England facing up to survival mission after devastating Hazlewood spell
Bowler dismisses Burns, Root and Roy in 27 balls Hosts had shown mettle in face of hostile attack
Fifteen wickets have fallen on the first three days of the fourth Test. If 15 more England wickets fall, Australia will retain the Ashes.
England are going to need a lot of rain to survive and take this historic fight to the Oval on Thursday. After only six more overs Australia will be rearmed with a second new ball, as if Josh Hazlewood needs any further encouragement. None of England’s bowlers, not even Stuart Broad, could summon up the same accuracy and hostility on the first two days while Australia helped themselves to 497 runs.
If England collapse against the second new ball, and fail to score 98 more runs in their first innings, they could be made to follow on; but such an eventuality is unlikely, as Australians take care of their fast bowlers to make sure they remain fearsome giants.
Much more likely is that Australia, whether they are able to enforce the follow-on or not, will have a hit for perhaps 50 overs, then send England back in for an hour or two on the fourth evening and see what the hosts are made of.
Australia’s bowlers were more threatening than England’s – and more patient, too – keeping to their plan until England cracked, with Hazlewood taking three wickets for 15 runs in 27 balls before bad light drew a veil.
Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc softened up Joe Root, the latter breaking his box in two and the former then bringing him to his knees, before Hazlewood followed up, firstly by trapping England’s captain, then trashing their experiment with Jason Roy as a middleorder Test batsman.
Rain had washed out the third morning, leaving two long sessions. In the afternoon, England increased their overnight total of 23 for one to 125 for two off 37 overs; in the evening they lurched to 200 for five before the bad light.
Had 78 overs been delivered as scheduled, not 64, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow would have been subjected already to the rearmament of Cummins and Hazlewood with the second new ball; and while Starc has yet to click back into Test cricket, a magic spell can never be discounted.
So the day began badly and finished badly for England, with the third-wicket partnership of 141 between Root and Rory Burns in between – like the sunshine between the clouds that scudded past on another cold and windy day.
The ideal nightwatchman hangs around to drain some energy from the opposing bowlers, but Craig Overton was caught at second slip in the second over. Too seldom had he and England’s other seamers bowled the same fullish length and tight line as Hazlewood was to do all day.
During his second highest Test score of 81, Burns gave every appearance of composure, save when Cummins bounced him.
Otherwise he was almost as unflappable as Alastair Cook; and in one way he bettered his predecessor, when dealing with Nathan Lyon. Burns, being shorter and more flexible, bent his knees in square-cutting Lyon or forcing him square, whereas Cook would come down on the off-break more stiffly.
In only his 11th Test, Burns’s outward composure made him seem more senior. He went through his preparatory routine – nothing so fussy as Steve Smith’s, more like Cook’s stroll towards square leg – unhurriedly, forcing the bowler to wait.
He had a dampening effect, not only on Australia’s bowlers: a couple of his early cover drives gave the still-new ball every chance of sopping up residual moisture in its passage to the boundary.
Reverse swing, Old Trafford’s feature, did not take effect until late on day three and, to England’s chagrin, is expected to increase on the last two days which are forecast to be dry, so reducing their chances of a draw.
Although Burns got stuck on 59, he was still unflustered, except when Cummins with his extra pace hit his gloves or zipped past his outside edge.
He was not stuck too long, because he has his ways of accumulating against spin, unlike England’s openers of yesteryear. Burns did not sweep much, however, as he had in Sri Lanka, as the bounce and therefore the risk of a top edge deterred him; and it will be a no-no in England’s second innings, when survival is all.
In the deceptive sunshine of afternoon, Lyon was the victim of some pantomime when he caught a throw-in from an Australian infielder, David Warner, which reminded the crowd of the throw-in by Cummins at Headingley which Lyon failed to collect.
Every Lyon catch thereafter, no matter that the ball was dead, was roared to the echo – and the simpler the catch the better.
But the crowd’s levity was turned to gloom in the evening as Cummins struck sparks from the placid turf. Sir Neville Cardus would have been reminded of another darkhaired Australian fast bowler, Ted Mcdonald, to this day arguably the most valuable overseas signing any county has ever made as he propelled Lancashire to four championship titles in the five seasons from 1926, as his pace alone overcame Old Trafford’s placidity.
It was Hazlewood though, not Cummins, who was rewarded for Cummins’s efforts. Root would have been keener to get forward to the former had he not been pounded earlier by the latter.
Root’s head slumped – it was not worth wasting a review – as he realised he was not going to make a century, let alone a mammoth one such as Steve Smith’s.
Roy was defeated by much the same Hazlewood ball, angling in, but the best Test batsmen get something in the way at least, and are seldom clean bowled.
Roy, after playing some pleasant drives, threw his hands forwards into an attacking stroke, and was gone. At least, as the silver lining, Roy is guaranteed a second innings.