This is superlative test cricket. You could not hope for a much better clash in a test which will go down as a classic. In a day overshadowed by one of the great ashes innings By Steve Smith, England once again had the game in the palm of their hand several times before completely bottling it. One can only imagine Boycott’s off-mic language.
Australia started the day with Smith and Marsh still at the crease with Anderson taking a crack at them first up, on 165-4 with Marsh just short of his half century. Marsh brought up his 50 early on with a very smart cut shot. The England bowlers weren’t much improved with Smith early on attempting to up the run rate after being stifled so well up to that point. It’s well known that Smith likes the team to be around the 3-4 runs per over mark when England have managed to keep them down to between 2 and 2.5 per over.
Then disaster struck as Shaun Marsh was caught driving under the influence of being Shaun Marsh. In all fairness the ball stuck in the pitch yet again but despite his knock oozing composure and classic test match batting, it was a serious a lapse in concentration that ended up in his dismissal for 51 runs. His drive being spooned to Anderson off Broad’s bowling. Nothing half and half shot letting the rest of his innings down ending a 99 run partnership and leaving the hosts on 175-5.
This brought Tim Paine to the crease. Another player under serious scrutiny despite a perfectly respectable 35.87 average for a keeper batting at 7. He got off the mark with a glorious cut shot, running down to 3rd man for 4.
This is when root took a leaf out of the Steve Smith book ordering his bowlers to join in with the resurrection of body-lining. A 3/6 field appeared with only a slip, gully and cover in the offside deciding to try and starve Smith of runs again forcing him to play offside cricket in the hope of getting an edge or a mistimed hook shot.
After the new ball was taken it only took 4 balls to claim it’s first victim, Tim Paine. Jimmy took it away from the right hander resulting in an edge superbly caught by Bairstow in an over where Jimmy got the ball swinging like a 60’s disco. It was also interesting it was the first real sign of pace coming from the wicket. Sadly for Jimmy that was all she wrote for the day with him sustaining some sort of injury down his side restricting him to a couple more and multiple breaks off the field. The official word from England is he is fine however that is most likely a brave front and England fans should look at the prospect of a 2nd test without Jimmy. Especially grave considering the lack of quality shown so far by Ball and Woakes. It was a shame Anderson and Smith had to stop their battle of the number 1’s because it was just hotting up.
This wicket brought Starc in at 201-6. A short innings but providing a classic ashes moment. Starc got off the Mark by insulting broad by heaving a six back over the England openers head giving him a stare down after. But two balls later In karmic fashion broad pitched one back of the length that Starc could only dink back to Broad cuing Broad to spring up and laugh in his face in very unsportsmanlike fashion. But I suppose all’s fair in love and the ashes. The crowd at the gabba came up with a very eloquent way of singing about him after this, I won’t write it down but let’s it rhymes with Broady’s a banker then x100. This brought in Cummins with only a handful of balls to face out until Lunch.
That ended the session with England poised to go into the second innings with a 60-85 run lead after taking 3 wickets for 48 runs. Right? Wrong. At 213-7 Root made a puzzling decision to open up with Woakes and Jake Ball. In the 50 minutes from lunch to either of England’s openers being brought on the batsman would cement their places at the crease. Apart from a few balls nipping back from Jake Ball with some more than risky leaves from Cummins almost exposing the of off in a spell that while very tight offered very little wicket threat.
Smith continued to dig in offering absolutely no way in for the England bowlers and Cummins batted like any top order batsman freeing his hands on multiple occasions rarely offering the bowlers hope. The run rate fluctuated and decreased several times in gritty cricket were the play of the day was slow accumulation.
Woakes, Ali and ball all tried their hand at attempting to dismiss the two all having multiple spells without luck. Ball lost his length, Woakes looked unspectacular and Ali lacked pace bounce or turn getting heaved by Cummins including a huge hoik into cow corner flying over the rope for 6.
Smith took his time but finally reached his hundred which will surely go down as one of the most important and greatest centuries in the history of the Ashes. after spending a staggering hour in the 90’s he reached his century with a sumptuous cover drive that sent the crowd into hysterics with a standing ovation lasting two minutes. I don’t think anyone in the ground remained in their seats. A truly fantastic innings that I felt privileged to watch.
Cummins fell not long after to a fantastic ball from Woakes nipping away prompting a catch from from Cook that must have left the ex-skipper in a world of relief after becoming having a bit of a butterfingers summer.
In came Hazlewood just before tea to add a few runs before tea playing some decent shots for a number ten before falling just after the break with him and Smith adding 23 more to the tally putting them just short of the England total. Ali dismissed him with a deceptively flighted ball tricking the paceman into going for the half-volley and getting bowled in the process.
Nathan Lyon came in to rapturous applause around the ground with every ball faced receiving applause and cheers from every angle. Not long after Smith put the hosts in the lead which was received gratefully relieving the stress of the Gabba audience. Lyon then proceeded to play a surprising amount of classy shots for a number 11 with the highlight being a particularly well played pull shot. Root brought himself on finally managing to break the final partnership which put on 32 runs.
Australia finished on 328, 26 ahead with Broad being the pick of the bowlers taking 3-49 off 25 overs with 10 maidens. Smith was certainly the pick of the batsmen with Cummins and Marsh adding extremely valuable partnerships for their skipper under little expectation to do so.
Cook and Stoneman opened the batting for England with Starc opening up and it wasn’t long before Cook fell too early again top edging an excellent bumper from Hazlewood to Starc at fine leg who took it excellently diving to his left leaving England on 11-1. Hazlewood benefitted hugely from the extra pace of the pitch improving vastly from the first innings.
I don’t know what happened in the first innings but apparently it is James Vince at 3. after getting two off a flick off his pads to fine leg he couldn’t resist nibbling at a short ball from Hazlewood.
He found his length extremely quickly compared to Starc how slightly struggled with the exception of a bouncer straight into the grill breaking his helmet in the process. On the lighter side, Starc immediately went over to Root to see how he was doing, in a Flintoff-Lee moment as well as Warner which I find ironic because he’s normally dealing the blows.
For the rest of the session it was all chin music from Cummins at one end and Lyon at the other keeping the runs down with Root and Stoneman calmly seeing out the day ending up on 33-2 which can only be considered a comeback.
On another fierce day of Ashes cricket Australia definitely ended up on top. Not because they are in a particularly amazing position but because of how they rebounded when England didn’t capitalise. This Australian innings pointed out underlying flaws for both teams as well as positives. Smith is still the anchor of the Australian team and you feel when he doesn’t perform the team will get absolutely skittled but not if Anderson is out and England lose yet another pace bowler. Cummins could be the all rounder Australia have been looking for from right under their noses.