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England v Australia

The Archer & Smith show rolls on

by Taha Hashim 6 minute read

Taha Hashim reports on day two of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, where the two leading stars of the series, Jofra Archer and Steve Smith, shone once more.

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Forget Old Trafford. Jofra Archer was back to his best on day two of the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval, taking 6-62 as England bowled out Australia for 225.

With England’s openers forced to see out 20 minutes at the end of the day, Rory Burns was given out lbw to a ball from Josh Hazlewood, and Joe Denly offered a simple catch to Marcus Harris at fourth slip. The ball to Burns was pitching outside leg and Harris shelled the catch; it was England’s day as they finished with a lead of 78.

But earlier in the proceedings, there did come the inevitable. Out he came to bat, Australia’s openers disappointing once again, 671 runs in the series to his name. There came a few plays and misses to give England’s bowlers faint hope. But then he set out to work, although it looks less of a slog as the days go by. Cricket Australia may as well stop with the paycheques; Steve Smith’s favourite currency is runs.

Smith tucks away anything on his pads but today he was masterful through the off-side, too. A back-foot drive off Stuart Broad to go to 19 was one he would repeat later on against Archer, a cover drive off Sam Curran was played with astonishing ease. Even when he edged Archer through the slip cordon for four to move to 74, there was clear intention in the stroke, the ball gliding along the ground to the boundary under his command. He did eventually perish, and that too for his lowest score of the series, struck in front of his stumps by Chris Woakes to leave the field for 80. The Oval roared, more in shock than in delight.

Unfortunately for Australia, Smith is a lonely genius in this batting line-up. While crowds have replaced booing Smith with groans at his relentless dominance, when David Warner bats, they now just bellow with laughter. The left-hander emerged after England were bowled out for 294, and he must have felt some satisfaction from surviving an over from his nemesis Broad, while also managing to get off the mark for the first time since the Headingley Test.

But if Broad doesn’t get you, Archer will. Warner’s short innings ended in ugly fashion; he swished wildly at an innocuous delivery from Archer, and UltraEdge revealed a faint edge. A confident, swash-buckling Warner, one who obliterates attacks Down Under, would have surely made better use of his feet and sent the ball for four past point.

Although Archer was granted a slice of luck by Warner’s poor execution, his working over of Marcus Harris was far more calculated. Archer’s main quality lies in his ability to be different iterations of great bowlers. Against Harris he was a 10-miles-an-hour-quicker Vernon Philander, pitching it full with a seam position that would make the South African proud. Harris edged away before Archer struck the fatal blow, an edge carrying to Ben Stokes at second slip. Despite Warner’s poor form grabbing the headlines, Harris’ own troubles have gone slightly under the radar: his series average is now just under 10.

With the arrival of Smith at the crease, Archer’s switch flicked. He ditched Philander to go full-on Shoaib Akhtar; Archer greeted Smith with the short ball and when Australia’s No.4 defended the next ball back to the bowler, the England quick picked up and threw wildly back from whence it came. He was going to turn up the heat. Smith, forever in his own world, simply took control of the thermostat and played his own way.

At the other end, Marnus Labuschagne continued to display his chops as a Test batsman. One of the most delightful sights of the summer has been the compact Queenslander’s flick through midwicket, and that stroke was out in full force today. A fifth half-century in the series looked a feasible prospect after lunch, but the Akhtaresque Archer returned. First he had Labuschagne ducking, and then, in the 26th over, he rattled the batsman’s right forearm.

Tough as nails – as he showed at Lord’s when parachuting himself up off the ground after Archer struck him on the helmet – Labuschagne soldiered on. Archer’s intelligence won the battle, though. Having battered Labuschagne with the bouncer, a fuller delivery trapped him lbw for 48.

The time then came for Sam Curran to take centre stage on his home turf. Curran is a confounding figure, his left-arm in-swing to the right-hander always looking a little bit floaty, a little bit unthreatening. Still, by constantly pitching the ball up, he invites errors. Matthew Wade was out lbw, the left-hander off-balance as he looked to whip through the on-side.

Mitchell Marsh fell to Archer after tea and then Curran had the crowd in the palm of his hands, much like he did for most of last summer when he starred against India. First Tim Paine flashed hard to gift a catch to Jonny Bairstow before Pat Cummins failed to keep out the inswinger. Curran couldn’t nab himself a hat-trick but he’d made his mark.

Archer wasn’t going to finish the innings as a supporting act, though. He rallied for the five-wicket haul and it came with his final trick in the bag: a knuckleball yorker. This wasn’t an impersonation, this was Archer, a modern-day phenomenon, showing off his white-ball skills in the longest format. A sixth arrived with a staggering catch from Burns at gully.

It was a day that this series has seen on plenty of occasions: Steve Smith made runs, Jofra Archer took wickets. Two cricketers at the top of their game.

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