England chip away at Australia in crucial Test

England chip away at Australia in crucial Test

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Fourth LV= Insurance Ashes Test, Emirates Old Trafford (day one of five):
Australia: 299-8 (Labuschagne 51, Marsh 51; Woakes 4-52)
England: Yet to bat
Scorecard

England chipped away at Australia’s batting on a tense and fluctuating first day of the crucial fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford.

At 2-1 down and needing to win to force a series decider at The Oval, England struck at regular intervals to leave the tourists 299-8 at the close.

Stuart Broad took two, with the second – Travis Head hooking to long leg – making him only the fifth bowler in Test history to reach 600 wickets.

Chris Woakes was the most consistently dangerous – his 4-52 included a magnificent catch from under-fire wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow to remove Mitchell Marsh.

Though England won the toss, Australia, who only need to draw one of the final two Tests to retain the urn, were presented with ideal batting conditions.

But scores of 51 each from Marsh and Marnus Labuschagne, 48 to Head and 41 by Steve Smith tell a tale of batters doing the hard work but failing to make telling contributions.

Indeed, at 255-7 Australia were in danger of being bowled out inside a day, only for Alex Carey and Mitchell Starc to resist.

As the close drew near, Woakes removed Carey with the second new ball, leaving England with the opportunity to mop up the tail on Thursday morning.

All this against the backdrop of bad weather that is forecast to disrupt the final two days, possibly adding another variable in a series that has already produced three tight finishes.

Even day at tense Old Trafford

Perhaps because the stakes are so high, this was a nervy occasion, not helped by the tight nature of the cricket. Only after Bairstow’s stunning grab in the evening session did the Old Trafford Party Stand find its voice.

England’s decision to field first was based on necessity. With the bad weather due at the weekend, the home side needed to give themselves as much time as possible to take 20 Australian wickets.

When the coin landed in Ben Stokes’ favour for the fourth consecutive match in this series, the overheads suggested a favourable time to bowl, but by the time play began the sun was shining and did so for the remainder of the day.

Therefore, on a flat pitch, it could be that Australia did not make the most of the best batting day of the match – certainly the amount of batters who got out after making starts points to a collective lack of ruthlessness.

By the end, little had been determined, neither side able to say with certainty they had grabbed the upper hand.

England chip away

This was an impressive performance by England with the ball and in the field. To be hyper-critical, they occasionally bowled a touch too wide but, on the whole carried a regular threat and, importantly, held all of their chances.

Broad was wayward with the new ball but still removed Usman Khawaja, then bowled a beautiful spell after tea that included bouncing out Head for the milestone 600th wicket.

Mark Wood had the pace to draw a mistake from Smith, Moeen Ali found turn and pinned Labuschagne leg before, while James Anderson was economical bowling from the end that carries his name.

The pick, though, was Woakes, recalled to play a vital role in the win at Headingley and rewarded for maintaining a full length here.

He drew David Warner into an edge in the morning session, then bowled a crucial spell in the evening that included removing Cameron Green and Marsh in the same over.

Bairstow, under-pressure for his glovework, had been untidy throughout the day, but the swoop to his right to grasp the edge off Marsh was as spectacular as it was unexpected. Sitting on the floor with both fists clenched, he celebrated with gusto.

It looked like England would be defied by Carey and Starc, yet the dependable Woakes was trusted with the second new ball, taking an edge as Carey looked to leave.

Australia miss their chance

Even if captain Pat Cummins said he would have bowled first, Australia knew they were one strong batting performance away from effectively retaining the urn.

The tourists had even lengthened their line-up by including all-rounder Green at the expense of spinner Todd Murphy, but could still not take full advantage of the flat pitch and warm sun.

Only Khawaja, trapped on the crease by Broad, failed to get in. There were partnerships of 46, 59, 63 and 65 for the second, third, fourth and sixth wickets respectively, only for the majority of the top order to find sloppy ways of getting out.

Warner at least avoided falling to Broad, but played a loose drive at Woakes. Smith looked ominous until he played across the line against Wood. Labuschagne made his first half-century of the series, then missed an innocuous delivery from Moeen.

Head was suckered into England’s short-ball plan and, as Marsh and Green looked to to be swinging the day Australia’s way, both fell in the space of five Woakes deliveries.

Carey and Starc dropped anchor, their stand of 39 coming at little more than two runs an over, before Carey’s misjudgement against Woakes.

That left Starc unbeaten on 23, joined by skipper Cummins on one.

‘Australia have lost an opportunity’ – reaction

Former England captain Michael Vaughan on Test Match Special: “I’m intrigued by this pitch, I don’t think you can play aggressively constantly. England will come out and bat quickly. Australia have lost an opportunity here.”

England bowler Stuart Broad: “My mum has been an amazing support for me and her mindset has always been playing for fun and it always felt like a hobby to me.

“I’ve reconnected massively with that – Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes that’s been their philosophy and I’ve loved every moment of it.”

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