Bairstow’s unbroken 99 boosts England’s lead before Wood’s pace becomes the deciding factor once more.
England 592 (Crawley 189, Bairstow 99*, Root 84, Brook 61, Moeen 54, Stokes 51, Hazlewood 5-126) trail Australia 317 and 113 for 4 (Labuschagne 44*, Wood 3-17) by 162 runs.
Mark Wood bowled another fantastic,
Mark Wood bowled another fantastic, high-octane session to break open Australia’s second innings after Jonny Bairstow’s blitz resumed England’s batting rampage at Old Trafford as they did everything they could to buy themselves enough time to overcome the weekend rain forecast and even the Ashes series.
After Bairstow’s unbeaten 99, with 50 coming from his final 31 balls, had increased England’s lead to 275, Wood’s pace became the x-factor in their attack once more. He had dismissed Usman Khawaja in his first over before returning deep in the final session to dismiss Steven Smith (for the second time in the game) for his 100th Test wicket and Travis Head, leaving Australia on 108 or 4.
Marnus Labuschagne and Mitchell Marsh made it to the end, but it had been a humbling two days for Australia, who will need all the help they can get to retain the Ashes here and avoid a decider at The Oval next week, where they would almost certainly be underdogs.
Bairstow was one run short of a century when James Anderson was caught lbw by Cameron Green, ending a barnstorming last-wicket stand of 66 that left Australia weary and scared. The ‘big three’ quicks – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins – returned a collective economy rate of 5.22 and all conceded over 100 for the second time in Tests.
England had two and a half days to make it count after scoring at an eye-watering 5.49 in 107.4 overs. In reality, they appeared to have significantly less time to earn the win they needed to push the series to the wire and become only the second team to come back from 2-0 down to win. The prediction for Saturday remained extremely bleak, and the forecast for Sunday was not promising – they will hope that, not for the first time, they are incorrect.
England played longer than many expected, leading by 189 at lunch and 209 when the ninth wicket fell, but they clearly valued a huge lead, and with Bairstow carrying the ball about, the overs were being used effectively. Bowling time will certainly be limited, but with four wickets already, they may not require a large window in the weather.
They got through Australia’s first pair on both sides of tea. Khawaja and David Warner were making good headway against the new ball when Wood clipped Khawaja’s outside edge in his opening over. After speaking with Warner, Khawaja went for the DRS, and the spike was confirmed.
Chris Woakes claimed Warner for the second time in the game for another mediocre score. He had Warner in doubt after fizzing a delivery past the outside edge, and he deflected down into his stumps.
When Smith pushed Woakes low to Joe Root at first slip, he came dangerously close to falling second ball. Root did not celebrate the catch in any way, but instead told the umpires that he thought it was out, and it was handed to TV official Kumar Dharmasena. After considerable rocking and rolling, Dharmasena concluded that Root had not gotten his fingertips under the ball in yet another questionable decision in a summer filled with them.
Smith and Labuschagne fought hard to get through the last session on a surface that had shown symptoms of some varying bounce the day before for Root’s wicket.
But, once again, Wood made the difference by putting Smith in trouble with a short ball that he tried to draw and only got a glove through to Bairstow. Unsurprisingly, England went straight at Head with the bouncer, and it only took seven deliveries for it to pay off when he fended a glove into the gully, unable to move out of the line.
After their Zak Crawley-inspired rampage the day before, England resumed on 384 for 4. They didn’t quite hit top speed in the morning session, but everything is relative, and 122 runs came from 24 overs. Australia waited too long to use the second new ball, and the softer, older version made strokeplay more difficult.
Stokes had made his intentions clear early on by racing down and hoicking Starc over midwicket, but he and Harry Brook didn’t entirely disregard prudence. Stokes reached his half-century in 72 balls before playing around a Cummins delivery to give Australia’s beleaguered captain his first wicket of the innings.
Brook’s fifty came off 80 deliveries until he fell immediately after Australia chose the new ball after 90 overs for the first time in the series, when he top-edged Josh Hazlewood to long leg. Starc expertly evaluated the grab near the rope, and as he rushed into his teammates, he faked scraping it down the ground in allusion to his rejected catch at Lord’s.
Before lunch, Hazlewood added Woakes (England’s first duck of the series) and Wood before claiming one of his least-decorated five-wicket hauls when Stuart Broad skied a return ball.
Stokes might have called an end to the innings, but Anderson came to the middle for what could have been his final Test innings in front of his home fans. He contributed by deflecting countless short deliveries, but he also managed one devastating pull against Cummins. During the partnership, he and Bairstow stole byes three times to Alex Carey, whose underarming at the stumps was less accurate than it had been at Lord’s.
Bairstow reached fifty against Starc with a famous whip-pull for six off the hip – and that was only the beginning. He’d switched to one-day mode (if such a thing exists in England’s Test batting), and one of his sixes over the leg side threatened the new hotel complex’s windows. Even Stokes was heard from the dressing room saying, “Wow, that’s huge.”
After reaching 98 with a vicious swat through the covers, he was put back on strike with a stolen bye at the start of the next over. Anderson was ready to race back for the second after driving powerfully towards long-off two balls later, but Bairstow implored him to keep put. Anderson’s next delivery was too far across against Green.
It signaled the commencement of the third innings, which would decide the contest. England could have done nothing more to secure their spot; now all they can hope for is enough time to make it count. Meanwhile, Australia will be hoping for two days of rain. It’s been an incredible turn around.
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