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Ashes

England’s late rally gives hope despite huge deficit

Will Macpherson by Will Macpherson
@willis_macp 8 minute read

England’s hopes were lifted by late wickets under lights after an otherwise disastrous third day against Australia.

England’s mindset come the close of the third day of this bonkers Test in this barmy series was probably rather more chipper than the state of the game suggests it should be.

Australia are miles ahead, 268 runs in front (that’s already 41 more than England managed in perfectly benign conditions in the first innings), having lost just their top four. They are right in charge. But because, by declining to enforce the follow-on, Steve Smith became surely the first captain ever to elect to send his batsmen in to face a fine seam attack under lights with the ball doing plenty, a wonderful passage of cricket ended with English tails up. Mitchell Starc said the bowlers had no input in Smith’s decision, which is interesting.

Australia were the ones with a nightwatchman out there; Australia were the ones wasting time, as Peter Handscomb stopped Chris Woakes in his run-up to falsely claim more than two fielders were behind square on the leg side, for which England gave him another gob-full as they left the field. It seems wise not to let this fool you, or the hope kill you – Smith played a pink-ball game like a red-ball one and Australia, madly, spurned an opportunity to close the game down. But they are still very much dominating.

Before we treat ourselves with the beauty of the late evening bowling (which would, by the way, have been even lovelier on the first morning), let’s deal with the state of England’s batting. James Vince and Joe Root fell in the first 30 minutes to rash drives, the first off the back foot, the second off the front.

Nathan Lyon, who is now the highest Test wicket-taker in the world this year with 55 (one more than Kagiso Rabada) then got stuck right into England’s left-handed heavy order. Alastair Cook tamely prodded to slip, then Dawid Malan – who had already survived a simple run out chance and a review – was caught behind off the glove off Pat Cummins. Four had gone down in a torrid first session.

And then came what will surely forever be known as the session of caught and bowleds. Lyon, with the ball that turned most of the day, took a gorgeous, full stretch job to snaffle Moeen Ali off the leading edge, then Starc juggled Jonny Bairstow’s big booming drive.

Before Chris Woakes became the third consecutive caught and bowled victim (this has only happened once before), he stuck on 66 with Craig Overton, who has been a fine debutant. The Woakes return catch was rather simpler than the first two; he spooned a top edge pull up to Starc. Overton, without a run on tour (and sitting a duck away from an Audi and two from the Olympic rings) and wearing a very dirty jumper crashed on to an unbeaten 41, a top score which rather showed up the efforts of those batting above him. Lyon finished the job straight after tea. He had bowled brilliantly again; back before lunch, 62 of his 84 deliveries had been dots.

Craig Overton top scored with 41*

And then Australia elected to bat under lights against a seam attack suited neatly to the situation. From one end, Jimmy Anderson settled into an epic 11-over spell in which he had Cam Bancroft caught behind, Usman Khawaja lbw and Steve Smith given out, then reprieved on review. That Anderson ripped one back into Smith’s pad from round the wicket was a beautiful piece of bowling; shame it pitched a whisker outside leg. Seven of the 11 were maidens, and he bled just 15 runs.

From the other end, the rest rotated. Broad bowled neatly, then Woakes dismissed Warner for the second time in the match. He was taken simply at second slip, done by a little seam movement, then Smith’s luck ran out. The finger went up for an lbw and by just as fine a margin as he had survived before, he was on his way. With that wicket, came another big lift for England.

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