England 271 for 8 (Buttler 64*, Root 57, Marsh 4-35) v Australia
This was a strange day of Test cricket. Tim Paine raised a few eyebrows by bowling and for the first half Australia’s performance suggested that the Old Trafford celebrations might have been a touch more exuberant than the two out of ten Justin Langer suggested. Yet they surged back into the ascendancy through a man playing his first match of the series as Mitchell Marsh bagged 4 for 35 with some brilliant swing bowling only to be stopped in their tracks when Jos Buttler flicked the one-day switch.
So much fitted to type for England as they slid from 170 for 3 to 226 for 8 and it appeared they wouldn’t bat out the day. But all of a sudden, Buttler changed gear – perhaps deciding to live by the two-letter expletive on his bat handle – with a pair of straight sixes off Josh Hazlewood on the way to his first half-century of the series and alongside Jack Leach added an unbroken 45 for the ninth wicket. It made things look a little better for England, but in reality it was a rescue mission that shouldn’t have been needed.
The top seven all reached double figures (before today a top five in the series hadn’t managed that) including Joe Root‘s 57 as the captain again couldn’t convert into three figures despite being dropped three times between 24 and 30, extracted by another off-stump rip-snorter from Pat Cummins.
However, the game really swung, in every sense, in the hands of Marsh who found significantly more movement than any of his team-mates. A short ball accounted for Ben Stokes, but it was full-length movement that removed Jonny Bairstow, Sam Curran and Chris Woakes. Cramp stopped him one ball into his 16th over and though he returned the chance for a maiden five-for had to wait.
There had also been movement – of the seam variety – with the new ball after Paine inserted England, citing a decent covering of grass and some cloud cover. Only Joe Denly succumbed, though, driving loosely at Cummins with Steven Smith taking a juggling catch at second slip. Root and Rory Burns moved along at a decent clip against bowling that lacked the consistency of much of the series.
Playing a Test on his homeground for the first time Burns, who was given lbw to Hazlewood on 4 before DRS overturned it, looked in excellent touch as he got off the mark with a well-timed square drive before adding an on-drive and cover drive to the tally before lunch. Root, too, started with a sparkle, making a concerted effort to get forward to Australia’s quicks rather than be caught on the crease, before the innings took on a very different character.
On 24 he hooked Cummins and got a top edge to deep backward square where Siddle’s under-par morning got worse when he couldn’t hold on. In Cummins’ next over, Root aimed a back-foot drive at Cummins which produced a thick edge that Paine palmed away. Then, in the first over after lunch, Smith dropped a tough chance at second slip off Siddle. It was looking as though Root should play Friday’s EuroMillions which is worth £143million.
Life now looked much harder for Root, although there was one moment of relief when he drove Hazlewood through the covers to take him to 7000 Test runs – the third youngest batsman to reach the milestone after Alastair Cook and Sachin Tendulkar – before a fortunate fifty came from 105 balls.
By then he had already lost two team-mates to poor cross-batted strokes. Burns miscued to mid-on and Stokes, batting at an elevated No. 4, skewed a big top edge to point to give Marsh his first. Be like Stokes had been the message to Marsh, this wasn’t a bad start.
For all that England had been solid for large parts of the first two sessions there was always the feeling of it being an innings on the edge. Either side of tea Australia really turned the screw and they earned their rewards swiftly at the start of the final session. Only one run, a leg bye, had been scored since the interval when Cummins shot one past Root’s outside edge for the second time in two innings.
Then it was over to Marsh. He produced a wicked inswinger to trap Bairstow who had faced 21 consecutive dot balls and been set up beautifully by a series of outswingers. Curran edged a booming drive to slip to end a skittish stay which included a hooked six of Cummins and a reprieve when he was lbw only for Cummins to have over-stepped. Marsh’s fourth came from another swinging yorker which took Woakes on the back leg.
When Jofra Archer edged Hazlewood, England had lost 5 for 56 and thoughts were turning to how many Smith might score but Buttler, who had kept his place ahead of Jason Roy when Stokes’ shoulder injury forced a reshuffle, produced a calculated counterattack. Two straight sixes gave Hazlewood neck-ache and he added a third with a pull over deep square leg before he unfurled a reverse sweep against Marnus Labuschagne.
Such was the woeful over rate than just 82 overs were bowled in a six-and-a-half-hour day and by the time the second new ball was briefly taken there were weary Australian bodies, and perhaps minds. However, this is far from an overwhelming total (although Buttler may have power to add in the morning) and England will still need to a find a way of stopping Smith.