The Roar
The Roar

Advertisement

Over to you, Uzzy! Broad burst topples Labuschagne and Smith to leave Aussie run chase perilously poised

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
Replay
Cancel
Next
Editor
19th June, 2023
257
3782 Reads

Four years ago, the loss of Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith to low scores would almost certainly have signified an Australian collapse and a sizeable England win.

This time, though, while a sensational late spell from Stuart Broad winkled out both key cogs with the outswinger he had specifically devised before the series for them, the visitors head into the final day of a gripping first Test at Edgbaston with hopes well and truly alive of a stirring victory chasing 281 – only one fewer than their famous three-run defeat at this venue in the iconic 2005 series.

3/107 at stumps, with Usman Khawaja unbeaten on 34 and nightwatchman Scott Boland providing a handy 13 whilst protecting the middle order, Australia require 174 further runs on a fifth day likely to at least be partially affected by rain, after a dogged performance from England’s tail saved face to a second innings in which all but one reached double figures but no one could pass 50.

It is the perfect finish to what is already one of the great Ashes Tests of recent memory. But a match that has featured momentum swings from session to session and sometimes from over to over has hit each crucial juncture with England the barest of margins ahead, as much to do with the brilliance of Broad with the ball throughout as it has been their famed ‘Bazball’ approach with the bat.

With their long tail somewhat sorted by Boland’s promotion and late cameo – his edged four through the slips off Broad’s final over of the day may yet prove cosmically crucial – and a strong middle order of Travis Head, Cameron Green and Alex Carey to come, the match still largely rests on the shoulders of Khawaja.

Already given a reprieve on 4 thanks to another missed chance from wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow, the opener has a chance at history.

Advertisement

See his team to victory to go with his heroic first innings century, and his performance at Edgbaston will sit alongside Smith’s four years ago as among the finest by an Australian on these shores in a generation.

The day couldn’t have started in more dramatic fashion: having fought through eight balls for no score in between rain delays on the third afternoon, Joe Root signalled Bazball’s return by attempting a trademark reverse-ramp off Pat Cummins’ first ball.

He wouldn’t make contact, but he’d far better with back-to-back identical strokes off the slightly slower Boland next over, taking him for six and then four. Suddenly, England were away.

Having recorded just one boundary in 10 overs the previous day, six would come in the first five on Day 4, five off the serene bat of Root as Boland’s figures once again took a pounding. Most would come in more traditional fashion to the first two: a glorious cover drive here, a powerful cut there.

With Ollie Pope likewise getting going after a subdued start, his sublime late cut off Cummins to move to 14 off 14 balls appeared to suggest a long day ahead for the tourists.

Or not: out of nowhere, the Australian captain produced not just the ball of the Test, but a corker unlikely to be topped for the rest of the series: a vicious inswinging yorker that zeroed in at 139 kilometres an hour at the base of off stump, Pope a jumbled mess as he desperately tried to keep it out.

Advertisement

The breakthrough still left the problem of Root: having tormented the visitors with a first-day unbeaten century, he seemed to merely be picking up where he left off as he threaded gaps in the field with ease, making a mockery of Cummins’ still-defensive field placements by picking off singles at will and still dispatching anything loose to the boundary.

Harry Brook’s arrival allowed Root to go back to the business of quietly making runs, having turned aggressor to ease pressure on Pope: the 24-year old prodigy making good on his pre-series promise to take the long handle to Lyon, repeatedly using his feet to drive against the spin.

It would be Lyon, though, who found the breakthrough: as has befallen countless Englishmen this Test, Root’s aggression would prove his downfall.

Skipping down the track looking to heave to leg with the spin, the champion’s most ungainly shot of the match would fail to make contact, Alex Carey making a deceptively tricky stumping down the leg side look supremely easy.

With England’s talisman gone for a sparkling, but brief, 46, Australia’s hopes of a chase under 200 were rekindled, even more so when Brook too threw away a half-century by clipping Lyon to a diving Labuschagne at mid-wicket for an identical score.

Advertisement

The decisive moment appeared to have arrived when Bairstow, on 1, was given LBW to Boland in the final over before lunch, but a desperate review would turn the tables: the Eric Hollies stand up as one when ball-tracker found it to be just clearing the stumps.

5/155 at the break, a previously sedate Ben Stokes – he sat down for lunch on 13 off 34 balls – decided it was time to go.

A classic cover point punch off a short and wide Boland offering was just the pressure-release the captain needed: in the heat of battle, Stokes went one-day mode, dancing down the pitch to hoick Cummins through mid-wicket before carving him elegantly over the slips cordon for successive boundaries.

Bairstow, though, was more subdued, though his own vintage square drive off the Australian captain seemed to signal an upping of the ante.

Sports opinion delivered daily 

   

However, a painstaking innings was ended on 20 when Lyon struck again, Bairstow missing his attempted reverse-sweep as the off-spinner skidded on lower than he was expecting and struck him plumb in front.

Advertisement

When Stokes joined Brook and Root in falling just shy of 50 when Cummins trapped him in front for 43, the Australians had just the tail to remove and the prospect of a run-chase well below 250, especially when Moeen, shortly after depositing Lyon over mid-wicket for six, gloved a Josh Hazlewood riser down the leg side for 19.

But as it proved on the first day, the England lower order proved a tough nut to crack. Where Broad and Ollie Robinson had been the Robin to Root’s Batman in the first innings, here they were thrust into a starring role – and were more than up to the challenge.

They’d add 27 crucial runs together, most of them agricultural, all bloody-minded, the Australians’ expected short-ball onslaught bringing with it biffs, ramps and one audacious Robinson strike back over Hazlewood’s head for four.

Even when Robinson finally tried one big shot too many, tempted to try and clear Green at long-on after being brought in 15 metres off the fence and failing to grant Lyon a fourth, a first-ball reverse sweep for four from Anderson signalled the fun was far from done.

Another 17 valuable runs were added, 12 from the 40-year old, before Cummins and Carey combined to end the innings: a wide tempter chased and edged by Anderson, caught spectacularly by the keeper diving full length to his left.

It was an identical edge, as it happens, to the one Anderson himself coaxed out of Khawaja in the first over of the chase: squared up by a perfect straightener, the nick would bisect Bairstow and Root behind the stumps, the keeper shirking his responsibility to dive for anything in his vicinity for his latest major blunder of a poor Test.

Advertisement

The miss would quickly prove costly as Khawaja and Warner secured Australia’s first 50-run stand for the opening wicket in a Test in England since Warner and Chris Rogers in the 2015 Ashes.

Encouraging for Australia was the performance of the latter: watchful outside his off stump, Broad’s threat was kept at bay, Warner’s safe negotiation of a four-over spell with the new ball a baby step towards respectability after the recent horrors inflicted on him by his chief tormentor.

Warner’s patience would pay off: his first ball faced from Robinson was dispatched with a gleeful cut behind point to release the shackles; with Khawaja also cashing in off the wayward offerings Moeen and his wounded finger regularly provided at the other end, the partnership blossomed.

It would reach 61 before Robinson struck: finding a perfect length and getting the ball to leave Warner ever so slightly, the opener was in good enough touch to get a feather on one he could easily have played and missed, Bairstow doing the rest.

Warner’s 36, nevertheless, has surely sealed his spot for at least the second Test, if nowhere near enough to rubber-stamp him for the series let alone his planned swansong at the SCG in January.

Labuschagne, though, is now a concern for the tourists: while a pair of reverse-sweeps for four off Moeen saw him avoid a dreaded king pair, Broad’s newfound outswinger specifically designed to unsettle the Aussie first drop had its way again.

Advertisement

In near identical fashion to the first innings, Broad had Labuschagne fishing outside off: a good length and the hint of away movement enough to entice the edge. Bairstow’s catch was more regulation this time – out for 13.

Suddenly 2/78 and with a previously sedate run-chase hitting choppy waters, it was the perfect time for Smith to arrive and save the day; unlike in the 2019 series, though, his stay would be brief.

It would be the Broad outswinger again that did the trick for England, Smith drawn into a nervous prod outside off that kissed the edge en route to Bairstow: an immovable object four years ago here, the champion’s two centuries gave way to 16 and 6 now.

In to negotiate the close came Boland, taking nightwatchman duties off the usually designated Lyon, and remarkably providing doughtier resistance than Labuschagne or Smith.

Leaving circumspectly, defending resolutely and even cashing in on an Anderson loosener with a cut for four, his job was done with Khawaja and next man in Travis Head safe when Broad began his final over.

That he not only negotiated it, but picked up a handy bonus four via an edge through the slips cordon for his troubles, could well mean the world to the visitors by match’s end, but in the short term, at least brought about a richly deserved new highest Test score of 13.

Advertisement

As it stands, an Australian win, an English victory, a draw and even a tie remain well and truly on the cards with one day still to come – the surest sign yet of a memorable Test.

Throw in the extraordinary drama at every turn already displayed, and come what may on the fifth day, we have already had a match that will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it.

close