2nd Ashes Test: Australia use old school methods to increase lead to 221 with eight wickets in hand


There was not much in the form of ‘highlights’ in the Australian second innings – plenty of playing and missing, shouldering arms, dead bats, nudging the ball around, with the rare boundary. But that provides the essence of the visitors’ dominance in the second Test.

Getting the worst of conditions throughout the game hasn’t prevented Pat Cummins & Co from being in the driver’s seat after three days at Lord’s. They batted in overcast conditions in both innings, with a green pitch first thing in the match adding to the difficulty factor. And when they bowled, the sun came out making conditions ideal for batting on Day 2 and early on the third day. To further complicate matters, they lost off-spinner Nathan Lyon, a key component of their bowling attack, to injury.

However, it only forced them to change their plans and the England batsmen were found wanting – technically and approach-wise – against the short-pitched stuff. Bazball may be an enchanting concept, but the direction in which this series is heading shows that either the approach or execution is flawed, or Australia are much too strong and mature to be cowed down by the all-or-nothing philosophy.

Bowling the hosts out for 325 inside 90 minutes on the third day – 6/47 on the day – gave Australia a first innings lead of 91, which had swelled to 221 with eight second innings wickets intact when rain brought a premature end to proceedings. That Australia took more than 45 overs to reach 130/2 showed that they were willing and able to bat time in adverse conditions.

The Aussie strength shouldn’t be confused with a macho attitude – even David Warner put the flashy shots away and focused on getting through a tricky phase against the new ball. The first 20 overs brought only 47 runs, but significantly Warner and Usman Khawaja were still to be dislodged.

Warner eventually fell to Josh Tongue for the second time in the match, for an uncharacteristic 76-ball 25 with just a couple of boundaries, but it showed how even the most belligerent of Aussie batsmen was willing to respect the conditions and match situation.

At the other end, Khawaja was reprising his Edgbaston heroics and was undefeated on 58 off 123 balls. Marnus Labuschagne managed 30 but with Steve Smith unbeaten and Travis Head to come, England need something special early on Day 4 to get back into the contest.

Hosts fall short

England were more circumspect against the short ball on Day 3, but the conservative attitude hardly worked better as the Aussie pacemen had smelt blood. Harry Brook continued to flap at the bouncers and somehow managed a chancy half-century, only to fall soon after in an ugly fashion. He moved leg-side to a short ball directed at his body, trying a tennis-style forehand only to spoon an easy catch to extra cover. No wonder fellow Yorkshireman and England legend Geoffrey Boycott had his head in his hands in the stands. Brook can expect plenty of short stuff directed at him for the remainder of the series. When push came to shove and the situation became hostile, his batting showed more bravado than substance.

Ben Stokes had earlier fallen to the second ball of the day as Mitchell Starc more than made up for being expensive by getting both overnight batsmen. Jonny Bairstow got out chipping tamely to mid-on and the tail didn’t last long. It would be galling for England that with Lyon unavailable, Australia got a couple of wickets in one over from Travis Head, just like Joe Root had done late on Day 1.

Clearly, adversity had steeled their resolve and their experience of playing tough, attritional Test cricket for longer was coming to the fore.

England, on the other hand, had offered more in the press in the lead-up to the Lord’s Test than they have done on the field in the first three days. Predicting the margin of their victory before a ball was bowled was bold, but Zak Crawley then needed to follow that with something significant on the field.

Ollie Robinson has been a marked man for many former Australia players with his in-your-face attitude. He taunted the opposition by saying that the visitors were unwilling to go ‘toe to toe’ with England in the first Test, but forgot that there is more than one way to play the game and it were the men under the Baggy Green who had come away with a win from Birmingham.

There is still a lot of cricket left to be played in this game, and England have shown their ability to chase big fourth-innings targets over the last one year or so. Lyon’s absence will also give them hope when they come out to bat a second time.

But they have to do better than just talking a good game. The World Test champions have shown that the old-school virtues of application, grit and tenacity are still applicable to the oldest format of the sport.

For England, the realisation that Bazball and common sense are not mutually exclusive cannot come sooner. They had control over proceedings in the final session on Day 2, with just one wicket lost and nearing 200 runs on the board. Lyon had also gone off injured when they started flapping at Australia’s bumper barrage. If they had played the patient game then, there would have been very few avenues left for Cummins & Co. But England allowed the visitors a way back into the game.

Others could have been excused for lacking in technique and temperament, but Root falling to the predictable mode of attack, not once but twice (he was caught on a Cameron Green no-ball) would have disappointed dedicated England fans.

As things stand, Australia seem to have understood and adapted better to English conditions than the hosts themselves. Stokes’ men have been pushed into a corner and need to find an urgent riposte before the Ashes become a distant dream, and the concept of Bazball being a panacea for all problems is torn into shreds.

Brief Scores: Australia 416 & 130/2 (Usman Khawaja 58 batting; Josh Tongue 1/21) versus England 325 all out (Ben Duckett 98, Harry Brook 50; Mitchell Starc 3/88).


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