Off to the MCG for the Boxing Day Test. Could England bounce back and keep the Ashes alive? Ha ha ha. No.
Here’s my report card for the third Test.
The Return of Pat Cummins
As an early shower on day one cleared, Pat Cummins made his triumphant return to the Australian captain’s blazer. Great decision-making from him not to sit near anybody COVID positive before this Ashes Test. It’s this ability to learn from his mistakes that makes Cummins such a threat.
Well, that and the immaculate line and length while bowling at top speed. That makes him a threat too. Indeed, one of the unremarked-upon advantages of having a fast bowler as captain of your Test side is that they can singlehandedly justify any decision to bowl first.
As the old saying goes: When you win the toss, nine times out of ten you bat first; the tenth time you think about bowling first and then do so, because you’re Pat Cummins and can tear through any opposition batting lineup.
Which is precisely what Cummins did. He took the first three England wickets and was on target to take all ten, until Mitchell Starc stepped in to snare Joe Root after lunch, opening the floodgates for everybody else to get involved. Starc won’t be playing the next Test after that display of pushiness, you mark my words.
Losing Wickets Before Breaks
The reason Starc was able to get Root was because, in a display of excellent teamwork, Dawid Malan had successfully shielded the England captain from the booming pre-lunch threat of enormous man-child Cameron Green.
Indeed, once again, it appeared as if England had Australia just where they wanted them prior to lunch. They’d lost the openers and got the solid Root-Malan partnership in early, giving them time to set up a nice little position of confidence that they could then deflate during the middle session.
Instead, Malan went early, in a great England deflation double bluff, falling to Cummins in the last over before lunch. Similarly, Jos Buttler later also fell in the last over of the second session. Weird that Buttler couldn’t wait for tea, given that he’s got an extra one of them. (Please use the Voice Memo app on your phone to record this joke, then play it back in audio form to maximise the wordplay’s already slim comic potential. Thanks.)
Losing wickets in the last over of each session is a glorious touch from this England side. Such a complete comedy unit. But they didn’t limit it to just those overs. It was a steady trickle of batting ineptitude and poor shot choices. For example, all-rounder Jack Leach tried to hit Nathan Lyon out of the attack by clobbering him straight over the fence and into the crowd. But then, instead of continuing to hit Lyon for sixes, he switched to edging him to slip. Just another weird batting decision from this England side.
On the other hand, it all prevented Australia from getting a chance to take a new ball. And if you don’t get a new ball, you can’t take wickets with the new ball. Advantage England, yet again.
Australia were 1/61 heading into the second day’s play. Or, as they say in England (particularly in the London bookmakers offering odds on England to win), 61/1. But would there even be a second day’s play?
Because suddenly everything was turned on its head when reports came in of positive COVID tests in the England camp. Fortunately, after several minutes of anxious phone calls to the England team bus, news came through that the players were on the way to the ground after being given the all clear from their rapid antigen tests. It will almost certainly be the most thrilling test result all summer.
Great work from England to manoeuvre themselves into a position where they could earn cheers from the Australian crowd merely by showing up.
At one point during Harris’s innings, shortly after being reprieved by snicko, he had a chat with Ben Stokes at the non-striker’s end. “Hot Spot’s f***en hopeless,” the Australian opener declared. “Mate, pot kettle,” the infrared imaging system would surely have been tempted to reply had it been sentient and in possession of vocal cords.
And yet, with the selectors having given Harris a greater show of faith than a George Michael cover band, the Australian opener finally decided to come good. And just in the nick of time too.
Because after beating England without their two best bowlers in the previous Test, Australia had now arrogantly decided to attempt to beat them this Test without significant runs from their two best batters.
Marnus Labuschagne celebrated his ascension to the number one ranking as a Test batter by scoring one run. Steve Smith, meanwhile, pottered around for just 16.
It all meant that Harris got to experience his first ever fifth and sixth wicket partnerships in Test cricket. What a thrill for the young man.
Could he carry his bat? Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
In spite of Harris’s heroic 76 at the top of the order, Australia struggled to repel England, who were utterly phenomenal on the second day.
Digging deep. Fighting hard. Jimmy Anderson winding back the clock. Mark Wood on fire. Ollie Robinson an ever-threatening colossus. It was a magnificent display of English spirit that rightly had all their fans and journalists and fan-journalists abuzz with renewed hope for the future.
When the dust cleared and Australia’s last wicket fell, the scorecard revealed England’s considerable dominance, showing that they had muscled their way to a deserved first innings lead of -82.
Then Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins came out and bowled one of the most skillful spells of fast bowling ever seen on the ground. Scott Boland chimed in with a timely assist in the penultimate over and England went to stumps 4/31, still 51 runs away from making Australia bat again.
Still, despite that, comfortably England’s best day of the series.
The next day, less good for them. I went to that third day and can confirm that I spent more time parking the car than England did batting. The tourists collapsed for 68, with Boland finishing with the astonishing figures of 6/7 from four overs.
Australia win the Test, the series, the Ashes and the award for handsomest captain. Quite the all-round thrashing.