England’s inconsistency with the bat finally worked in their favour today, with a couple of the batsmen finally showing an above-average Test performance. On a personal level it was slightly annoying, as I had already pencilled in what I was going to write in today’s report, and scheduled stuff to do tomorrow. Joe Root’s decision to actually bat longer than a session was, quite frankly, massively inconsiderate.
The first half of the day showed no deviation from the expected script. England’s tired bowlers struggled to take the final four Australian wickets, with an inadvisable run off a misfield eventually leading to Marnus Labuschagne’s dismissal. Archer was the main strike bowler for the hosts yet again, taking the wickets of two Australian tailenders plus giving Labuschagne’s grill another testing blow, but Stokes and Broad also bowled fairly well.
Puzzlingly, Chris Woakes didn’t get a chance with the ball this morning. It seems an odd choice on paper by Root, since Woakes has taken more wickets than Stokes at a lower average so far in this series. Given the lack of trust shown in his bowling, it seems likely Woakes will be the one expected to make way for Anderson if the veteran seamer is considered fit to return by England’s medical staff. Apart from a series of solid (but by no means amazing) bowling performances in the series, the allrounder also has the third-highest series batting average for England. He’s scored more runs than Bairstow, Roy and Buttler, and yet is more likely than any of those three to be dropped. Life is just not fair. Especially if you’re an English bowler.
England’s batting seemed to be following the pattern of recent games, with two quick wickets at the start. Burns was the first to go, fending a bouncer to the slips. Roy followed a few balls later after being bowled by Cummins after playing down the wrong line.
This left Root and Denly at the crease, with 69 overs left to survive in the day and (even more unlikely) 344 more runs needed to win the game. Denly rode his luck early, being lucky enough to miss the assorted wild drives to full and wide deliveries from the Australian quicks. But, over time, he settled down and made a partnership with Root which somehow lasted most of the day.
Eventually it was a bouncer which did for Denly. The Australian bowlers had targeted his head and body through the day with some success, and he finally fended one with his gloves which looped into the wicketkeeper’s welcoming hands. Having scored fifty runs in this innings, it’s hard to see England dropping him for the remaining two games. On one hand, Denly was under pressure, with many people (including myself) calling for him to be dropped, and he delivered. On the other hand, Australia might well think that he’s vulnerable to the short ball and bowl accordingly.
Joe Root’s 75* was no doubt a huge relief for England’s captain after he had made two consecutive ducks in his previous innings. We all know he’s an extraordinarily capable batsman, once compared to Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, but it’s been a lean couple of years for him. (It’s been even more lean for Smith, of course, due to his ban for cheating) Whatever the reason, his form has declined from ‘great’ to ‘good’, and then again from ‘good’ to ‘good enough for England’. Hopefully this innings will allow him to rebuild his confidence and Test batting, although I’ve seen too many flashes in the pan to be very optimistic on that score.
Root and Stokes were still there at the close of play, with England on 156/3 needing 203 more runs to win. It’s still massively unlikely that they can cause an upset, but at the same time it’s significantly more likely than it was this time yesterday.
It’s the hope that hurts the most, I find.
Finally, we were ‘just’ four overs short today. I think we saw that one coming…