Australia extend lead despite wobble under lights

‘Lyon could sing Bohemian Rhapsody standing on his head at the moment’ (0:28)

Dan Brettig says Nathan Lyon and the other Australian bowlers could do no wrong as they put themselves in a strong position to potentially enforce the follow-on. (0:28)

Australia 8 for 442 dec and 4 for 53 (Handscomb 3*, Lyon 2*) lead England 227 (Overton 41*, Lyon 4-60, Starc 3-49) by 268 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

First, the good news for England. They still hold the Ashes. And they had the ball hooping and Australia’s batsmen hopping in a tense final session on the third day. But lest anyone get carried away with this impressive bowling display, led by James Anderson, it is worth remembering that Australia lead by 268 runs, with six wickets in hand. Unless they can roll Australia for under 117, England will need their all-time highest successful Test chase to win this match.

This was a day on which England clearly won the final session, reducing Australia to 4 for 53 in their second innings. But it was also a day on which their top scorer was the debutant No. 9, Craig Overton, with an unbeaten 41, and a day when they gave Steven Smith the option of enforcing the follow-on. He chose not to do so, preferring to give his bowlers a rest, but it was an interesting decision to make at the start of the tricky twilight batting period.

He must hope that his call will not backfire as Joe Root’s choice at the toss had. Root sent Australia in on a good batting surface, and watched as they batted into their sixth session and declared at 8 for 442. It was this hefty platform that gave Smith the confidence to bat again. By stumps, Smith was one of the four men to have lost his wicket, and Australia had Peter Handscomb at the crease on 3 alongside the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon, on 2.

Anderson and Chris Woakes had each picked up two wickets as the ball curled under the Adelaide Oval floodlights. Cameron Bancroft felt at an Anderson outswinger and was caught behind for 4. Usman Khawaja was squared up by an Anderson delivery that nipped away, and was lbw for 20. David Warner edged to slip off Woakes for an uncharacteristically subdued 14 off 60 balls. And Smith was lbw to a Woakes ball that nipped back in for 6.

Such a summary can barely capture the intensity of the session. For the first time in the match, Australia were playing for survival. Anderson in particular seemed to have the ball at his mercy, and was a few centimetres from having three wickets himself when Smith was given lbw to an inswinger from around the wicket, that was shown on review to have pitched a hair’s breadth outside the leg stump. But is it too little, too late for England?

Never one to mince his words, former England captain Michael Vaughan had said before play that his country needed to win every session today or the Ashes were lost. Within two hours, the word “whitewash” was beginning to cross his mind. That England fought back in the final session could undo the fact that they had collapsed to be all out for 227. Whatever the final prognosis, that alone affected the health of their campaign.

Four wickets in the opening session were followed by three in the second, and the innings was wrapped up quickly after the dinner break with two more breakthroughs as Lyon had Stuart Broad caught behind and then trapped Anderson lbw. In doing so, Lyon moved, if temporarily, to the top of Test cricket’s wicket tally for the 2017 calendar year. Like the chimera of Greek myth, Australia’s hybrid GOAT-Lyon creature is in fire-breathing form.

England had started the day at 1 for 29, knowing that a solid day of batting might have dragged them back into the contest. Instead, they lost James Vince from the ninth ball of the day when he tried to force Josh Hazlewood off the back foot and edged behind. That left England at 2 for 31, but it also brought together their two best batsmen as captain Joe Root joined his predecessor Alastair Cook at the crease.

But in trying to play positively, Root fell for 9 when he drove at a fullish delivery from Pat Cummins and edged to third slip, where Bancroft snapped up the opportunity. Cook too succumbed to a needless stroke when he pushed at an offbreak from Lyon and edged to Smith at slip on 37. Dawid Malan made 19 before he failed to negotiate a sharp delivery from Cummins that nipped back in and bounced, taking his inside edge on the way through to the wicketkeeper Tim Paine.

England were 5 for 128 at tea, and although their lower order fought, the damage had been done. Remarkably, all three wickets that came between tea and dinner were caught and bowled, and two of them among the most spectacular examples of the dismissal. Moeen Ali, who had managed 25 off 57 balls, began the trend when he was done by Lyon’s dip, driving uppishly away from the bowler, who dived full-length and plucked the chance in his left hand to leave England at 6 for 132.

Not to be outdone, Mitchell Starc threw his right hand out to intercept a well-struck Jonny Bairstow drive, and the ball lobbed up behind Starc, allowing him to complete the catch on the second grab. Near the end of the session, Starc completed the easiest of the trio of return catches when Woakes top-edged an attempted pull and the bowler barely needed to move to collect the skied opportunity.

Woakes and Overton had put together a 66-run eighth-wicket stand. Combined with the fine bowling in the last session, it was enough to keep England in the match. But only barely.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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