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THE ASHES | GIDEON HAIGH

The Ashes: Australia were lacklustre at first but got away with it

England let touring side off the hook with batting more at home in a one-day game

Gideon Haigh

Thursday July 27 2023, 9.00pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ashes-australia-were-lacklustre-at-the-start-but-got-away-with-it-hjqv0whx6

 

England probably had a morally successful first day of this fifth Test. Who knows? We will have to ask them. On the scoreboard, the day was Australia’s, although, with the game having no potential influence on custody of the Ashes, there was a slight flatness to proceedings, a sense of it coming after the Lord Mayor’s Show.

The dismal conclusion at Manchester has left us with a Schrödinger’s Test, simultaneously dead (for the Ashes) and alive (for the series). It’s perhaps more important for certain individuals, including Australians lately under pressure. For his part, Pat Cummins had a better day after his dire outing at Old Trafford: swifter with the ball and nimbler as captain, departing the Tesla autopilot field placings he had adopted this summer in favour of more orthodox formations, with multiple slips and sweepers on only the one side.

David Warner, by contrast, led a troubled life, dropped on zero down the leg side, popping up a catch to where short leg might have been on 21, and nicking just short of the wicketkeeper on 23. He was just looking back at a tough period when Chris Woakes tapped him on the other shoulder, inducing a tame nick to slip. We have become used to saying that Warner has one more chance; now, literally, in this series at least, he does.

 

England, however, should be the more dissatisfied, failing to hold Australia accountable for a lacklustre start, when the tourists were wayward with the new ball and listless in the field, missing both openers in consecutive overs.

Neither English opener made Australia pay, and Joe Root’s absent-minded drag on left England three for 73 — which Australia could consider a reasonable morning’s return. Root has looked in cracking form this summer but has, like Australia in the first innings at Old Trafford, left some runs out there.

 

Had Alex Carey held an outside edge from Harry Brook when he was on five soon after, in fact, England would have been four for 79, but the Australian wicketkeeper chose the wrong day to have his patchiest performance of the series, troubled by that post hoc swing unknown in Australia.

Having also nicked through the vacant fourth slip, Brook then settled into his attacking groove and what a powerfully rhythmic sight he is in full flow, with all the uncloudedness of youth.

At lunch England were three for 131 from 26 overs: it felt like an entire Test match in the session.

 

On drive, straight drive, cover drive, back cut: no boundary felt safe while Brook was there. Mostly memorable of all was a pick-up six off Mitchell Marsh and a hooked six off Cummins, where he appeared to anticipate the shorter ball — not so much technique as telepathy.

Australia might have bowled short more often to Brook afterwards but did not seem game to try — that’s the effect of decisive strokeplay. Nobody on either side has faster hands or eye for length than England’s No 5: he could only go deeper in his crease if he took guard behind his stumps.

 

But the day rather lost shape when, in early afternoon, Moeen Ali strained a right groin and, rather than seek treatment, remained at the crease to slog on one leg: commendably determined, but also a little pointless, and in two senses counterproductive, costing the batters the capacity to get off strike and placing Ali in danger of exacerbating the injury.

There followed 20 minutes of chaos and calculation, Ali helping himself to a couple of hearty sixes, Cummins dispersing his fielders. Then Cummins remembered he had a slow bowler, as he had not at Old Trafford, and Todd Murphy defeated Ali’s hazy waft. Ali then did not field: what is probably his final Test has started poorly.

 

At Old Trafford, England had exhibited a new knack for when to surge and when to sit back; in mid-afternoon that aptitude rather deserted them. First Ben Stokes then Jonny Bairstow then finally Brook attacked balls they could have defended or left, and England rather surrendered four for 28 in nine overs. England’s stroke play would not have been out of place towards the end of an innings in a one-day international. Remember those? They used to be all the rage. . .

 

England won the corresponding Test here four years ago after scoring 294 on being sent in, but that seems another aeon ago, when ramps were something you drove up and the spirit of cricket was kept for rubbing on bruises. All to the good, of course: this was an entertaining, at times absorbing day of Test cricket: hard to complain about 11 wickets, 344 runs at 4.3 an over, five dropped catches, five sixes, and no overs lost to rain despite portentous skies.

 

Yet how much more appealing Bazball would be if England didn’t behave like a celebrity expecting a round of applause every time they walk in the room.

Viz England Cricket Board chairman Richard Thompson’s preposterous hymn of self-praise on Radio 4 yesterday: in light of how England have “reinvented the way Test cricket has been played now”, Thompson would be calling on the International Cricket Council for “schedules to be more flexible” in the light of the “strange eventuality” at Old Trafford.

Er, “the strange eventuality” was rain in Manchester. Not that strange, surely. And it’s the ECB, not the ICC, who have shoehorned the Ashes into 45 days this summer, rendering an inflexible schedule rigid.

Some perspective please: while Stokes’s team have been wonderfully watchable this summer, they have helped their own Test cricket, nobody else’s. By acquiescing spinelessly in the ICC’s next financial distribution, furthermore, the ECB are as guilty as any board of sabotaging international cricket. They should shut up, count their money and spare us their hypocrisies.

 

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A Times contributor observed, the difference between the sides is this:

generally England gets out, while Australia has to be got out. 

 

Discuss.

 

Meanwhile, here is Atherton's report. 

 

THE ASHES | MIKE ATHERTON

The Ashes: Australia on top as England flatter to deceive

The Kia Oval (first day of five; Australia won toss): Australia, with nine first-innings wickets in hand, are 222 runs behind England

Mike Atherton

Chief Cricket Correspondent

Thursday July 27 2023, 8.20pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ashes-australia-on-top-despite-fine-harry-brook-knock-8j0dk6r7s

 

For Harry Brook during this Ashes, read England. Good but not quite good enough; always entertaining but searching at times to find the right balance between undue and acceptable risk, but grinning throughout the good times and bad. With fast hands and a youthful smile, Brook was to the fore at the Kia Oval, thrilling for a period on a day when, ultimately, England flattered to deceive.

 

Brook brought up his fourth half-century of an interesting first Ashes for him, during which he has played a match-winning innings at Headingley after struggling at Lord’s in particular to find the requisite tempo. It was not always straightforward here, as he rode his luck early on, but then blossomed to play some brilliant strokes in an innings of 85 in 91 balls, the centrepiece of England’s first-innings score.

 

They were bowled out half an hour after tea on a frenetic day when both teams were left to regret missed opportunities. For Australia, these came in the guise of five dropped catches, including one off Brook, who was put down by Alex Carey off Pat Cummins on five, a straightforward chance that the wicketkeeper made look more difficult by going for it with one hand instead of two. It was a costly miss.

Matters of regret for England included two passages of play in particular: the first came either side of morning drinks, when they lost three wickets for 11 runs in 22 balls; the second arrived at the mid-point of the day’s play, when four wickets fell for 28 runs in 55 balls. In between, the runs flowed at more than five an over, but as this series has showed above all, the race does not always go to the swift.

 

Things progressed far more sedately when Australia batted, but only one wicket fell, despite the floodlights in operation, a perfect cross breeze and the pitch still carrying its tinge of green. As such, it was disappointing to see James Anderson pose such little threat in conditions to suit and it was left to Chris Woakes, who struck when David Warner edged to second slip, so falling between 20 and 40 for the fifth time this series.

Anderson was unthreatening in his opening four overs, offering little movement or consistency of line, and when he came back in tandem with Stuart Broad towards the end of the day, after the interlude from Mark Wood and Woakes, he found precious little movement again. With Moeen Ali off the field with a groin injury picked up during an innings of 34, the onus will fall on the seamers on the second day, so Anderson will need to find his mojo quickly.

 

It was overcast and cool for the time of year and it was moot whether Cummins, winning the toss for the first time in the series, opted to bowl because he fancied the conditions or whether to stymie England’s preference. Maybe both. Whatever the case, the first hour belonged to the openers. They posted 50 within the first ten overs, including some eye-catching shots from Ben Duckett, in particular, who twice skipped down the pitch and flat-batted perfectly good balls to the boundary.

 

Duckett has been quiet since Lord’s but looked on his game here. Nevertheless, both were given a life in this period — Duckett was dropped by Warner at first slip and Steve Smith put down a difficult chance off Zak Crawley at second slip — a sign that there was enough in the pitch to keep the bowlers interested. Either side of drinks, that threat materialised into three wickets.

It was the introduction of Cummins that changed the complexion of the morning. By his own account, he was below par at Emirates Old Trafford, but from the outset here his line was impeccable, his pace up and as well as having Duckett dropped, he passed the edge of Crawley’s bat three times in his opening two overs. Quite why he doesn’t take the new ball is a mystery; despite his performance at Old Trafford, he is Australia’s outstanding bowler.

 

Cummins had a better day in charge, too, posting more practical fields throughout. On the hour, Duckett played away from his body and gloved a catch off Mitchell Marsh to Carey down the leg side and immediately after drinks, Crawley edged Cummins to slip, looking to work the ball to leg. When Joe Root dragged on to his stumps, looking for room that did not exist, 62 for none had become 73 for three and Cummins was reaping his rewards.

 

Ali was becalmed, a model of restraint early on. Brook enjoyed dollops of good fortune, twice edging through the slip cordon after his escape to the wicketkeeper, but began to flourish, taking Marsh for a driven four and hooking Mitchell Starc for six over fine leg. He is a dangerous customer when on the go. The counterattack was on, Brook’s 50 coming in 44 balls, the hundred partnership coming in 102.

During this, though, Ali pulled his groin attempting a single and the question was whether he was right to carry on, or whether he should have retired to come back later after treatment. He chose to carry on, but in far more aggressive mode, swinging Cummins for two sixes to leg and ramping him over the slips to the boundary. He was 11 from 37 balls when injured and 34 from 47 when finally bowled by Todd Murphy, swinging to leg.

 

Ali’s dismissal sparked the next collapse, either side of afternoon drinks. Ben Stokes was comprehensively beaten by Starc, looking to score to leg only for the ball to seam from the pitch and flatten his off stump. Jonny Bairstow dragged Josh Hazlewood on to his stumps and then Brook, closing in on a hundred, edged Starc to the wicketkeeper, from a wider ball than the previous one that he had driven down the ground to the boundary.

 

It needed a cameo from Woakes and Wood, together as they so often have been in this series, to restore some equilibrium before tea. The first over after the break, the 51st of the innings, summed up much of England’s madcap innings: in three consecutive balls, Woakes was given out leg-before to Starc, overturned on review, then carved a boundary and then was dropped at fourth slip by Marsh.

Wood was bowled by Murphy, looking to drive square when straighter would have been a better option; Broad heaved Starc high to cover and when Woakes holed out to deep square leg, England’s innings was done in 54.4 overs, with two hours remaining in the day. Starc finished with four wickets, a reward for the attacking length and late movement that arrived as a result. Oh that Anderson and others can follow suit on the second day.

 

Australia trail — now for your best Richie Benaud impression — by 222.

 

 

Edited by Uilleam
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2 hours ago, compo said:

A bit feeble from the Australian side today 

They have a first innings lead but it negligible. Having put England in Australia conceded too many runs and now have to bat last. To balance that, England have lost their spinner so the match can be said to be even-ish. 

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THE ASHES | MIKE ATHERTON

The Ashes: Deadlock in race between Australia and England

The Kia Oval (second day of five): Australia have a first-innings lead of 12 runs over England

Mike Atherton, Chief Cricket Correspondent

Friday July 28 2023, 8.30pm, The Times

 

 

Some lower-order biffing by Murphy helped Australia to get their noses in front on the second day

Some lower-order biffing by Murphy helped Australia to get their noses in front on the second day

KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AP

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ashes-deadlock-in-race-between-australia-and-england-99rw5zp79

 

Before the start of play yesterday, Josh Hazlewood gave his considered opinion on “Bazball”. Not too tiring, he reckoned, as England’s first innings had passed so quickly that bowlers such as him didn’t have to spend too much leg-weary time in the field. Implicit in his words was the sense that his own batsmen intended to keep England in the field a whole lot longer and put many more overs in their bowlers’ legs.

But the batting game is about runs, not just time, and the equation between both is not always a straightforward one — the argument England made on the first evening when they were criticised for their aggressive approach. Their point was that they could have grafted, as batsmen of an earlier generation would have done, but would they have necessarily scored more runs?

 

It has been a series where the approaches of both teams have been in contrast, but never has it been illustrated more starkly than over the first two days of this game.

Ultimately, it needed some tailend biffing from Pat Cummins and Todd Murphy to get them to a slender lead worth a dozen when Cummins, the last man, fell to the final ball of the day. They were still 44 behind when Murphy joined his captain for the ninth wicket but the off spinner met a short-ball burst from Mark Wood with three hooked sixes to the leg side and, for the first time in the day, England lost some control.

 

There are many different ways to tackle Test cricket, one of its most fascinating aspects, and, as the outcome of this series remains uncertain, there is no proof which approach will finish in final credit when the summer is done. What was certain on the second day was that England maintained a stranglehold over a batting line-up that remained passive, epitomised by Marnus Labuschagne’s innings of nine in 82 balls in the morning.

The first hour brought 19 runs in 14 overs, nine of which were maidens, although it was absorbing in its way, as Usman Khawaja and Labuschagne displayed high skill against some probing bowling in helpful conditions. This was a case of the batsmen giving the first hour to the bowlers, to the extent that when Stuart Broad passed the outside edge, he received a clap from Labuschagne, who tapped glove on bat in acknowledgment.

 

As the ball moved off the pitch and in the air, there were more runs from byes than came off the bat at this stage — no blame to be attached to Jonny Bairstow here, by the way, as the ball often swung alarmingly having passed the stumps. Yet Bairstow’s wicketkeeping was brought into focus when Wood finally found the edge of Labuschagne’s bat and Joe Root had to fling himself to his left to take a magnificent catch, with Bairstow unmoved.

One-handed and clinging on almost as the ball passed him by, Root was all smiles eventually. Also in focus was Khawaja’s wariness for quick singles at the non-striker’s end, given that Labuschagne had called him through for one at the start of the over, only to be rebuffed. All told, until dismissed, Labuschagne faced 27 balls from Wood, to Khawaja’s two, and the inability to turn over the strike and relieve the pressure finally told.

Labuschagne walked off muttering and shaking his head so hard it could have come from its moorings, but Australia were happy having lost only one wicket before lunch.

 

They hadn’t got away from England, though, with 54 runs coming in 26 overs, and when Broad bounded in, full of rhythm in a four-over spell after the break, beating Khawaja on the inside — his 150th wicket against Australia, this — and then Travis Head on the outside, Australia found themselves back under pressure.

 

James Anderson was still wicketless by this stage, but had bowled well without luck in the morning. There was a bit more zip off the pitch for him than the day before and some movement in the air both ways and he deserved the change of luck that came when Mitchell Marsh dragged on to his stumps midway through the day. No matter how experienced or how good the player, a little luck is always gratefully received.

 

Moeen Ali’s absence will force England into another change to the batting order in the second innings and it will be interesting to see which way they turn — Root? Harry Brook? Or maybe even another “false” No 3 in Chris Woakes? — but for now his absence meant overs for Root and exposure in the field for the young substitute George Ealham. Root brought about Alex Carey’s downfall, when, the ball after slog-sweeping a six, Carey drove in the air to cover and gave Ben Stokes a 100th catch in Tests.

Steve Smith was holding things together and without his contribution Australia would not have got near England’s total as was. Quiet since Lord’s, Smith has a superlative record at the Oval. He averaged more than 90 here before this match and he made 71 in nearly four hours of graft and grind, although there was one point of controversy, when he was almost run out on 42 in the 78th over, with the second new ball imminent and the score 193 for seven — a significant moment.

There was an added element of intrigue attached, given the fielder was Ealham, son of Mark, grandson of Alan, who was one of county cricket’s great fielders in the 1970s. Racing in from the deep, Ealham’s throw almost beat a diving Smith home, after turning back for a second run, but it was not clear whether the bail was off both grooves before Smith’s bat passed the line, as Bairstow disturbed the stumps simultaneously. A hideous decision to have to make for the third umpire, but a fair one.

 

 

Smith and Cummins added 42 after that before Smith sent a catch high to Bairstow off Woakes as he looked to smear to leg, leaving Murphy and Cummins to take Australia into the lead. Cummins fell, finally, to a brilliant catch in the deep by Stokes, one of those boundary efforts that require co-ordination, presence of mind and precise footwork, and the day was done with Australia having scored 12 more runs in almost twice as many overs.

 

The old tale of the tortoise and the hare has two more innings in the summer to run. The regret is that the Manchester weather means there is not as much on it as might have been. What a delicious possibility a one-innings game would have been, with all still to play for.

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skerrick
noun
INFORMALAUSTRALIAN
 
  1. the smallest bit.
    "there's not a skerrick of food in the house"
     
     
     

 

THE ASHES | GIDEON HAIGH

The Ashes: Nobody likes contact with the enemy more than Stuart Broad

Gideon Haigh

Friday July 28 2023, 8.30pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ashes-nobody-likes-contact-with-the-enemy-more-than-stuart-broad-9vllf6sc7

 

Another day, another Test match too close to call after a morning, afternoon and evening at the Kia Oval that unfolded like a pitched battle, with phases of stalemate, breakthrough and regrouping, as Australia’s first innings more or less cancelled out England’s, albeit at a wholly different tempo.

No plan, reputedly, survives contact with the enemy, and Australia’s proved no exception. As Usman Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne eked 21 runs out in the first hour under low cloud and in dim light, their objective was clear: attempt to put back into the game the time England had taken out the previous day, mindful that batting would become easier in the afternoon as bowlers tired and the ball softened.

These were touch-and-go conditions, for sure. Khawaja glanced a boundary when James Anderson’s inswinger got too straight; Khawaja was beaten when Anderson’s away swinger channelled fifth stump; he found fielders with crisp shots, could not force the ball through the gaps. But as Labuschagne also sank into introspection, both batsmen found themselves isolated, almost in separate and parallel games.

 

Mike Brearley tells a story of sitting with a group of former greats as a fast bowler worked over an English opener. The agony continued, over upon over, until at last the paceman took a break, whereupon it was agreed that the batsman had done well to outlast his opponent. The one note of demurral came from Sir Leonard Hutton. “Aye,” he said. “Mind you, a good batter would’ve bin at t’other end.”

 

Labuschagne could not find a way to get there, nor Khawaja to engineer it. He faced 82 balls, 31 from the joltingly rapid Mark Wood, one of whose deliveries knocked Jonny Bairstow off his feet.

In Wood’s tenth over, Labuschagne might have scuttled a single to Stuart Broad, a little deep and a little less limber than he used to be at mid-on; Khawaja was unbudging, even turning his back slightly.

Bairstow was also unbudging a few balls later when Labuschagne nicked, but Joe Root timed his dive to the left perfectly: though he has shelled some straightforward ones lately, this was probably the catch of the summer.

 

Steve Smith immediately drove soothing consecutive boundaries down the ground off Anderson, and otherwise looked of a different quality to anything else on show. “The Oval”, where he averages in the vicinity of 100, might be carved on his heart like “Calais” on Mary I’s. But England could work around him and made the post-lunch session their own with perhaps their best bowling, fuller and to more or less conventional fields, of the series.

 

Bowlers have a variety of demeanours as they return to the end of their marks: grim, relaxed, solemn, detached. Anderson’s inscrutable walk back is almost a continuation of his trim and economical action.

I am partial to Stuart Broad’s: unfailingly cheerful, like a man on a brisk walk down a familiar country road, lightly on the balls of his feet. He’ll have a chat to the non-striker, to mid-off, to the umpire (often enough about the condition of the ball); he’ll look up at the scoreboard and the video screen; winding up spectators is a speciality. Seizing the first over after the break, he was almost jogging back, so eager was he for the fray: he had a ball suddenly doing tricks, a crowd bubbling and a left-hander in Khawaja to prise open.

When Kumar Dharmasena granted him a leg-before decision against Khawaja, upheld on review, Broad stayed for a yarn and clapped the umpire on the shoulder companionably a couple of times.

Twice he beat Travis Head on the outside, locked eyes with him, studied the replay on the way back, nodded his head, clapped his hands, polished the ball with an extra flourish. Head was almost stationary as he nicked the next.

 

After the austerity of the first session, a flash of colour, movement and cheer. Mitchell Marsh arrived in the pink of form, and Bazballed a six over Broad’s head. Broad looked a bit miffed, then appreciative. Bring it on.

In the event, Broad’s old mucker Anderson worked one through Marsh’s unpadlocked gate, and Root coaxed Alex Carey into an indiscreet drive. When Mitchell Starc top-edged a cramped pull shot from Wood, Australia had lost six for 94 in 30 overs — more a general subsidence than a collapse, but a gaping opportunity for the home side.

 

It was not quite England’s fault it went unseized. When he was on 42, Smith careened back for a second run on the arm of the substitute George Ealham, unknown to fame but grandson of a splendid fielder for Kent. Ealham’s throw, skimmed over the square, was brilliant; the decision, to be frank, was not, tediously searching for the skerrick of a smidgeon of a scintilla of doubt.

But there was all Smith in the dive to save himself: perfectly timed, fully elongated, bat-holding arm telescoped ahead of him. He can’t practise diving for the crease, surely? Strangely, it’s almost plausible that he does.

 

This proved the day’s hinge point: had the decision gone England’s way, Australia would have been 90 runs short with only a couple of tailend wickets remaining and the new ball due. As it was, Smith and Pat Cummins extended their partnership to 54 in 103 balls. Nor did Ben Stokes’s plan against Australia’s tail survive contact with the enemy.

Why have Wood pitch a 13-over-old ball halfway down the pitch with two men back and no slips to a batsman averaging ten in Test cricket when a fuller length had been so successful all day? Todd Murphy swivelled into three pull shots, all of them for six, and shaped so well that Australia secured the lead.

 

Stokes ended the day on a more characteristic note, catching his opposite number at long-on with oaken strength and immense presence of mind. But the best in this match may be to come.

 

Gideon Haigh is a columnist for  The Australian

 

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Ashes morning and lunch and Rangers in the afternoon, makes me almost want British football to change the calendar.

 

If you'd have told me Crawley would be England's player of the series a few weeks back I would have laughed. Yet here we are.

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THE ASHES | GIDEON HAIGH

The Ashes: Australia lack ideas as England batsmen thrill Oval

Gideon Haigh

Saturday July 29 2023, 8.30pm, The Sunday Times

 

The Ashes: Australia lack ideas as England batsmen thrill Oval (thetimes.co.uk)

 

There were two teams at the Oval on Saturday. One of them was playing cricket; the other was, well, trying very hard to play cricket, but could probably not have put their finger on how or to what end. England tackled the third day of the fifth Test with plan and purpose. For a team that began in the lead, in the series and on first innings score, Australia approached their task with an uneasy fatalism.

Their hard-won innings lead of 12 runs lasted precisely six deliveries, erased by three boundaries in Mitchell Starc’s first over. Australia’s storied attack could, again, then make nothing of Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley — the very particular challenge of countering a short, left-handed, back-foot, closed-face bat and his towering, right-handed, front-foot, full-face partner playing the bowling on its merits rather than the bowlers’ reputations.

The attempt to keep to a single off-side sweeper soon went by the board, as Starc and Josh Hazlewood struggled to bowl to one side of the wicket. Not until Pat Cummins took up the ball himself were Australia able to exert any control at all, and he executed one virtuoso act, fielding off his follow through and hitting the non-striker’s stumps direct.

 

Otherwise, one could hardly miss the comparison, almost the ideological clash, with proceedings a day earlier, when Australian batters had been confined to 41 runs off the bat in 26 pre-lunch overs — testament, it must be said, to some fine bowling combined with helpful overhead conditions versus a pitch now at its best under clear skies.

 

It hardly does the event justice to report that Stokes came out to bat at number three. As a proclamation of potency, it was received round the Oval like an arrival of Maximus bearing a Bazball aquila (“Are you not entertained? Is this not why you’re here?”).

In fact, Stokes rather shied away from triumphalism. He batted accordingly — like a proper number three consolidating an early advantage, reading the game and his opponents, sensing that by mid-afternoon he would have them pretty much where he wanted.

Stokes’s all-round future is in the balance. He will finish this series having bowled only 29 overs, 12 of them off the reel at Lord’s. But it’s arguable he is a more natural number three than Ollie Pope, technically and temperamentally. His combination of bat, body and willpower in defence has a legionnaire’s impassability.

 

It was his predecessor and pal Joe Root that really took the game from Australia, in an innings studded with Bazball cameos (a ramp here, a reverse lap there) but more like previous models of his batting. First there was a reminder of the breeziness of 2015, where he seemed to be 20 from ten in every innings before you had time to blink, and went on to be player of the series. Later came the supremely controlled Root of 2021, where every run looked like a down payment on a hundred, of which he made six in a year.

Root is not considered part of the long roll call in this game who may be playing their last Ashes cricket: he is only 32, and easy to imagine batting here in four years’ time. But he has grounds for motivation. His non-Ashes average is 14 runs greater than his Ashes average, and seems increasingly to regard himself a work in progress: he has hit 15 sixes in 2023 already versus 28 in 11 years preceding. Here was reassurance, at any rate, that Root has not sacrificed avidity to creativity. It took a ball from Todd Murphy to spin sharply and stay low to puncture his defence.

 

At length came Jonny Bairstow to do Jonny Bairstow things, for there can be few better equipped to take a game on at four for 222, creating urgency even where none exists, repaying some if not all of the faith England has shown in him this summer before he, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali perished a little lazily to Starc. That England batted all the way down to their last and oldest pair suggests, in fact, that they might have liked a few more runs on what remains an excellent pitch.

 

These came as late breaks. Otherwise, the day had a festive, even reminiscent, feel in the crowd. Never mind the Australians of 2005, whose Oval Test was inevitably revisited by Sky during the day; Cummins looked like the Australians of 1985, being gorged on by Gooch and Gower on a balmy Kennington afternoon, overlooked by a venerable pavilion and the sadly endangered gasometers.

 

Cameos: an hour after tea, Cummins briefly had a field for Hazlewood of six men on the fence, no slips, no gully and no point, literally and philosophically. Hazlewood hit Root’s front pad and before realising it had taken an inside edge gave a cry that sounded less like an appeal than a cry of pain. Later, he was unable to make ground to Ali’s top edge at fine leg, which the crowd did not let him forget.

 

Nothing, mind you, was cheered more lustily than James Anderson’s last over sweeps and successful review, completing another jumbo pack of enterprise and entertainment, with nearly 400 in a day’s play leavened by only two maidens. The Australians, in fact, have bowled fewer maidens than taken wickets this series. It is not even close: 34 to 84. Day three wasn’t close either.

 

 

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