After a disheartening and demoralizing Day 2, Rory Burns and Joe Root ground hard and batted with grit and determination on Day 3 to keep England’s Ashes hopes alive. However, a late burst from Josh Hazlewood put Australia in the drivers’ seat before bad light eventually came to England's rescue.
Rory “Burns” bright at Old Trafford
He’s not your orthodox cricketer who plays textbook strokes, he has an awkward and weird backlift and he frustrates bowlers with his patience. You might be wondering if we’re talking about Steve Smith, but no, we’re actually describing his counterpart Rory Burns, who seems to have drawn inspiration from the No.1 batsman in the world. For the fourth match running, the southpaw looked head and shoulders above any other English batsmen and today, at Old Trafford, he showcased his own “problem-solving” skills by negating the barrage of short balls bowled by the Aussies.
After being undone not once but twice by the short ball at Headingley, it was no surprise what tactics the Aussies were going to resort to once Burns took the strike. The trio of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc peppered the Surrey man with one short ball followed by another in the hope of either catching his gloves as he tries to hook or the ball blobbing off the splice of the bat and carrying to Matthew Wade at forward short-leg. But Burns, resilient as ever, kept ducking out of the way of the short balls constantly, forcing the Aussie bowlers to change their plan and strategy mid-way through the innings.
The southpaw ground down the Aussie bowlers while also putting the bad balls away at will, and along with his skipper, gave England the platform they so badly needed to keep the Ashes alive. He was eventually undone by a peach by Josh Hazlewood, but by then, he had already asserted his authority further as England’s best batsman of the series, and perhaps even made a case for being the second-best batter of the series behind Smith. Perhaps, England, after almost 7 years, have now found the perfect replacement for Andrew Strauss.
Jason Roy = Australia’s toy?
After Jason Roy’s struggles at the top of the order in the first three Test matches, the English team management came up with (a rather obnoxious) idea out of the box - to swap his spot in the batting order with Joe Denly, who’d scored his first fifty of the series batting in the middle-order in the second innings at Headingley. While from Denly’s POV the move made little sense, it came as a breath of fresh air for Roy, who had spent the entirety of his first-class career with Surrey batting in the middle-order. Basically, the move was also facilitated out of desperation to give Roy one last chance to stamp his authority in the longer format.
Coming in to bat at 166/3 on a rather flattish deck, the stage was set for the Surrey man to finally prove his credentials with the red-ball. After starting off rather shaky against Nathan Lyon, Roy soon crunched a couple of cover drives - reminiscent of his strokes in the World Cup - off the bowling of Hazlewood and it finally seemed like he was going to get the monkey off his back. But then again, cricket, and Test cricket, in particular, is so cruel at times that it sheds light on you when you’re at your most vulnerable self and projects it to the entire world.
The gaping hole in Roy’s technique - literally - was exposed by Hazlewood as he got the ball to sneak in the gap between the Englishman’s bat and pad and shatter the stumps. Different day, different match, different venue, different batting position, but alas, the result, however, was the same old one for Roy. At this stage, one wonders if the best thing for both the player and the team would be to put him out of his misery and drop him from the team, especially with the likes of Ben Foakes and Ollie Pope waiting on the sidelines.
Mitchell Starc out-blows the Manchester winds with his coldness
In case you were wondering why Mitchell Starc wasn’t picked for the first three Tests, a glimpse of today’s action would have given you a good idea. Walking into Day 3, the left-hander had ideal conditions to trouble the duo of Burns and Root and dent the English batting with early strikers after Hazlewood saw the back of night-watchman Craig Overton. After bowling five tight overs where he conceded a total of just five runs, the left-arm pacer’s radar went haywire, spraying one too many wide of the stumps - even full tosses on certain occasions - which resulted in releasing the pressure that was built up by his compatriots.
On a pitch which offered enough bounce and carry, Starc, despite possessing the pace and venom to wreak havoc, completely got his lines and lengths wrong after his initial splurge, conceding 36 runs off his final six overs. A frustrated Tim Paine took the ball off the hands of his “talisman” and ended his work for the day prematurely, thanks to his inconsistency. While Cummins, Hazlewood and Lyon bowled 17, 20 and 26 overs respectively, Starc could only manage 11, further making a case for either of Siddle or Pattinson to replace him at The Oval.
However, all hope is not lost, as with Australia one wicket away from getting into England’s tail, the New South Welshman will once again have a golden opportunity to make amends for his wayward performance on Day 3. The cries for Starc’s inclusion in the side got louder after the Aussies failed to clean up the English tail at Headingley and Day 4 might actually serve as judgement day for Starc to decide his participation in the Ashes, and perhaps, in Test cricket, for the foreseeable future.
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