“I’m the Yo-Yo man, always up and down,
So take me to the end of your tether”
This is fast becoming the series you just cannot predict. England ahead in the First Test, Australia came back to dominate at Lord’s and then as dominant as the Aussies had been in the Second Test, England came back at them again.
2-1 up with two to play, yet England are certainly not definite winners in this series mainly due to an injury to Jimmy Anderson which could see him take no further part in this series.
If you went by the first two Tests in the series you would say the toss was crucial. Win the toss, bat first, score big, job done. But like a mustang which just won’t be tamed, this Ashes series simply won’t do what it’s supposed to, or even as you’d expect it to.
I’m happy to hold my hand up and at 10.30am on the first morning I was worried the game had gone! Yeah I know, I’m not often a slave to wild mood-swings of confidence where cricket’s concerned, as five days is a long time and games frequently ebb and flow. But Australia won the toss, Michael Clarke chose to bat and England selected Steven Finn to replace Mark Wood. I have nothing against Finn but he reminds me of the last few years of Steve Harmison’s career in that you just never knew what you were going to get. But the toss was crucial at Lord’s and Australia just filled their boots, so the prospects for similar fare were good, or bad, depending on your point of view.
By Lunch on the first day it was clear I needn’t have worried so much. In fact it took just eight balls for England to make the breakthrough when Anderson trapped Warner in front. The Aussie opener reviewed it but it was hitting middle and Australia were 7-1. Finn came on to bowl the eighth over of the innings and from his final ball of the over he got Steve Smith to edge one to Alistair Cook at first slip, 18-2. Enter the Aussie captain, Clarke, who is on the type of run his opposite number has just come through. Since his century against India in Adelaide in December, he has scored 167 runs in 8 innings. Clarke had only just reached double figures when Finn produced another beauty to york him and now the tourists were 34-3.
Conditions were such the ball was moving around a bit, but there didn’t seem to be loads in the pitch and the toss had been such both captains wanted to bat first. By mid-afternoon England looked to have had the better of the decision as Anderson produced one of the great Ashes spells. There had been a rain break before lunch and the afternoon session was delayed too, but this only fuelled Anderson’s appetite and he set to work on the fragile Aussie middle-order.
In the second over after the resumption Anderson drew Voges into a shot he didn’t really want to play and in his keenness to try not to play he edged to Buttler, 77-4. In Anderson’s next over Mitchell Marsh was drawn into a drive and he too edged to the England keeper. Anderson then made it three wickets in three overs as he got one to nip back off the seam and clip the top of Nevill’s off-stump and it was 86-6.
Not content to sit back, Anderson then made it four in four overs since lunch when a full ball drew an edge from Johnson and Stokes at fourth slip said thank you very much. Seven overs since the resumption and Australia were 22-4 in that time, with Anderson grabbing all of them. Some were now questioning the wisdom of batting first but when either captain would’ve made that decision at the time, it’s difficult to criticise. With all this mayhem, the Lord’s hero, Chris Rogers, stood firm scoring another half-century before Broad got in on the act with an LBW decision. Broad then got Starc to edge behind for Buttler’s third catch and despite some runs from Hazlewood and Lyon, Australia’s innings was wrapped up for 136 inside 35 overs.
England’s openers negotiated a testing few overs before tea and then after the break, Lyth appeared to grow in confidence when hitting Starc for four, but soon after he couldn’t resist chasing a wide one from Hazlewood when he must’ve thought there were more runs to be had and Voges juggled the catch in the slips. Enter Ian Bell on his home ground. There had been much talk about Bell before the match, some of it from him too. Moved up to number three after Ballance’s demise to try and stem the sequence of 30-3 starts. Starc bowled well to him first up but he was soon into his stride, and the cover drives and clips through midwicket were in evidence early on.
Bell and Cook put on fifty at a run-a-ball and then Clarke brought on Lyon and second ball it paid dividends in bizarre fashion. Cook pulled a short ball only to find it lodge straight in Voges’ armpit when he was trying to get out of the way at short leg. There can’t be many instances of players taking catches when never seeing the ball. Cook had looked good but was back in the changing room. Bell continued on, hitting Starc for three boundaries in one over as the hundred passed. Root was equally fluent at the other end and the runs were flowing. Bell reached his half-century with his ninth boundary and the deficit was down to single figures. Clarke again turned to Lyon and four balls in the much-maligned off-spinner had done it again. Bell came down the track to whack him out of the ground and simply lobbed it straight up in the air to Warner at short-midwicket. There was a definite feeling of a gift horse on show for the tourists, as Bairstow was next on view.
After such a beautiful innings, Bell’s dismissal definitely took some of the shine off it and for those supporters who would rather judge an innings by the method of the dismissal they were falling over themselves to pour vitriol on the ‘reckless’ Bell. For me, I thought he played the situation perfectly. Australia were defending a low score, had an early breakthrough and so far in this series had every right to believe a second wicket would fall soon after. But Bell batted with a confidence few had exhibited on that pitch thus far, and each boundary was a further nail in the tourists’ coffin. Lyon came on and Bell saw the opportunity to get after the spinner and take him out of the attack. Neither Hazlewood or Starc had bowled well up to then and the last thing England wanted was to allow Clarke to give them a rest whilst Lyon tied up an end. It didn’t work, maybe on another day it would have, but that’s why batting is such a tough discipline as you only get one chance to make a mistake.
Bairstow and Root were there at the end of a pulsating first day with England a paltry three runs behind. Few, especially this author, saw that one coming.
If Jonny Bairstow, recalled for the first time since Australia were last England’s opponents in Sydney, January 2014, was nervous then a wide one in the first over from Hazlewood was just what the doctor ordered. Johnson took the ball from the other end and produced the Aussie equivalent of “that over” from Flintoff back in 2005. Third ball he got one to climb alarmingly, aimed at Bairstow’s body and the Yorkshire batsman could only fend the ball to Nevill. First blood of the day to Johnson.
Two balls later he repeated the feat to Ben Stokes for the same result. The Bairstow wicket was Johnson’s 300th Test wicket. It’s his 69th Test, which compares remarkably with Stuart Broad, on the cusp of the same milestone, in his 82nd. When you consider the period where Johnson’s form completely deserted him you can see why some observers have put him up there with the greats of the game.
132-1 had become 142-5 and the lead just 6. Root immediately went on the attack putting Hazlewood away for two boundaries next over but the anticipation which surrounded the ground for Johnson’s next over was palpable. Root took him on, withstood what came and gradually he and Buttler steered England through the choppiest of waters. Root’s half-century came up in 49 balls and his presence was visibly crucial to the fortunes of both sides. A measure of how he shouldered the burden for his country can be illustrated in that it took Buttler took 14 balls to get off the mark, and that was the 33rd ball bowled since Stokes wicket.
Johnson’s spell of 4-1-9-2 was over and England could breathe a little more easily as neither Marsh nor Starc seemed to present any real danger. But just as you thought you knew the script of this match, there was another twist to stop you in your tracks.
From nowhere Starc produced a full delivery to Root and England’s talisman, as he is rapidly becoming, edged to Voges at first slip and England were 182-6. Root’s 63 was the highest score of the match thus far and it contained 42 from fours and sixes. Johnson returned a few overs later but it was when Lyon was brought back on that Australia made further inroads. He’d only bowled two overs yet taken two wickets and in his third of the innings he continued this run.
Second ball in and he trapped Buttler in front, but the appeal was turned down. Clarke reviewed but the ball was going over. No matter, as next ball Lyon pitched it on middle but with less bounce this time and there was no reprieve for England’s keeper. Lyon had the unreal figures of 2.3-0-3-3 and England were now 190-7 with a lead of just 54. England must have been dreaming of a decent lead around 200-250 but now with fewer than four sessions gone they might only have a lead of double figures. With each wicket brought the next partnership a status as more and more crucial, and so it was the case when Stuart Broad joined Moeen Ali. Both have the ability to take on an attack but both have their frailties and England didn’t want to risk letting the Aussies bat again in more favourable conditions.
Broad and Moeen saw off Johnson’s second spell of the morning and were getting to grips with Lyon too as they reached the comparative safety of lunch at 221-7, with a lead of 85 and a partnership of 31. The game was wonderfully poised with England assuming batting last could be tricky, although with the game advancing so quickly batting last could be on day three or four at this rate.
Batting appeared easier after lunch and Moeen took two boundaries off Johnson’s 15th over and then a further three off his 16th. Lyon too was dealt with by Broad and Clarke was forced into early bowling changes. Moeen’s 50 came up off 66 balls with four boundaries and he was quietly producing as important an innings as either Bell or Root had. Broad’s contribution shouldn’t be underestimated. It has been well documented how difficult he has found batting since being hit last summer and this innings was the first time he had batted fifty balls in a Test innings since Old Trafford 2013. His confidence was clear as he drove a ball from Hazlewood on the up through the covers. But, as befitting this Test or even this series, next ball he was gone. Trying to pull Hazlewood he toe-ended it to mid-on and the stand was over. Broad’s 31 may not get many headlines but England’s progression in this game would’ve been harder without it. He had put on 87 with Moeen and the lead was now a much more palatable 136.
In Hazlewood’s next over Moeen chased a wide one and was caught on the third man boundary for a classy 59. He had struggled before lunch, but was fluent afterwards and the lead was now on the ‘healthy’ side.
The innings was eventually wrapped up for 281, a lead of 145. It had been an absorbing innings, as they have so often been in this series and England were now looking forward to getting amongst the Aussie batsmen again.
Given his record for scoring big runs in second innings, Warner was clearly going to be the one to get and he duly took ten runs off Broad’s opening over but the England bowler made the first breakthrough when he trapped Rogers LBW. The Aussie opener asked for a review but he’d taken too long to decide and he was making his way to the boundary with just 16 on the board. Broad went for 21 in his first 4 overs and was replaced by Finn, but the runs still flowed as 14 was taken off his opening over. Warner was now on 36 as the 50 came up. Moeen replaced Finn after just the one over but he too went for 11, but then Finn swapped ends and got the crucial wicket of Smith.
Smith’s dismissal was more down to poor shot selection as he attempted to pull a ball from Finn but just succeeded in top-edgeing to Buttler for a disappointing 8. As the tea-break approached Warner brought up his 50 off just 35 balls and equalled the fastest 50 in Ashes history, matching Graham Yallop’s effort in 1981. At the break Australia were 73-2 and still in arrears by 72.
Again there was the feeling of an important session ahead. Warner, going like a train at one end, and his captain, struggling with his form, at the other. If they were still together at the end of the day Australia would undoubtedly be ahead and with the prospect of batting becoming even easier on the third day, it was still possible they could recover their astonishing first dig.
It’s thirteen Tests since Australia last lost having batted first, and that came in their India series. If you take that out, you’re looking at twenty-three tests since they last lost batting first. This was always going to be a ‘tough ask’ for England but they just couldn’t let it go from here.
In Finn’s first over after the break he got his third ball to square Clarke up enough to get the edge and Lyth took a sharp catch at fourth slip. Finn’s Middlesex teammate, Adam Voges, was next in. This time Finn went slightly wider but still enticed the edge and Bell took a good catch at slip. Two wickets in two balls from the first over after tea from Finn’s end and the crowd went wild. 76-4 and Australia were really in trouble as Mitchell Marsh came out in only his second test. Unfortunately, Finn couldn’t get him to play and the hat-trick had gone.
Described by some in the England management as “unselectable” when they last toured down under, this had been a remarkable transition for Finn. He’d had his run-up messed around with, his action questioned and even had the ignominy of having a particular penalty in the game named after him, “the Finn delivery” where the bowler knocks the bails off at the bowlers end as he delivers the ball. He’d taken the wickets of Smith and Clarke in the first innings and had now repeated the feat.
Finn then had a good shout for LBW turned down, and after a review the ball was shown to be just clipping the stumps. Next over, Finn produced a pearler to bowl one of the Mitchell trio and still the Aussies trailed. In the first innings, Smith to Marsh had contributed 33, but at the second time of asking they’d added just 17 to the cause and many an Australian was feeling the sinking inevitability of ignominy. At the other end, Warner looked like he was playing on a different pitch to everyone else as he was 68 not out.
On ‘Nelson’ England struck again. Anderson was back on and his third ball was back of a length and had Warner trying to flick it to leg but managing simply to balloon it to cover where Lyth was the grateful recipient. 62-1 had become 111-6 and Australia’s post-tea session had been 38-4, and still they had not reached parity with their opponents.
Nevill survived a review and then in Anderson’s third over of his new spell he pulled up clutching his side. For a player for whom injury is such a foreign concept, this was concerning. He left the field unable to complete his over and the furore which accompanied England’s play was now tinged with a touch of dread. For a while Australia had one of their best periods in the match as Johnson and Nevill carefully took them into the lead. Back came Finn and his first ball encouraged Johnson to swat it to leg but caught the edge and Stokes at backward point took an easy catch. Finn now had a five-for and his redemption appeared complete. 153-6 and the tail was exposed.
Nevill and Starc made it to the close of play on day two, when for a time some were checking the record books to find the last two-day Test match. Nevill had looked assured on 37 not out, despite being incredibly lucky to keep his place after Lord’s. Not that he did anything wrong, but Haddin left his seat to deal with a family illness, his daughter, and the younger Nevill should, by rights, have given it back when Haddin returned. But the selectors made a call which seemed to suggest they had concerns over Haddin in the first place and gave the impression if Haddin had asked to be excused for a trip down Carnaby Street the selectors would have acceded.
Australia’s lead was now a vulnerable 23 with just 3 wickets in hand. Those with third day tickets would be excused for a little uncertainty about the folly of turning up at the ground for the next day’s play.
A fine day greeted all on the third morning and it was soon clear batting conditions were probably at their best than at any time in this match. Nevill and, in particular, Starc set about scoring at a furious rate. Four boundaries came off the first four overs before Nevill flicked one down the leg-side and Buttler took a smart catch one-handed. Umpire shook his head and with England having used up all their reviews there was nothing left than to just give a wry smile as Hot Spot showed a feint speck on the batsman’s gloves. Four overs later and finally they got the breakthrough as Finn again was the man. Nevill edged down the leg-side to Buttler and England had their man. Astonishingly the Aussie keeper called for a review but rightly so he was sent packing.
Hazlewood joined Starc and the two had some fun swinging the bat to see how many they could get. From one Moeen over, Starc straight-drove him for four and then slog-swept him for six which brought up an impressive fifty. Next over Stokes was brought on and the move paid immediate dividends as Hazlewood edged to Root at third slip and he took a sharp catch. Just one left.
Lyon was next in and Stokes wrapped him on the pad first ball but the appeal was turned down. Replays showed the ball was a little too high. Next ball Stokes repeated the feat and again Aleem Da was unmoved. Unfortunately, this time replays showed it should have been given but England were out of reviews. The decision created a nervousness around the ground as Lyon and Starc continued to add to the lead which was already over 100.
Eventually the end came just as Cook was deliberating whether to take the new ball or not. Moeen got one to turn and Starc just chipped it to extra cover where young Josh Poysden, on as sub, gratefully took the catch.
England were set a target of 121. Back in that 1981 series Australia twice failed to reach such a figure, and the same occurred in 1997. In Test history there are just three instances of England losing a Test after being set a target of less than 125, and all three against Australia. But you have to go back over one hundred years to find that last time (1882, 1888 and 1902).
Lyth and Cook negotiated the two overs before lunch without too much trouble. They had every reason to fear Clarke would let Johnson loose in a bid to cause mayhem in the ranks but even after lunch he chose Starc and Lyon. Starc, who had been disappointing in the match, did manage to bowl Cook in his second over of the afternoon and England were 11-1. In walked Ian Bell.
With the form he has been in recently one could be forgiven for worrying if Bell had the temperament to withstand a barrage from the Aussies. The first ball he received was full and swinging into him and he calmly clipped it nonchalantly through square leg for four. At the end of the over Bell guided one wide of third slip for another boundary.
When he faced Starc again, Bell played a most exquisite straight drive. The ball was again full and swinging in and was hitting leg stump, but Bell just timed his shot perfectly through mid-off for another four. A cover drive was what the next ball received for the same result and after a third boundary of the over Bell then edged to slip where Clarke spilled the chance. That would’ve made things 36-2 and two important batsmen back in the pavilion, but the spotlight fell once again on the touring skipper who was having an awful match.
England were 47-1 with Bell on 28 not out off 15 balls before we had our first sight of Johnson. Why he wasn’t utilised from the start will remain a mystery and possibly Australia’s best chance of achieving the sort of commotion Shane Warne was able to create in the run chase at Trent Bridge in 2005. Hazlewood replaced Lyon and first ball had Lyth LBW which survived a review. 51-2.
Joe Root then came in and just like Bell before him he smashed his first ball for four. Root and Bell then set about knocking off the target without any alarms and the remainder of the match was notable for the incredible noise created by the Edgbaston crowd as England moved comfortably towards an eight wicket win.
Root hit the winning runs, fittingly a four off Marsh, and he ended 34 not out with Bell unbeaten on 65, as the two had added 73. The match had been a triumph for Bell who was under pressure beforehand, and with Root they ensured there was no histrionics or collapses and it all seemed far too easy in the end. England’s performance had been complete, with Australia’s thoroughly poor. Who knows what the next Test at Trent Bridge will bring but one thing seems certain, anyone talking about momentum in this series needs to think again as momentum seems to be the one chance no one wants to hold onto.
THIRD TEST, Edgbaston, 29, 30, 31 July 2015
First Innings: 136 (Rogers 52; Anderson 6-47)
First Innings: 281 (Root 63, Ali 59, Bell 53; Lyon 3-36, Hazlewood 3-74)
AUSTRALIA (trail by 145)
Second Innings: 265 (Warner 77, Nevill 59, Starc 58; Finn 6-79)
ENGLAND (require 121)
Second Innings: 124-2 (Bell 65*)
ENGLAND won by 8 wickets
Man of the Match: Steven Finn
As if there haven’t been enough twists in this series already, England were dealt a further complication as James Anderson is ruled out for the next Test and many who know about these things are suggesting he may play no further part in the series. Whether England bring Wood back in is uncertain, Footitt is another who may figure but what is certain is that nobody can predict the course of these Ashes.
For Australia they may have to re-consider their batting line-up with Shaun Marsh tipped to come in at the expense of Voges. Starc and Hazlewood both struggled to get to grips with an Edgbaston pitch they would have been expected to enjoy and whether the Aussie selectors are comfortable relying on them again is also unclear, but they don’t have too many other options.