England's bowlers battle back to restore ascendancy

Australia 76 for 3 (Smith 19*, Handscomb 14*) trail England 302 (Vince 83, Stoneman 53) by 226 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

England’s bowlers restored their team’s ascendancy after their batsmen had failed to press home a hard-earned position of dominance, as the first Test at the Gabba exploded into life amid a flurry of wickets on a livelier second-day deck. By tea, Australia’s first innings was being marshalled by their captain, Steve Smith, after the loss of three prime wickets including the huge scalp of David Warner for 26.

Having inched along to 196 for 4 on a cat-and-mouse opening day, England made it through the first hour of an elongated morning session without further loss, as Moeen Ali and Dawid Malan carried their fifth-wicket stand to 83. But thereafter, wickets tumbled like the Barmy Army’s sobriety levels – six for 56 as England’s innings shuddered to an underwhelming 302 all out, before Australia put that total in some sort of context by reaching 76 for 3 in reply.

The first breakthrough was delivered, as so often in recent Ashes contests, by Stuart Broad, who found some extra zip outside the off stump of the debutant Cameron Bancroft, for Jonny Bairstow to swallow the thin nick and send him on his way for 5. James Anderson also threatened the edge with a disciplined new-ball spell, but the arrival of Usman Khawaja at No.3 prompted Joe Root to take an early look at the offspin of Moeen Ali – emboldened, no doubt, by the earlier success of Nathan Lyon, who had been the pick of Australia’s bowlers in spite of his underwhelming figures of 2 for 78.

Khawaja’s career has been scattered with failures against fingerspin – he lost his Test place in the subcontinent due to doubts about his technique – and sure enough, Moeen needed just two deliveries to bag his man. Khawaja watched one turn appreciably past his off stump, then had no answer whatsoever to a tighter, fuller follow-up that pinned him lbw for 11.

Warner, by this stage, was settling into his groove – without ever letting rip with his full power and fury, he had nevertheless greeted Moeen with a rasping drive for four, and had eased along to 26 when the unassuming seam of Jake Ball did him like a kipper. Latching onto a back-of-a-length delivery, Warner swivelled into a half-hearted pull, and Malan at short midwicket juggled briefly before clinging on at the second attempt.

It was a vital riposte from England, whose own batsmen looked at one stage to have had laid the foundations for a formidable total. But, despite having kept Australia in the field for 117 overs, their tactic of prioritising time over intent was undermined by a series of injudicious dismissals, as they tumbled from 246 for 4 to 302 all out in a harum-scarum display.

The momentum swing was initiated at precisely the moment when it seemed that Australia were running short of ideas. Despite resuming with a new ball that had been a mere three deliveries old, Australia’s seamers found themselves thwarted by Moeen and Malan, and when Starc returned for his second spell shortly after the drinks break, he opted for a barrage of short balls that appeared to be an optimistic approach given the sluggish nature of the deck.

It certainly did not appear to have fazed Malan in the least. The third of England’s Ashes debutants to make his mark with a half-century, Malan twice latched onto fierce pulls as Starc dropped short, one of which fizzed away for four, while the other clanged savagely into Cameron Bancroft’s visor at short leg.

But, undeterred, Starc persisted with his approach, found some extra height with his next bouncer to take the delivery out of Malan’s comfort zone, and Shaun Marsh at square leg – whose previous involvement had been to rip Starc’s trousers with his studs in an awkward tangle in the outfield – clung onto a top-edged pull to deliver Starc his 150th Test wicket.

Eight deliveries later, England had been left with two new batsmen on 0 when Moeen Ali stretched forward to the persevering Nathan Lyon, and was pinned lbw on the front foot for 38. A review could not save Moeen, but the wicket was just reward for Lyon, Australia’s outstanding bowler of the first two days, who had sent down a series of utter jaffas in the course of his morning’s work without ever finding the edge or the stumps.

Four balls later, however, Lyon found both, as Chris Woakes gave himself room to drive against the spin – never a good idea when the ball is gripping – and inside-edged another big turner into his stumps for a fourth-ball duck. England had shed three wickets for four runs in the space of 18 deliveries, and much as had been the case when a Peter Siddle hat-trick wrecked their first innings at the Gabba in 2010-11, their innings had been reduced to pure damage limitation.

Jonny Bairstow was, on this occasion, unable to stem the flow. He had been retained at No.7 in spite of the absence of Ben Stokes, largely due to his talent at batting with England’s tail. However, this time he chose the wrong ball to attack as Pat Cummins returned to the attack, and in attempting a hoist through the leg side, he top-edged a steepler to Tim Paine behind the stumps for 9.

Ball gave it some humpty to enliven England’s muted fans, edging a first-ball four from Lyon through the slips before tonking two more in quick succession, a lusty sweep and a fierce cut through point. But, with his tail up, Starc pounded in and picked off his man, as Ball hopped from leg to off to flick firmly off his pads, only to be brilliantly caught by a flying Warner at leg gully for 14.

That wicket fell in the scheduled final over before lunch, meaning that play was extended by half an hour as Anderson came out to join Broad – a partnership that they might, at one stage, have assumed would not be resumed until England were in the field.

Anderson, not unusually, was the subject of a barrage of verbals and bouncers, one of which he heaved deftly over the cordon for four. Broad, meanwhile, should have been dismissed at fine leg to signal the end of the innings, only for Marsh to spill a dolly over the boundary for four. Emboldened by his life, he slammed Starc through midwicket for another boundary to haul England past the 300 mark. However, his luck could not last, and where Marsh had erred, Handscomb displayed safe hands to give Josh Hazlewood his first wicket of the series.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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