The Ashes 2019 – First Test, Days 2 and 3: England surge ahead, but don’t consolidate.



It’s been a while since the glory of test matches rolled over Australian TVs. The twists and turns that occur over just one or two days of play, let alone five, makes it an unpredictable affair that isn’t completely finished until the umpires say so.


Following Steve Smith’s first day heroics, the scene was perfectly set for the returning James Pattinson to write his own remarkable story. Alongside his young comrade Pat Cummins, the two young tearaway quicks that Australia had patiently waited to pull through injury concerns were to be partnered by the elderly master in Peter Siddle. The old teacher, mentor. Nudging them into bowling at certain areas, maintaining the calm at one end and allowing his proteges to unleash down the other. But what test cricket, through England, taught us on day two was that not all fairytales follow that storyline. For now, Smith’s century may be done so in a losing effort.


Roy fell quickly, and a winter’s Friday night in Australia called for taking up the possie in front of the TV. With Pattinson the wicket-taker, the narrative appeared to be unfolding easily, just like it had been imagined. The fiery Vic continued to steam in with his typical aggression, putting everything into his bowling. It’s easy to see how both he and Cummins injured themselves frequently – both put everything into their bowling and use maximum effort in their delivery action. Unfortunately, Cummins with the new ball wasn’t as grand as promised. He bowled too short and didn’t give the ball any chance to be nicked off a full length. Siddle held down the fort but only occasionally looked dangerous. Burns, with his awkward technique, never looked comfortable. But he stayed.


The lefty survived Lyon’s bowling into the rough, which made life awkward, managing to judge when to leave superbly. The Aussie pacemen reverted too often to bowling around the wicket, where Burns also made superb decisions about which deliveries to play at. In hindsight, coming over the wicket more often may have created a worse angle for Burns more often, especially with Pattinson and Siddle’s ability to swing the ball back into the opener.


The runs didn’t come quickly – in fact, England scored under 300 for the day despite only losing four wickets. Root was solid, but never totally got going. However, when passing 50 he looked dangerous, much like he did in the Sydney test of the 2017/18 Ashes series. But just when the century began to take shape, Siddle produced some magic out of nothing. His one-handed return catch looked set to be the spark, but Burns and Denly set to calming the crowd.


Denly got a start and then was undone by Pattinson, who couldn’t try any harder even if he wanted to. Regardless of what happens, Patto should be given another go at Lord’s, perhaps alongside a Starc or Hazlewood with the new ball.


Thankfully Buttler stuttered and fell early, but the infamous Stokes wasn’t going to let the Aussies off the hook. Accompanying Burns, who meandered his way through to a gritty ton that suggested he may be an opener in the mould of South Africa’s Dean Elgar, Stokes then bludgeoned forward. He continued his World Cup form, showing great confidence in certain advances up the wicket. The Aussies lacked some variety, some X-factor. Some Mitchell Starc and his left-arm seamers may be the aspect the pace attack lacks. With Siddle in there, it all looks too similar. Cummins, due to his lack of swing, is also better suited as a first change bowling in these conditions.


Day 3 promised to be an open slather for the Aussies. They had struggled through the second day and had given up all emotional momentum they held. Smith’s ton was now far away, and the bowlers had to strike early or else the game would be taken away from them.


In the true Aussie way, they managed to fight hard and get the early breakthrough. Cummins still reverted to shorter bowling, but managed to undo Stokes with a sizzler of a ball outside off. Bairstow stood between Nathan Lyon and Moeen Ali, as the bowlers could sense a chance to save face. Luckily, Lyon finally induced Burns into playing at a biting ball outside off, and Paine took a wonderful catch on a tricky pitch for keeping. Lyon had his chance.


It only took him a couple of deliveries, and he tricked Ali into leaving a ball going straight into the off stump. When Bairstow cut a ball way to close to his body and edged it on to slip, the Aussies had won a significant mental battle. A few players languishing in confidence in the middle order had fallen cheaply, and in Ali’s case, it may have significant consequences on his bowling in what is becoming a spin-friendly pitch.


With the Poms only in front by 30, the Aussies were two wickets away from being right in the game. Unfortunately, Woakes and Broad stood up once again to thwart their rivals. The bowling plan to Broad wasn’t right – had they not learnt from Mitchell Johnson and co how to scare him into a wicket? Eventually Cummins dug it in short enough to frighten Broad and have him moving around and flicking it to the fine-leg fielder. Anderson held on stubbornly, refusing to let his game be defined by his day one injury. Important runs were leaked, and the Poms eventually fell with a strong lead.


Broad was in the mood, and he quickly got Warner with some brilliant new-ball bowling. Bancroft’s confidence was ever decreasing, and Ali got him cheaply. Once again Smith would be called upon to save Australia – but was this one time too many? What impact would his first innings knock have on his second? At the end of day three, one may say absolutely none. He looked in better touch, scoring freely and playing some breathtaking shots. Khawaja also hit form, driving with conviction and flicking off his legs gracefully. But Stokes produced a jaffer to nick him off, and drive a dagger into the Aussies’ guts. It could have been worse – with Head batting fluently before the close to give Australia a small lead going into day four.


Where will this game go? It’s completely and utterly in the balance. A lot rests on Smith to push the Aussies to a lead that they can defend. Head and Wade are also important, while Ali must regain his spark and fizz if the Poms are to rip through Australia and set up a win on day four. The only thing that can be guaranteed is that anything can happen. And isn’t that what makes test cricket so fascinating?



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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