Saturday 21 April 2018

England profit from Australian malaise

Ian Bell (right) and Joe Root embrace after sealing England’s third-Test victory
Ian Bell (right) and Joe Root embrace after sealing England’s third-Test victory

Scyld Berry

It bore all the hallmarks of another Andrew Strauss coup. In 2009 England under his captaincy were obliterated at Headingley by an innings, yet bounced back to win the next Test and the Ashes.

This time, under his directorship and the captaincy of Alastair Cook, England lost lamentably at Lord's yet bounced back to thump Australia in two days and two sessions.

With the fourth Test starting on Thursday, the tourists have no opportunity to go away, regroup and find some rhythm and runs for their batsmen, although they will be buoyed by the absence of James Anderson, who misses Trent Bridge with a side injury and could well be out for the series.

Without Anderson yesterday morning, England made heavy weather of taking the three remaining Australian wickets, leaving themselves a tricky target of 121.

Despite losing Cook early on, they got there emphatically, winning by eight wickets, rather than stumbling and flopping over the line.

England made a nervy, scruffy start to day three. In the first six overs of the third day 39 runs gushed, taking Australia's lead above 60. Peter Nevill and Australia's tailenders found it easy to hang in because the ball was old, the sky clear, and the pitch flatter than on the first two days. So batting would be easier second time round for England as well.

A superlative catch by Jos Buttler reignited England after Nevill and Mitchell Starc had extended Australia's lead to 72 and gave Steven Finn his sixth wicket.

It was only a matter of time once Nevill had gone because the second new ball was around the corner. Starc slogged Moeen Ali for six before misdriving him to cover, and Root took a fine catch high up at third slip.

Still some fears were palpable, but the telltale sign was how the Australians assembled before going out to field, firstly for the two overs before lunch, then afterwards. No threat was radiated, no fire or menace. The Australians just ambled out, exchanging a bit of banter.

Michael Clarke did not give Mitchell Johnson a bowl until England had only 74 to make. Australia's best chance lay in giving the new ball to Johnson. While England lost Cook to a fine outswinger from the otherwise ineffectual Starc that flicked his off stump, Adam Lyth and Ian Bell had their eye in before Australia's one possible match-winner was summoned.

While Lyth played too square in defence again and was lbw to Josh Hazlewood, Bell reeled off five fours from the first nine balls he faced from Starc. Bell was dropped by Clarke, at second slip, trying to steer. Otherwise there was little evidence that his glances, cuts and especially his drives were those of a mortal.

Nathan Lyon had taken his first three wickets in the match for three runs. His next 21 overs cost 85 runs without reward, Joe Root breaking the off-spinner's hold with his slog-sweeping.


The most significant moment in England's run chase came at the end. Johnson had been unperturbed by the jeers at Cardiff, while Lord's was naturally far too polite to say boo. Even in England's first innings here he had ridden the waves of noise and played along with the crowd.

But now the famous song, about his bowling going to the left then the right, seemed to get to him.

After two balls from round the wicket that rocketed down leg side, Johnson slung one so far wide of off stump that the umpire seemed too surprised to call wide. The next ball - well, there wasn't one. Johnson ran in, and pulled out, which is rare for a pace bowler after running so far. He stalked back to his mark. Johnson ran in again. . . and bowled two yards behind the crease.

No member of this Australian team knows what it is to win an Ashes series in England, not even Clarke on his fourth tour. For him and Johnson this is the final chance. If they are being hit by the realisation that it is not to be, Thursday at Trent Bridge cannot come too soon for England. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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