Aussies on brink after Finn's spell of a lifetime
Published 31/07/2015 | 02:30
England have never had a bowler like Curtly Ambrose or Glenn McGrath. At least they hadn't until Steven Finn made good the loss of James Anderson by producing the spell of his life.
To an extent Finn benefited from the current tendency of batsmen to be high on adrenalin rather than application. He was nevertheless superb in exploiting a bouncy pitch which could have been made for him and probably was, given that the groundsman who oversees Middlesex's pitches - Mick Hunt - was called in to assist preparation.
Assuming England finish off Australia without further ado and go 2-1 up - the tourists are only 23 runs ahead with three wickets left - Finn will have as much claim as anyone to be man of the match. England would have been sunk without him.
Overall, it was another superlative team performance as England took a first-innings lead of 145 and ran through Australia's middle order a second time. The tourists' top three batsmen are covering a multitude of technical sins.
But the price for so much English ecstasy was two pieces of agony.
One was Anderson straining his left side during the 33rd over of Australia's second innings, which has put him in grave doubt for the fourth Test starting on Thursday on his most successful ground of Trent Bridge.
Anderson rubbed his side, had a word with Stuart Broad as he walked slowly back to his mark, switched to round the wicket, bowled one more ball and left the field.
Australia were still 24 runs behind with four wickets left at the time.
Ordinary bowlers with "a tight side" would normally miss several weeks. But this is Anderson, and it will be Trent Bridge. Even if he did not operate at full pace, and conditions were overcast, he would be worth having at 80mph.
The other agony came at the outset of day two. Warwickshire's bard, Shakespeare, would have kept the scene until later in the piece, but in the second over Mitchell Johnson leapt out from behind the curtains and plunged a dagger twice into England's middle order.
It is hard to think that any bowler in history - not even Dale Steyn, who was busy taking his 400th Test wicket in Bangladesh yesterday - could have unleashed two more venomous bouncers in his first over of a day than Johnson did at Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes. The survival instinct, to protect their faces, overrode everything.
Instantly Australia were back in the game, England six runs ahead with only five wickets left. The session, day and match, the series itself - all were back in the balance.
But if Australia had their champion, so did England in Joe Root. He lifted their spirits - if not the whole siege - by steering the next two balls he faced, from Josh Hazlewood, to the third man boundary. England's supporters breathed, and cheered, again.
Root's 63 was gold dust, not only for the runs but for the fact that England had a specialist batsman to guide them until the start of that crucial phase when the ball was in the second half of its natural life, whereupon he chased a wide one.
Jos Buttler was not around to benefit: he declined to review a leg-before decision when he missed an off-break from round the wicket, the angle from which Nathan Lyon has taken 11 of his 12 wickets in this series.
He looked lbw too, yet the ball was predicted to bounce over the stumps, and England still had two reviews in hand.
Against the ageing ball Moeen Ali and Broad added 87 runs in England's largest and most decisive partnership.
The partnership gave England's pace bowlers the nice assignment of 15 overs before tea, and they took the wickets of Australia's two most productive batsmen as Chris Rogers failed for once, and Steve Smith for once was out to a pull shot.
Smith's wicket was the start of Finn's golden spell of 4-25 in eight overs either side of tea. More relaxed after his two wickets in the first innings, feeling he once again belonged, Finn unleashed a stream of unplayable deliveries that hit the seam, climbed off a length, and zipped past the right-handers.
Michael Clarke was squared up by Finn and edged to fourth slip, where Adam Lyth took a fine catch. Clarke's troubles are looking terminal, after just two fifties in his last 28 Test innings.
Adam Voges, who has yet to get into this series, edged his first ball from Finn to second slip. Finn missed out on his hat-trick by failing to make Mitchell Marsh play, but soon castled him through the gate. Meanwhile, David Warner batted on another plane or planet, better even than Root or Ian Bell. Had he and Rogers combined for long on the first morning, Clarke's decision to bat would have been justified.
Warner's mistake was to stop full-blooded hooking when two or more men were set back, and paddle-pull instead. It was too cute and risky for a single, and resulted in a catch to cover when Finn returned for his fifth wicket.
Peter Nevill, more organised than any of Australia's right-handers apart from Smith, ushered his team to the close.
The wicketkeeper would have been Broad's 300th Test wicket if Buttler's left hand had held on to a chance that Nevill gloved down the leg side.
But England already had masses to celebrate. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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