Much to everyone's surprise, the English team managed to survive the Aussie onslaught on Day 3. While the two Joe's - Denly and Root - proved to be thorns in Australia's path to glory, they will have to get past two more - namely Ben Stokes and Headingley, if they are to retain the urn tomorrow.
Jason Roy - A lesson more than a failed experiment
A roaring Jason Roy entered the Ashes high on confidence with the memory of his telling knock in the World Cup semis against the same opponents fresh on his mind, trying to inflict the same scars in a different format. Six innings and 24 days later, he is probably staring in front of the mirror doubting himself with his confidence shattered, not knowing how to get out of this hole he has been pushed into. Yes, pushed into, as none of this is his own fault in the first place. After the failure of the Alex Hales and James Vince experiments, one would have expected to the English Cricket Board to have learnt better but here they are, two years later, once again finding themselves in the very same unwanted time loop.
In six innings in this series, Roy has been dismissed every way an opener should be and shouldn’t be - from edging the ball to first slip to getting cleaned up to a spinner trying to swat it with a horizontal bat. Ironically, if in case this does turn out to be his last Test innings (as an opener, at least), it would be a poetic end, as he was dismissed by an absolute jaffa from Pat Cummins, a kind of delivery which he would have never faced in his ODI career, almost telling him “Sorry mate, this is a completely different sport. Better luck next time”.
At the end of the day, this will serve as a lesson for both Roy and England. For Roy, an indication of how cruel sport can be - going from being the architect of England’s World Cup triumph to becoming to scapegoat of their Ashes mauling in a span of two months - and for England, a slap in the face reminding them that ODI and Test cricket are almost different sports and that you can’t just play around with personnel.
Joe Denly rides his luck but makes it count
Stats can sometimes be deceptive. In the first innings of this Test, Joe Denly was the highest run-getter for England. Pretty impressive, right? But what it doesn’t tell you is the fact that he scored just 12 runs. Either way, for the sixth time in as many innings in this series, Denly found himself in a familiar position - walking into bat with his side two down for not many. In the first innings, his technique, temperament and his selection were made a mockery of by the Aussie bowlers. The Kent man was playing and missing more than a blindfolded baseball hitter before his luck eventually ran out.
The makings of his innings today, too, had a very similar buildup. He was cut into half, squared up and heck, even hit on the helmet - all with his team 20 odd for the loss of two wickets. As he played and missed, the grin on the face of the Aussie bowlers widened, almost sensing that it was a matter of time before they got their man. But no, Denly dug in, battled it out and used all 15 years of his cricketing experience to frustrate his bullies.
Make no mistake, he had his fair share of luck, too. According to Cricviz, Denly played 22 false shots (12 misses and 10 edges) in the first 2 hours of his innings, a number which would usually result in at least a couple of dismissals. But sport, as a microcosm of life, is all about learning from your mistakes, and unlike the first innings, Denly did not let the jaffas upset his rhythm or concentration, and hit the reset button every other delivery. With his knock, Denly ensured that both he and his team lived to fight another day.
Headingley 2-1 Australia
On Day 1, there was plenty of rain in the air, there were dark clouds, the temperature was cold and the floodlights were on. Ideal conditions for bowlers, and a nightmare for batsmen. England won the toss and put Australia into bat. A tad over 50 overs to negotiate, not much to gain, but plenty to lose. In Broad and Archer, England had tailor-made bowlers for these conditions, and unsurprisingly, in the little action we got on Day 1, Australia were bowled out. Headingley 1-0 Australia.
They walked into Day 2 hoping for something similar, but much to their dismay, there was bright sunshine and clear skies. However, thanks to the English batsmen’s lack of application, they bowled them out for 67. The pitch, however, still offered plenty of seam movement, which the English bowlers exploited as much as possible. But still, somehow, against all odds, the Aussies fought off the Headingley conditions and got the upper hand. Headingley 1-1 Australia.
Day 3 was supposed to follow Day 2’s pattern and it did - up until Australia batted. Come the English innings, the pitch flattened out and the English batsmen latched on to it, leaving the Australians go “How can this be possible?”. Once again, the conditions turned out to be their nemesis, more than England themselves.
It, in fact, can be summarized by this particular statistic posted by Cricviz.
PitchViz batting difficulty in this match by innings
Australia, 1st Innings: 7.2/10
England, 1st Innings: 6.5/10
Australia, 2nd Innings: 7.1/10
England, 2 innings: 6.5/10
Clearly, the Aussies have so far come up against more than one opponent in this match, and well, if they’re to retain the Ashes, it is going to take some effort to emerge victorious in this 2 on 1 handicap match.
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