pasting 50 runs in the next seven overs, in a manner that was once the domain of their opponent.
Then when Lyth edged Lyon to be brilliantly caught at slip for 37, Joe Root was able to continue in the same vein, adding 97 with Bell before the latter was bowled by Johnson for a beautiful 60 that contained 11 fours, creamed through extra cover for the most part. Johnson had almost burst himself in the effort of seeking his first wicket of the match and had already conceded 160 runs in the quest. His celebration, puffing his cheeks out, was more one of relief than anything.
Root was to go on make 60 as well, and from an identical 89 balls before he too was bowled, this time by Josh Hazlewood, the ball coming back sharply off the seam in a manner that has unsettled batsmen the whole game, even when apparently well set. But he had played yet another delightful innings, with nine fours, the best of them a classical bent-knee cover drive off Johnson that bisected the cover field precisely before they had a chance to move.
Even Root was outdone by Bell’s strokeplay, in what must have been a cathartic innings for him. Since he scored a fine 143 in the first innings of the opening Test in Antigua in April, he had fallen on hard times, nine further innings producing 56 runs, and with a first-innings failure in Cardiff, there were already mutterings about his right to a place in the team. Here he simply seized the initiative, and, in so doing, seemed to release the shackles that had been imposed on Lyth.
If there was one thing that really separated the two teams in the last series it was the capacity of the Australians to blow away the England lower order, with Johnson pre-eminent as the enforcer of this, while England themselves were generally powerless to do the same themselves.
Certainly when play began, with Australia still 166 adrift but with five wickets in hand, including that of Shane Watson and the bete noire Brad Haddin, they understood that anything near parity would keep them very much in the contest. So the response of Stuart Broad, Wood – and, when the new ball became due after 10 overs, Jimmy Anderson – was superb.
Watson, one of the two not-out batsmen overnight,is well known for a tendency to plant his front foot and hit around it, making him vulnerable to lbw, and the scenario duly played out. Broad’s fourth ball of the day was full, and thudded into Watson’s front pad and, after a Bucknorish deliberation, Marais Erasmus raised his finger. Of course Watson reviewed – he almost always does as if unable to grasp that he might be out in this fashion – and the decision was upheld by a slender margin. Immediately afterwards, Wood produced a full delivery that caught Lyon bang in front and two wickets had gone for the addition of one run.
For a brief while, as Cook replaced Broad with Ben Stokes to give him a breather for the new ball, and Wood gave way to Moeen for a single over, there was a hit of deja vu as Haddin took three successive boundaries from Stokes and Johnson clobbered Moeen over the top. Use of the new ball is a vital element in this match however and Anderson and Broad both used it immaculately.
The wicket of Haddin was a key one, edging a perfect away-swinger to Jos Buttler, and then Johnson, thinking he had clipped Broad nicely away through square leg, realised he had merely hit gently to Ballance. Anderson, round the wicket to the left-handed Hazlewood, took the final wicket, an excellent catch by Root. The standard of the England catching has risen along with the whole demeanour.