Sunday 18 March 2018

Stokes comes to the party to leave Ashes in England’s grasp

Stokes: Superb performance
Stokes: Superb performance

Scyld Berry

For England, beating Australia, like childbirth, gets quicker and easier every time. At Cardiff, England won in four days, at Edgbaston at tea on day three, while they look certain to wrap up the fourth Test, and the Ashes, by lunch on day three.

England have turned the age-old rivalry on its head. Last time Australia won 5-0.

This time, should the Oval have any life, the result will not simply be 3-1 but 4-1 – and never before have England won four Tests in a home Ashes series – because Australia’s batting has been reduced to rubble by England’s outstanding seamers.

Their lack of fight since their collapse at Edgbaston, when James Anderson ran through their first innings, has been startling.

After England had extended their overnight lead by 117 runs before declaring, and Chris Rogers and David Warner had offered some spirited resistance in a century opening stand, the tourists disintegrated yet again.

Stuart Broad, canonised after his first-innings 8-15 as a great bowler, bowled like one, but most of the wickets fell to Ben Stokes, whose drought of wickets ended in a flash-flood of five as he bamboozled the batsmen with lateral movement through the air and off the seam.

In the two sessions after lunch, England took nine wickets, although two were disallowed because Mark Wood and Steve Finn overstepped the line.

In the last two Tests, Australia have lost 37 wickets in only 196 overs. One wicket every five overs, and a single partnership of note, that by Rogers and Warner.

The Aussies have to sort out such fundamental issues as Steve Smith’s slap-dashness, or Shaun Marsh’s heavy-handedness, or Michael Clarke’s apparently terminal decline.

Some of England’s batting has been brittle, but it has a depth that Australia can only envy.

Given the fluency of Broad’s strokeplay, and Wood’s, England’s tail begins at 11; Australia’s at No 4.

Centurion Joe Root fell early on, and Stokes and Jos Buttler made little impression, but nightwatchman Wood played some beautiful strokes before ninth-wicket pair Moeen Ali and Broad added 58 with contemptuous ease.

Josh Hazlewood’s one over with the second new ball cost 20, thanks to Moeen’s straight drives and Broad’s hook for six.

Cook boldly declared nine down, with a lead of 331, just before lunch.

Broad beat Warner’s outside edge four times in one outstanding over, before the pair made the most of two dropped catches to post their notable stand. Then Stokes took over. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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