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Opinion

FLEM’S VERDICT: Braveheart Bairstow, take a bow, that was a helluva knock

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Expert
7th January, 2022
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Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes showed there’s no such thing as an Ashes dead rubber and they were up for the fight on day three of the third Test in Sydney.

They were both brave at the crease and the celebrations when Bairstow reached his century just before stumps were great to see. There’s still plenty of pride in the English camp.

There were plenty of people questioning England’s attitude coming into this Test 3-0 down and do you want to go home or stick it out on a tough tour.

At 4-36, I was thinking they might be batting a second time on day three with another 68 like their second innings in Melbourne looking a distinct possibility.

But Stokes and Bairstow put up a helluva fight and this match means a lot for them.

They stopped the momentum after that 12-over stretch when England went 3-0. What they did is not easy.

This pitch has inconsistent bounce – there was less of that with the older ball but the amount of times batters got hit on the gloves shows how difficult it was.

This Test needed a rearguard action. Stokes and Bairstow knew if they spent time in the middle they’d be wearing a few bruises and you could see Stokes was inconvenienced by his side strain but they courageously stuck to their task and counterattacked the Aussie bowlers.

They gave the home side a taste of their own medicine by going after Nathan Lyon. Knowing he wasn’t going to hurt them, physically at least, they punished him square of the wicket and over the boundary a fair few times to hit him out of the attack.

Bairstow in particular used his crease really well against Lyon, played the sweep shot and anything remotely outside off stump, he hit him for four through point.

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Their strike rates – Stokes 72 and Bairstow 73 in a slow-scoring series – were significant. To put on 128 in 29 overs was a remarkable turnaround.

Runs in the V haven’t been easy this series but they managed to do that as well.

Bairstow proved he wants to keep playing Test cricket – he got really quick into position, played his strokes pretty late and most importantly backed himself to score what was an amazing hundred.

Ben Stokes got trapped in by Lyon and walked for an LBW, you don’t see that very often. And then when Bairstow copped that knock on the thumb from Pat Cummins soon after, I thought he’d dislocated or broken it. He was in a lot of pain but yet again he was brave and didn’t go off the field even when he had every right to do so.

And then Mark Wood stuck around with him and had some luck but thoroughly deserved his 39 off 41. He hit Pat Cummins for three sixes and we’ve never seen that happen before.

I must say I’ve never seen anything like the delivery that hit Stokes’ off stump but didn’t knock off a bail at least. It wasn’t just a nick of the stump, there was a fair amount of force. It was a solid hit.

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You could see why umpire Paul Reiffel gave it out because there was deviation as it went through so he must have thought it hit the back pad.

From four down for not many to be 7-258 they’ve possibly got a chance to save this game depending on how long they can bat tomorrow.

It looked like a procession early on. Zak Crawley showed some intent but then got a really good ball from Boland. That Joe Root dismissal looked like the shot of a captain who’s tired of the burden of carrying a team that’s been pummelled in three straight Tests.

He’s spent a lot of time in the field and then to come out and get a duck was demoralising. Root scores a lot of runs in England with that back-foot punch through the covers but it just looked like a bad shot that should have been left alone.

It’s hard to be too critical of the Australian bowlers, I didn’t see much wrong for them. Scott Boland had 2-0 off four overs, Cam Green’s hostility off a length was great and then you had Mitchell Starc and Cummins steaming in.

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This is why we love Ashes series. To be able to turn the game around in conditions that were far from batter-friendly was amazing.

It will go to day five now. Australia have got to give themselves enough time to bowl England out. First off they’ve got to get these three wickets and score quickly while they give the bowlers a freshen-up.

Maybe you’d like to have an hour to have a red-hot go at the English top order before stumps on day four and then look to finish them off day five. A lot will depend on the weather but it looks like we’re going to have an exciting finish to this Test which didn’t look possible until Bairstow and Stokes showed some spirit.

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