Steven Finn turns the screw to leave England on brink of victory

Devastating spell from recalled bowler almost brings about two-day finish

England’s Steven Finn gets an edge through to Ian Bell to dismiss Australia batsman Adam Voges during the third Test at Edgbaston in Birmingham. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters/Livepic

Day two, close: Australia 136 & 168-7 lead England 281 by 23 runs

Steven Finn, with a five-wicket haul on his return to Test cricket, has bowled England to the verge of taking a 2-1 lead in the series. At one time, it seemed as if this dizzying match was heading towards a two-day finish, with Australia’s second innings, midway through a lengthy final session, in tatters at 111 for six, still 34 runs adrift of making England bat again.

Peter Nevill and Mitchell Johnson got their heads down, batted sensibly, and with the wicketkeeper playing the longest innings in terms of balls received, put on a 42-run partnership that gave Australia the slenderest of leads before Johnson became Finn's fifth victim. The third day will find Australia in desperate straits on 168 for seven, a lead of 23, Nevill having faced 117 balls for his unbeaten 37.

Important lead

Earlier, England had managed to establish an important lead of 145, thanks largely to Joe Root's ebullient 63, and an eighth-wicket stand of 87 between Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad that may, ultimately, prove decisive.


Moeen rode his luck early on but then played with confidence, pulling Johnson and once belting him over the top of extra cover, and was finally ninth out for 59. Broad, who made 31, was an admirable partner.

For England, the only real blot on an otherwise compelling second day came when Jimmy Anderson, in the middle of his ninth over, walked from the field, holding his left side below the rib cage. Given that he had delivered three balls in the over, and had been stretching between deliveries, it seemed as if he was being cautious more than anything.

The fourth Test starts next Thursday at Trent Bridge, a ground where Anderson reigns supreme, and indeed took 10 wickets to help beat Australia there two years ago. He will be desperate to play having not missed one of the past 24 Ashes matches. The frenetic nature of this match, and the relatively little bowling he has had to do, means he will have a week to recover.

The England pacemen have been magnificent, and after Anderson’s masterclass in the first innings, it was Finn who, having conceded 14 runs from his single over at the City end, ripped out Australia’s middle order in a devastating spell from the Pavilion end after the tea interval, including the wickets of Steve Smith and the captain Michael Clarke for the second time in the match.

Until Nevill and Johnson came together, the only resistance had come from David Warner, who batted thrillingly. He reached a 35-ball half century that equalled the fastest, by Graham Yallop, in an Ashes Test and went on to make 77, before he top edged a steepler to extra cover in attempting to flick Anderson to the onside. Finn returned later though to remove Johnson with his first ball back, and ended a memorable day with figures of five for 45.

Australia have had their chances to get back into the match but have failed to seize them. England had resumed on 133 for three, a deficit of three runs, and the chance, with clearer skies, to establish a sizeable lead. But by the time Johnson had completed his first over of the morning, the balance had already shifted, as he produced the two nastiest deliveries of the series – short, skiddy, fast and heading for the throat – to have Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes caught at the wicket.

Considerable spin

Mystifyingly he was unable to reproduce anything close to it again during the England innings. At one stage, with the wicket of Jos Buttler going to Nathan Lyon, and the wicket already taking considerable spin, the England lead, with seven wickets gone, had been 54 only.

There was a game still to be won at that point, but none of Australia‘s bowlers was able to rise to the occasion. (Guardian Service)