Ashes 2019 has now started to live upto its billing. After a tremendous come back from behind win by Australia in 1st test, we witnessed one of the finest drawn tests in recent memory in a game curtailed to a great extent by rain.
It was a riveting test match ,made even more so by two great talents of the modern game, the magnificent Steve Smith and the savage debutant fast bowler Jofra Archer. The 4th days play post lunch session saw one of the most riveting duels of recent times as the tall and slim Archer with his short ten paces runup and strong delivery action, started his pace blitz bowling grenades to the Australian batsmen clocking up to around 96 mph !! Steve Smith ,who has now taken up the role of the saviour of Australian batting much like Allan Border used to do in the mid 1980s, was battling along with skipper Tim Paine in a productive partnership. Archer first hit Smith then on 70 painfully on the left hand which stopped the game for several minutes for attention after which Smith continued in pain but little later on 80 Smith copped a severe blow around his neck ,below the ear as he tried to evade a searing Archer bouncer at 92 kph which knocked him down with the English fielders converging on him as were the medical staff of both the teams. There were concerns all around the ground. After several moments of tests etc Smith was compelled by the team doctor to retire hurt . Well, he came back after the fall of next wicket, hit few boundaries before misjudging a ball from Woakes to be out lbw for a gallant 92. Before receiving that knock , Smith took on Archer brilliantly and also hit few impressive boundaries off him including driven and pulled fours. It was a great contest between bat and ball by two highly talented and brilliant cricketers,one already a superstar and other an upcoming future star.
The Test itself actually began on 2nd day after the 1st day was fully rained out.Paine chose to bowl 1st with the hope that England may well bat majorly on the 5th day in 2nd innings. The Aussie quicks with Hazlewood bowling superbly on comeback managed to squeeze England in 1st innings but fighting half centuries by Bairstow(54) and Burns(53) with support from Woakes (32) managed to stretch England to 258. Root (14) again felled to an lbw as Cummins and Hazlewood picked up 3 wickets apiece but shoddy catching deprived Siddle of more wickets. Aussies in reply stuttered again with openers dismissed cheaply and Khawaja getting a pretty 36 but couldn’t consolidate which led Smith to play that brilliant innings rescuing act with the help of Paine (24) and Cummins(20). Broad and Woakes with 3 wickets apiece were brilliant , utilising the cloudy conditions but it was debudant Archer who provided the major impact with his searing spell vs Smith. England taking a slender 8 run lead were rocked in the 2nd innings with 2 early wickets and Root getting a 1st ball duck as Cummins looked threatening. However Burns (29) and Denly (26) managed to stem the rot helped by some poor catching and poor usage of reviews by Australia .However Siddle finally turned his luck getting both out to open up the match. Later Stokes and Buttler (31) played solidly through to 5th day. With England seemingly out of danger Stokes (115 no) unfurled his strokes to complete a superb century to set up a 267 target in 48 overs for Australia in the last phase of the test.
Another major event happened on the 5th morning with Steve Smith feeling unwell and groggy in the morning after his impact of the Archer bouncer though his arm was clear of fracture. Thus for the 1st time in cricket history a like-for-like concussion substitute was introduced and Marnus Labuschagne was fielded and became part of history.
Warner’s horror show continued as this time Archer snared him. Bowling extremely fast and with hostility Archer bowled like greased lightning and soon dismissed Khawaja cheaply and hit Labuschagne a sickening blow on his helmet grill 2nd ball with a nasty bouncer which knocked down the batsman. However Labuschagne was ok , did not fluster and looked solid. He showed tremendous courage to play behind the line of Archer’s thunderbolts. Bancroft (16) also showed good resilience till he was unlucky to be out to Leach as the ball kept low and hit him on his pads . Travis Head on his arrival looked unsettled but soon put up a solid stand with Labuschagne while also enjoying one huge slice of luck as Roy dropped a sitter off Stokes at slip. Labuschagne looked solid and positive to anything England hurled at him and just when it looked that both will see through Australia, Labuschagne’s sweep off Leach struck shortleg fielder and ricocheted in the air for Root to take a good diving catch at midwicket which was declared out after several replays ,one angle suggesting that ball was maybe grassed but 3rd umpire ruled “out” as there was no conclusive evidence to turn the decision. Thus Labuschagne (59) played a heroic innings to almost save Australia the day. This dismissal opened up England’s chances late in the day with Wade and Paine following cheaply ,latter to a stunning catch by Denly off a hook shot off Archer (3/32). However Cummins and Head (42no) played off the remaining overs without further damage to save the test for Australia.
It was a terrific test match and it appears that England seemed to have gained momentum shift in this series through Archer’s hostile presence. Archer took 5 wickets in the match but whether he has created some mental scars on the Australian batters by his physically threatening deliveries remains to be seen in the next test. Though England’s lower order batting did better ,their top order batting still looks vulnerable with Roy and Root struggling. As for Australia, they need to decide whether Starc needs to be introduced now in their pace attack to add more venom in order to counter the Archer factor. Their batting looks under big scrutiny and would have been blown away without Smith’s heroics in 1st innings. Smith has now scores of 144,142 and 92 in this series and had it not been for him ,Australia would have been trailing 0-2 in the series by now and with him being doubtful for 3rd test is a huge worry for Australia team . Substitute Labuschagne after his heroic 2nd innings gives them a good batting option and should be persisted for the rest of the series.
With this draw Australia reaches 36 points from 2 tests and England gets 12 points as per the Test Championships points format.
This series is a gripping thriller now. Cant wait for 3rd test. Australia leads 1-0 but England looks the more brighter team after 2nd test.