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DAY 3 REPORT: Bairstow's brave ton leads England’s fightback as Boland continues blazing start

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Expert
7th January, 2022
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Scott Boland kicked on from his unbelievable MCG debut to rip the heart out of England’s top order on day three of the fourth Ashes Test at the SCG but was quickly brought back down to earth.

The 32-year-old Victorian seamer bagged two wickets before he had conceded a run after taking the amazing figures of 6-7 in his previous foray.

At one point, his Test average was a mind-boggling 6.11 after picking up nine wickets after conceding just 55 runs.

His spell came to a dramatic end in the last over of the middle session when he fell over in his follow-through and was sent for scans after his elbow dug into his ribs as he pounded into the unforgiving wicket. He was eventually cleared and returned to the field late in the final session as Jonny Bairstow, bravely battling a painful thumb injury, led an English fightback.

They finished the day on 7-258 after Bairstow blasted 103 from 140 balls, England’s first century of the series. He will resume on day four with Jack Leach on four, but they are still 158 runs away from reeling in Australia’s total.

He reached his ton in the final over of the day when he cut captain Pat Cummins to the boundary, howling with delight after reaching his milestone.

The home side’s hopes of winning a fourth straight match to maintain their chances of an Ashes series whitewash in Hobart next week hinge on finishing off the English innings quickly, scoring briskly to give themselves enough time to bowl England out again in the rainy Harbour City on day five.

England were reduced to 4-36 after Mitchell Starc bowled Haseeb Hameed for six, Boland rattled Zak Crawley’s stumps on 18, Joe Root snicked a sharp chance off Boland to Steve Smith at slip for a duck and Dawid Malan departed (three) when he nudged Cameron Green to Usman Khawaja at leg slip just before lunch.

The first two dismissals highlighted the gulf in class between the English openers and the Australian pacemen this series. Starc bent an inswinger through a gigantic gap between Hameed’s bat and pad to hit middle stump while Boland’s off-cutter decked in through a tighter gap in Crawley’s defences but the end result was the same.

Ben Stokes should have seen his castle crumble when he shoulder arms to Green on 16. He was given out by umpire Paul Reiffel but after Stokes called for a review, the replay showed the ball missed his pad and hit the off stump but despite glancing off the woodwork, it did not dislodge the bails.

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After a 12-over scoreless stretch which included the wickets of Crawley, Root and Malan, the visitors looked in danger of replicating their paltry 68-run effort in the second innings of the third Test.

However, Stokes found a gritty ally in Bairstow and after taking several overs to break the shackles, they started finding the boundary and mounting one of the rare English partnerships of note for the series.

They took a fancy to Nathan Lyon, with each of them hoisting him over the boundary, but the off-spinner struck back with a quicker delivery trapping Stokes in front on 66 and the all-rounder knew he was a goner, trotting off to the sheds without even bothering to see the umpire’s finger point skyward to signal the end of his 128-run stand with Bairstow.

From the next delivery at the start of the next over, Bairstow showed plenty of courage to avoid joining Stokes in the pavilion after copping a nasty blow on the right thumb from a rapid delivery from Cummins which rose sharply off the increasingly uneven pitch.

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Cummins ushered Jos Buttler to the sheds without scoring via another Khawaja catch, this time at short cover.

Bairstow, on 69, could be forgiven for not having much faith in the English tail as he eyed off his first Test ton since 2018 so he upped his aggression but Mark Wood provided some lower-order support as well as comic relief with his determined, yet cavalier, approach.

Wood at one point hooked Cummins for consecutive sixes over fine leg in his cameo of 39.

He was out in contentious circumstances when RTS detected a sound as another Cummins bouncer passed his bat, despite HotSpot showing nothing, then it hit his helmet and flew to Lyon at point.

Bairstow was six shy of triple figures when Wood fell and he was joined by Jack Leach.

For the third straight day, the start of play was delayed due to rain with fans in attendance for Jane McGrath forced to wait until 12.10pm before the first ball was bowled.

England had been fortunate to survive to 13 without loss late on day two but it didn’t take long before their brittle top order crumbled for the seventh time in as many innings this series.

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