England’s ambition to bring the ashes home after getting the World cup home for the first time in the same season was finally dashed.
Australia absolutely brilliant at Manchester beating England by 185 runs ,after their heartbreaking loss at Leeds. With their currently 2-1 series lead they have now retained the Ashes in England for 1st time since 2001, with one test to play. All possible due to their top quality bowling attack and the presence of an unreal bloke who is holding their batting together all by himself by taking his own batting to exceptional heights not witnessed in recent memory.
The 5th days play was a battle of attrition, with England batting trying everything possible to grind out against the quality Australian attack as the target of 383 is a far fetched one specially after Pat Cummins ripped off Burns and Root in the 1st over late on 4th day. Root was out to an unplayable delivery, pitched and moved away to hit top of off. On 5th day Denly (53) and Roy (31) did the stonewalling effort well till the brilliant Cummins finally broke through Roy’s defences and had Stokes caught behind. After Denly was consumed by the bounce of Lyon, Bairstow (25) after a hard grind finally fell lbw to Starc. However Buttler(34) and Craig Overton battled long enough to raise England’s hope’s of a draw. Just when frustration was creeping in for Australia, Buttler misjudged a Hazlewood incutter to get bowled .Soon Lyon had Archer lbw and Australia now looked to wrap up the game. However ,the hero of Leeds, Jack Leach promoted to number 10 batted solidly with Overton. Overs were ticking by and the Aussie players and fans were getting tensed. Leach was looking solid again like Leeds . It finally took a brilliant piece of captaincy by Tim Paine to replace Lyon with the leggie Labuschagne, who managed to pitch one ball on the rough which turned and bounced to hit Leach’s (12) gloves for easy catch to short leg. Soon Hazlewood had the gallant Overton (21) batting for 2 hours,lbw to complete the win in a riveting 5th days play.
Cummins (4/43) and Hazlewood (2/31) were brilliant in the 2nd innings well supported by Lyon and Starc.
It was however Steve Smith’s match. He is the main difference between the two teams. He didnt play at Leeds and Australia batting struggled and lost the test. Though Marnus Labuschagne has shown tremendous resilience and temperament since he has come into the XI , he is only a star in the making ,who is yet to get those big match defining scores. And to be brutally honest, the rest of the Australian batting has looked extremely fragile, with not a single player showing any solidity against the England bowling in which Broad looked menacing and Archer bowling well too. David Warner is having a horror series and collected the 1st pair of his test career in this test. He is a walking wicket to Broad and may well be replaced at the Oval, such poor has been his test form after a brilliant World cup. In the Australian first innings Smith and Labuschange joined forces after the openers were despatched early by Broad . Both Smith and Labuschange has played the brand new ball at the start of each of their knocks in this series ,which enhances the quality of their efforts. After Labuschagne (67) was dismissed a scoring his 4th successive 50 , Smith took total control of the innings as Head and Wade went cheaply. Skipper Tim Paine played his first quality knock of 58 in this series to give Smith company who was ruthless in his run making and finally relented after his double hundred (211). One big moment of the match came when Leach dismissed Smith at 118 off a no ball which hurt England badly as Smith added a further 93 runs to his score. All talks of how Smith will measure up to the bouncer barrage of Archer ,and whether there will be mental scars were unfounded as Smith toyed with the English bowling as his marathon knock progressed. This was an innings to settle a few scores (after his Lords episode with Archer) and he came out with flying colours. The English bowlers just could not find a way to control him and dismiss him . Later Starc’s (54no) fine knock helped Australia to declare at 497/8 in 1st innings.
Australia pace attack applied relentless pressure as England struggled hard in their first innings with Burns (81) and Root (71) getting 50s and Root again failing to get a big score. The rest of the batting save Buttler (41) to some extent failed to counter the Aussie pace barrage and barely managed to save the follow on being 301 allout with Hazlewood (4/57) showing his class ,supported by Cummins (3/60) and Starc(3/80).
England bowlers however hit back strongly to initiate a resurgence as Australia slumped to 44/4 in 2nd innings . Again Steve Smith walked out to a brand new ball with the bowlers fresh and hostile. After initially playing the holding game to resurrect the innings Smith (82 off 92 balls) gradually changed gears in the company of more sedate Mathew Wade(34) and played some scintillating shots to help Australia to declare at 186/6 with himself getting out trying to force the pace instead of playing for personal glory. Thus England’s hope’s of making a grand comeback to set up a close final day was nipped in the bud by another Steve Smith special. Comparisons with the Don is inevitable now such is Steve Smith’s current impact in World cricket after having wrested back the test number one batting spot from Virat Kohli within 3 tests after returning from his one year ban.
England have their batting issues of their own. Root’s inability to play the big innings in keeping with his stature is hurting them. Jason Roy’s technical struggles continue. Most of their batsmen are doing just about enough to keep their team spots without playing the big match defining knocks with the possible exception of Stokes. Denly, Bairstow, Buttler are not progressing beyond their 30s and 40s. The backup bowling has struggled to keep up the pressure created often by Broad and Archer.
With the series in its final stages ,battingwise both teams continue to look fragile with Smith being the big difference between the sides . Australia will definitely look to win the last test to win the series and England will give their all to make it 2-2. And also with points at stake for the World test championships, the final test at Oval promises to be another rivetting contest.