Friday, 3 December 2021

Australia fight-back against England after top-order failure

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BRISBANE: If the first two days of the Test match are anything to go by, the Ashes series should be a keenly fought contest. This was another day of absorbing Test cricket at the Gabba in Brisbane with Australia finishing on 165 for 4 in reply to England’s first innings total of 302. Everything, then, is still to play for.

Importantly, Australia’s captain and arguably the best player in the world, Steve Smith, is still batting for the home side, not out on 64. He found good support from Shaun Marsh, recalled to the side for the eighth time for this match, in an unbeaten partnership of 89 for the fifth wicket and while Smith remains at the crease, Australia will fancy their chances of getting above England’s first innings total.

The tourists bowled with admirable effort and discipline for most of the day on Friday (November 24) and reduced the home side to 76 for 4 at one stage. But Smith and Marsh battled hard and stayed patient, against both their natural instincts, as the English attack tried to frustrate them. Australia scored just seven boundaries in the first 35 overs as England set defensive fields but the hosts did manage to get away slightly in the spell after the last drinks break when Smith and Marsh added 52 runs.

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England’s total could, and perhaps, should have been far more. Resuming on 196 for 4, Dawid Malan and Moeen Ali batted diligently to see off the second new ball during the first hour of the day. Australia’s bowlers looked lethargic and the ball barely moved off the straight but England’s batsmen were watchful. They left the ball well but also scored when opportunities presented themselves including a boundary in each of the first three overs of the day.

There were a couple of plays and misses during the opening hour from Malan off Josh Hazlewood and a top edged pull by Moeen off Pat Cummins which fell short of deep square-leg but otherwise, the batsmen were largely untroubled. None of Australia’s bowlers started well and Mitchell Starc, in particular, looked down on pace and unthreatening. Smith introduced Nathan Lyon, the home side’s best bowler on day one, early, for just the ninth over with the new ball.

Although he spun the ball sharply and beat the edge numerous times, the wicket Lyon deserved continued to evade him. At the other end, Smith directed his fast bowlers to try a sustained barrage of short bowling at Moeen and Malan, who had reached their fifty partnership off 116 deliveries. Such tactics had been predicted before the match but Australia’s quicks – strangely – had used the bouncer only sparingly on the opening day.

Not here. Malan, in particular, looked in good touch, unfurling a number of crisp cover drives and pulled with authority until Starc, from round the wicket, got a short ball to rise sharply. Malan pulled but couldn’t keep it down and was caught at deep square-leg for 56, his third half-century in his last five Test innings. It was a poor shot, though, and allowed Australia to recover somewhat. In the next over, Moeen was out LBW to Lyon, plodding forward to a ball which went straight on with the arm.

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England’s innings was wrapped up quickly thereafter. Chris Woakes was bowled through the gate by Lyon, attempting an ambitious drive through the off-side for nought. Jonny Bairstow (9) top-edged an attempted pull shot off Cummins and was caught by the wicket-keeper while Jake Ball was caught brilliantly by David Warner at leg-slip off Starc for 14. Stuart Broad, who was mercilessly bounced by Cummins and Starc, was the last man out, caught at deep square-leg from another attempted pull off Hazlewood for a decent 20, after he was dropped earlier by Marsh in the deep.

England had lost six wickets for 56 runs – another collapse to add to their growing collection – and had given up the initiative that Malan and Moeen had worked so hard to create. Australia may also have found a chink in the visitors’ armoury which they can use during the rest of the series. The fast-bowlers’ use of plenty of short bowling brought them success against England’s lower-middle order and it is sure to be repeated in the rest of the series. The tourists will need to do better.

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