Another classic day of ashes cricket which saw over 90 overs, 10 wickets and a gang of hundreds of richie Benauds exchanging banter with the barmy army. Slow, gritty runs were again the norm with more underdog innings to add to vince and Stoneman’s innings yesterday.
Starc opened up with England on 196-4 midway through the 81st over, with Moeen Ali and Malan at the crease. England’s 200 was brought up on only the second ball of the day with a beautiful clip from Malan off his legs as Starc still struggled to find a consistent line. Ali followed suit punching Hazlewood over his head as he also struggled to live up to his expectations, shortly before Malan played another textbook England cover Drive that even Warner couldn’t get to.
Shortly after Nathan Lyon was brought on, not so surprising as he expressed his desire to have a crack with the new ball overnight. The run tap stopped flowing as it had on day one when Gary was brought on to bowl, with classic cat and mouse cricket ensuing from it. He found his line perfectly daring the number 6 to play his trademark slog sweep pitching the ball just outside off with tasty flight.
Malan brought up his 50 not long into the morning session after pushing on a bit, another player seriously doubted before the start of the match. The rest of the first 20 overs were just as tight as the last 20 at the latter end of day one, with Steve Smith placing another field completely nailed on.
This prompted Starc to be brought back on, and he immediately made an impact dismissing Malan for 56 after top edging a poorly played hook shot, after a couple of overs of barraging the England batsman in an effort field Marshal Hague should have used at the Somme whizzing balls in and around the grills. Body lining was back and better than ever! A very clever tactic on this pitch where the bounce has been so inconsistent.
Nathan Lyon pursued on taking the wicket of Moeen, cunningly tricking him by bowling a ball on the stumps for only the second time in the spell. A very well worked wicket with a 5 over set up. This was referred but he was still sent packing back to the pavilion for a hard fought 38.
England had two new batsmen at the crease and neither stuck it out for too long. Starc found his line and length using his classic brand of variation almost yorking Bairstow twice. Then next over Lyon got another wicket after an abysmally played Woakes cover drive in a game where they have all been straight out of page 84 of the textbook. A serious lack of concentration from Woakes but just rewards for Lyon whose bowling has been impeccable, if at times a little too pretty and not quite threatening enough.
Then Broad walked out to the most predictable tirade of boos since Amir walked out for day 4 of the Lords test after bowling his infamous metre over the line no-balls. In all honesty I think Kim Jong Un could strap on some pads, pick up a bat and get a better reception. The attack went back to bouncer after bouncer after bouncer making the 6,6 frame of Broad duck for about 3 overs. In came a short leg, short fine leg and a deep square leg on the 3/4. He managed to get off the mark with a dab sweep through fine leg.
England went from 246-5 to 278-8 when Bairstow then top edged a cummins ball to Paine who didn’t have to run far to take a straightforward take bringing Jake Ball to the crease. Now, I will go with the official scorecard but I am 99% sure hat it was actually rambo wearing a Jake ball mask as he sent Lyon for 3 boundaries in one over before knocking a ball down to Warner and short fine leg finishing on 14 off 11, a cameo any tailender would be proud of.
And at 11 came Jimmy Anderson, who put on his normal batting performance of a scarecrow possessed. swatting at multiple balls edging one over Paine for a boundary in a technique cleverly eliminating the chance of and LBW as he took his stance a metre and a half outside of his leg stump. This gave broad the chance to unleash his inner batsmen hooking the ball for two fours one of them quite fortunately being dropped by Marsh onto his own head, perhaps switching something on for his batting. When he attempted a third Josh Hazlewood was gifted with his first wicket of the day as Broad top edged it to the long boundary with Handscomb taking the catch. The players then went in for lunch with England finishing on 302. Starc and Cummins improved vastly in the session, taking 3 a piece, with Lyon being the pick of the bowlers finishing the innings with 36 overs, 12 maidens and 2 wickets. The less said about Hazlewood the better however.
Bancroft and Warner opened the batting and early on Jimmy Anderson put the pressure on almost catching Bancroft with an early LBW appeal and the first chorus of OHHH JIMMY JIMMY erupted from the Barmy Army. Broad took the first wicket coaxing Bancroft into edging the ball with Bairstow taking an excellent catch to his right.
Warner and Khawaja were just settling in as Root decided to bring on Ali early on as he has taken Warner’s wicket 4 times in his career and Khawaja is particularly susceptible to spin as shown on tour recently. After a couple looseners, Ali beat the edge of Khawaja before catching him plum on the pad with a skiddy LBW leaving Australia on 30-2.
Smith came in next in a time and yet again he brought his shovel to dig Australia out coming in when he wouldn’t have particularly dreamed of last night but a dangerous pair to have in at any time nonetheless. Smith got off the mark straight away with Woakes straying down leg, something Smith will punish any bowler for quickly showing why he is the number one ranked test batsman in the world. Just as both were looking comfortable Warner then whipped Jake Ball’s fairly standard delivery straight to Malan at short midwicket with a half and half shot not sure whether to pull of clip it. This prompting cheerio cheerio cheerio to ring round the ground with Billy the trumpeter also playing a rendition of Rocky harking back to the incident before the last Ashes series involving him and Joe Root.
Handscomb then came to the crease immediately taking the game to England while looking very accomplished in the process after just a handful of tests before tea.
The infamous tea break then struck again with a peach of a ball from Anderson yorking Handscomb who was bamboozled struggling due to his stance being so far back in the crease. In came Marsh who was another player under high scrutiny from both sides of the media. Both batsman took responsibility digging in for the next few overs prompting multiple bowling changes from Root.
At this point I slightly began to wonder if England had lost their direction after such a great start. I don’t think anyone was expecting Marsh to stay for long as under pressure he tends to struggle to make it into double figures. Smith looked bunkered in with Woakes bowling neither a consistent line or length as he strayed down leg continuously despite England having not set the field to accommodate it. Perhaps a better plan would have been to absolutely stack the legside, play to the strengths of Smith and let him get himself out because as he has proven recently there is very little any bowler can do to get him out barring the exceptional. Maybe follow Smith’s own tactic and bung it in short as even the most accomplished of back foot players can top edge a pull shot and especially on this wicket as England proved by their complete incapability to play it.
Smith and Marsh looked impossible to remove for the rest of the session slowly accumulating an almost hundred run partnership through dogged determination after Marsh slightly rode his luck. Smith made his way to 50 and apart from one top edged hook shot played an innings without imperfection, with Marsh looking to do the same shortly as he finished the day on 44 alongside his skipper’s 64.
England’s bowling started off strong but tailed off at the end. Ball, Moeen, Jimmy and Broad all took a wicket each. Ball was rushed off a couple times suggesting his ankle injury isn’t quite right, as Broad knows best not to rush it. Moeen and Woakes really need to improve tomorrow if they are to make any imprint after both underwhelming with the bat as well.
Another day leaving the game completely on a knife-edge. Twice England had the game for the taking completely bottling it but Australia have fought back incredibly well. I don’t think anyone would have called that during the mudslinging but if England don’t remove this partnership then Australia could easily take the game back out of their hands. I would say Australia have had the better day, improving in the field but the underlying problem of the team having to be dug out by Steve Smith was still there. Khawaja has a serious flaw which is a serious inability to play spin and Moeen Ali is going to get a lot of overs as soon as he comes in. Another day of the underdogs and the test match is anyone’s for the taking. Day 3 is going to be huge, not only in the match but in the context of the series because if England can get a win it will really show they mean business and if Australia win it will back up their ramp up talk before the game.