The Australian players toiled hard in an incredible day of Test Cricket to put their side on the brink of retaining the coveted urn. After Mitchell Starc cleaned up the English tail, Steve Smith tormented the English bowlers yet again, before Pat Cummins made late inroads to leave England reeling.
The Starc contrast between Day 3 and 4
Mitchell Starc is a bowler who has always been predictable and unpredictable at the same time. Predictable when it comes to his exploits against the tail-enders - cleaning them up with his yorkers more often than not - but not-so-predictable against the top-order batsmen as he showed yesterday, either releasing the pressure built up by the other bowlers by spraying the ball wide or straying in his line, thus not making the batsmen play enough.
When skipper Tim Paine handed him the second new-ball today, one got the sense that it was going to be a decisive moment - not just in the match, but also in the series. Amongst the Aussies, there was a sense of both fear and excitement when Starc took the ball, for they knew he could either turn the match around in their favour or hand back the initiative to England. The moment finally arrived, and the New South Welshman, with the bright new Dukes cherry in his hand - much to everyone’s surprise - displayed an exhibition of swing bowling with utmost control and troubled the batters from the word go.
In just his third over of the spell, he cleaned up a clueless Jonny Bairstow with a booming inswinger. Then, with his pace and persistent lengths around the off-stump, he accounted for perhaps the biggest scalp - that of Ben Stokes - of the match. And then finally, in trademark style, he bamboozled Stuart Broad with a toe-crushing inswinging yorker and almost added a fourth to his name, only to be denied by umpire Marais Erasmus.
With his back well and truly against the wall - especially after the late-bursts from his compatriots yesterday - Starc needed to step his game up and come to his team’s rescue in a time of need, and boy didn’t he do it in style. The power of a good nap, eh?
Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad turn up the heat!
After having conceded a 196-run first-innings lead, England looked all but gone from the contest - despite avoiding the follow on and forcing Australia to bat again. All that was expected was a couple of rampant hours from the Aussies in order to stretch their lead near to 400 and give England a good 20-25 overs to bat in their pursuit of retaining the urn. While Smith’s cameo did stretch the lead near 400, Broad and Archer, with their hostile and immaculate spell of pace bowling, ensured that they did enough damage up-front to delay the inevitable Aussie declaration.
The veteran and the youngster were rampant and probed the batsmen right from the word go, taking a leaf out of the Aussie pacers’ books by bowling stump-to-stump, thus reaping rewards for it in the process. Needless to say, Broad looks like he can claim the wickets of both David Warner and Marcus Harris blindfolded, as once again, the Nottinghamshire man used the lethal angle from around the wicket to trap both the left-handers LBW. He, without a doubt, was, and has been the best bowler for England in this series, and has seldom made English fans miss the presence of James Anderson.
Archer, on the other hand, who looked down on pace in the first innings, cranked it up from ball one in the third, often touching the 90mph per mark, something which the fans were yearning for him to do. To go along with his pace, Archer stirred up the batsmen with some verbals - adding to his repertoire of skills, perhaps?
Unfortunately enough for both England and the duo, the support they received from both Craig Overton and Jack Leach was negligible, meaning all the good work they did was undone in a matter of overs.
Matthew Wade goes to war and wins the battle
With Australia reeling at 44/4 and a fired-up Archer steaming in, Matthew Wade walked out to the middle with two things on the line - firstly, Australia’s Ashes hopes and secondly, his career. Nasser Hussain on air described the Victorian as “A man for crisis situations” and the southpaw did justice to the former English skipper’s words by lending an invaluable hand to Smith to ensure that the Aussies batted England out of the contest.
On a pitch that was deteriorating at a rate of knots, Wade had to counter everything - uneven bounce, rough patches, seam and swing to go along with scoreboard pressure. But despite the scorecard reading 44/4, Wade brought an unmatched sense of calm along with him to the middle, almost giving away the impression that he’d finally put in to use his label of “seasoned veteran” thanks to the 25 Tests he played prior to this. While one would expect him to be the aggressor batting alongside Smith, the 31-year-old realized that Smith was indeed on a completely different zone and hence retorted to a much more defensive approach, absorbing everything that the English bowlers threw at him.
Eventually, he ended up with a score of just 34, but in the context of the match and the series, it might just turn out to be one of the more valuable ones. This might sound ridiculous, but certainly, there can be a case made to consider this as one of the best knocks of his career. The selectors showed immense faith in Wade by giving him another gig over Mitchell Marsh here at Old Trafford and certainly he has repaid it - big time.
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