3rd Ashes Test, Day Three: Inconsistent

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…

England v Ireland, One Off Test*, Day 2 – Same Old Shit, Plus Jack Leach

Wally Hammond. Herbert Sutcliffe. Sir Len Hutton. Jack Leach. Just four of the 28 English batsmen of all-time to have Test career averages above 45 as opener, and Leach is the only one to do so since Strauss’ retirement in 2012. Scoring 92 runs from 162 balls, the opener from Somerset has almost certainly secured his place in the side for the forthcoming Ashes series.

Jason Roy also showed some of his one-day form in this innings, having been demoted to three. Smashing 72 from 78 balls is an impressive feat in Test cricket, and showed how he was probably always better suited for the middle order. England’s issue is that they only have one capable top order batsman in Leach, and seven or eight who would be best suited batting at five.

Not that this should be any excuse for what happened after their talismanic opening bat lost his wicket. When Murtagh finally tempted Leach to edge one to slip, the ball was 45 overs old and the Irish had been fielding in sweltering conditions for half of the day. It was a huge opportunity for England’s aggressive batsmen to annihilate the tourists in great conditions, and instead they folded like a cheap deckchair. From 182/3, they slid to 249/7. Bairstow bagged a pair, although at least he got his pad in the way of one instead of being clean bowled this time. Denly had a comedy run out, although he wasn’t laughing. Moeen Ali edged a short ball to the wicketkeeper. Root failed to convert his promising start into a fifty. It was deja vu all over again.

And so, for the umpteenth time, it fell to the bowlers to put a respectable face on proceedings. The 8th, 9th and 10th wicket partnerships have added 65 runs so far, taking England’s lead to 181 runs. That is already a tough task for Ireland, having been restricted to 207 in their first innings. If Broad and Stone were able to add another 20 runs for the final wicket tomorrow then you might say England were favourites to win.

The day ended prematurely with thunderstorms and rain, which has the pleasant side effect of ensuring a decent amount of play tomorrow (weather permitting). Sean ( @thegreatbucko ) and Chris ( @thelegglance ) both have tickets for day three (although not seated together), so there will likely be in-depth match reports from them in the coming days. Once the hangovers wear off, at least.

Ireland have a real shot of a famous first Test victory at Lord’s tomorrow, and it could well be an exciting climax. No doubt the opportunity to do it against England will make it even sweeter for the Irish.

If you have any comments on the game, or embarassing pictures of Chris and Sean in the stands tomorrow, post them below.