LONDON: The second Ashes Test is poised for a thrilling conclusion after a memorable fourth day in which the fast bowlers of England and Australia illuminated Lord’s.
In a ferocious spell in which he touched 96mph, England debutant Jofra Archer struck Steve Smith on the neck and forced the world’s best batsman to retire hurt on 80. Smith returned 40 minutes later but, clearly shaken, shouldered arms to be lbw to Chris Woakes for 92 as Australia were bowled out for 250 – eight behind.
Pat Cummins used his own pace to remove Jason Roy and Joe Root in successive balls and, although Rory Burns and Joe Denly steadied England, both fell to Peter Siddle. At the end of it all, England scraped to 96-4 – a lead of 104 – leaving all four results possible in a Test where the entire first day and most of the third were lost to rain.
To be out of danger, England will probably need to bat beyond lunch on Sunday. But it may also be that their best chance of winning is to run through an Australia side chasing a low target, potentially without Smith, who, as well as being hit on the neck, required an X-ray on his left arm.
The finale will be played out on a pitch that is showing increasing signs of uneven bounce and in front of a sell-out crowd with the weather set fair.
After England were heavily beaten in the first Test, Sunday could see them back in the series, or the Ashes as good as gone.
The battle between Archer and Smith was sporting theatre, with the sickening blow suffered by the former captain leaving a previously baying crowd in worried silence. The next act was Smith’s surprising return, with Cummins then bringing his own fire and celebrating as if the Test was on the way to being won.
As England battled to stay afloat, the drama grew through two David Warner dropped catches and two lbw appeals from off-spinner Nathan Lyon that should have been given but were not reviewed. In gathering gloom that necessitated the use of the floodlights, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler doggedly took the lead past 100 and left the match hanging in the balance.