Ashes 3rd Test, day two – England 31-4 (Root 12*, Stokes 2* | Boland 2-1) ) trail Australia 267 (Harris 76, Warner 38 | Anderson 4-33) by 51 runs
England’s Ashes hopes are hanging by a thread after a dramatic day in Melbourne that saw a Covid scare in the touring camp, a fightback with the ball and then yet another batting collapse.
At stumps on day two of this third Test, England, who had earlier bowled Australia out for 267, were 31 for four, still 51 runs behind and with their series hopes now almost totally reliant on the bat of captain Root.
The Yorkshireman came to the crease with his side seven for two and facing a hat-trick ball from Mitchell Starc after the Australia fast bowler dismissed Zak Crawley and Dawid Malan in successive deliveries.
Root at least managed to survive, reaching the close unbeaten on 12 alongside Ben Stokes.
Given just 58 minutes to bat at the end of this second day, things couldn’t have gone much worse for England’s misfiring top order.
Haseeb Hameed and nightwatchman Jack Leach also went in the space of three deliveries from debutant Scott Boland as England’s hopes of victory – and a revival in the series from 2-0 down – were all but wiped out.
Unless their captain gets his maiden Test century in Australia – and makes it a big one – there is no hope of a recovery from this perilous position. He will need help, too, with Stokes the man best equipped to join Root in a salvage mission that would surely rival the all-rounder’s batting heroics in the 2019 Ashes at Headingly.
England were indebted to James Anderson’s mastery with the ball, the 39-year-old rolling back the years with a haul of four for 33 that restricted Australia’s first-innings lead to something that should have been manageable. With the hosts set to bat last on a pitch already showing variable bounce, there is a sliver of hope that all is not lost for England. Yet they will need to bat well on day three to make that even a possibility.
That’s presuming we get a third day. Earlier, four positive cases in the touring party identified by lateral flow tests in the morning had delayed the start in Melbourne by half an hour. The whole series may now be resting on the results of further PCR tests on both squads and their families that should come before the start of the third day’s play.
“Hotspot is f**king useless”: Given out lbw to Ben Stokes on 36, Marcus Harris successfully reviewed after Real Time Snicko showed the ball hitting bat before pad. The infra-red camera used to detect edges had showed nothing, prompting Harris to tell Stokes “hotspot is f**king useless”. If this had been the first Test in Brisbane the opener would have been out as RTS wasn’t in use then thanks to Queensland’s Covid travel restrictions that locked out the technicians operating it.
Buttler’s drops another clanger: Jos Buttler hasn’t enjoyed a great series, with six missed chances across the first two Tests. He reprieved Harris here too, missing a stumping chance off Jack Leach when the Australian was on 63. The wicketkeeper also dropped Steve Smith on five earlier in the day, albeit off a very difficult chance.
Leach comes to the party: Jack Leach, England’s beleaguered spinner, had a moment of redemption two overs after tea when he trapped Cameron Green lbw, the Australian’s review failing on an umpire’s call as the hosts lost their seventh wicket shortly before the second new ball is due.
Starc state of play for England: Dawid Malan has been England’s second best batter on this tour behind Joe Root – and by some distance. But when he was pinned lbw first ball by Mitchell Starc, England were seven for two. Malan reviewed but the wicket stood on an umpire’s call and Starc found himself on a hat-trick having done for Zak Crawley the previous ball.
No Jack of all trades this time: When nightwatchman Leach was bowled by Scott Boland four minutes before the close he became England’s 52nd duck of 2021 – just two shy of equalling their most for a calendar year set in 1998. It also saw the tourists collapse to 22 for four.
Player of the day: James Anderson
At 39, it’s a miracle England’s all-time leading wicket-taker is actually on this Ashes tour. But he was easily his team’s best bowler on day two, taking four for 33 from 23 overs at an economy rate of just 1.43 runs per over.
Quote of the day
“We’ve all seen Jimmy Anderson tour Australia and we’ve seen him bowl in England. I would go as far to say today is the best I’ve seen Jimmy Anderson bowl in Australia.” – Aussie spin legend Shane Warne praises England’s seam legend
What England need to do next
Hope Root and Stokes can put on a huge partnership with the bat that not only wipes out the deficit but gives their team a significant lead. Others, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler are the last recognised batsmen, will also need to chip in. Then they will need the bowlers to come to the party again to put pressure on Australia during the run chase. Simple…