England get vital lead as Australia fightback

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03 Aug 2019 | 05:56 PM
authorArjun Ganesh

England get vital lead as Australia fightback

Smith, Head battle after hosts get 90-run advantage

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On Friday, lady luck’s smile beamed on England and come Saturday, they seemed to enjoy divine assistance.

Of course, it was all part of an act from the ever-entertaining extraordinary Edgabaston audience.

A 15-member strong group was in attendance dressed as cardinals from the Vatican and one imitating the appearance of the Pope.

It surely had nothing to do with what was unfolding on the pitch but one couldn’t help assume a connection as the hosts built a lead of 90 runs from an unfavorable position.

After the likes of Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali were unsuccessful in making a contribution of note, Chris Woakes, and Stuart Broad hung in on a tiring pitch and stitched a 65-run partnership, exceeding all expectations.

During the game against Ireland, before The Ashes, Australian legend Mark Waugh, had tweeted saying he felt Rory Burns looked more like the nightwatchman when batting with bowler Jack Leach, who scored 92.

Waugh was made to eat humble pie on Friday as Burns stormed to a maiden Test hundred and on Saturday he remained gritty to take the Three Lions past Australia’s total.

Resuming the day on 267 for four and just 17 runs shy of Australia’s total, Burns and Ben Stokes were a little on edge wildly swiping at a few balls outside the off-stump but survived, inching towards an invaluable first-innings lead.

All the swinging did eventually cost Stokes his wicket but not before he had reached his half century (50 off 96).

The out of sorts Bairstow and Ali then went in successive overs succumbing to some ordinary strokes before Woakes and Broad were tasked with bulging the 16-run lead.

As they obliged with some smart cricket, it was looking more and more like England’s game to lose considering how the pitch had begun to play.

Just after lunch, James Pattinson steamed in and delivered one at 86 MPH. What should have flown into Tim Paine’s gloves instead dribbled through to Australia’s skipper. Was this Birmingham or Galle was the question!

Nevertheless, England helped themselves to what could be a match-winning lead before being bowled out for 374.

David Warner and Cameron Bancroft didn’t have the ideal return to Test cricket in the first innings and their woes continued in the second.

Broad reached a milestone of 450 wickets when he dismissed Warner for 8. A circumspect Warner was undecided on whether he should leave a ball outside his off stick, getting a faint edge from the tail end of his willow.

Bancroft too failed once again as he fell to the wily off-spin of Moeen Ali after a painful 31-ball vigil that yielded just 31 runs.

Usman Khawaja looked effervescent as Steve Smith and he began reducing the deficit. But it wasn’t meant to be for Khawaja as he wasted another good start of 40 from 47 balls – Stokes striking in his very first over.

Ironically, Smith has the number 49 printed on the back of his shirt. As the former skipper neared yet another half-century, gloomy skies enveloped Birmingham. Conditions were deemed too dangerous for play and Australia ended day three 124 for three, 34 runs ahead of the hosts.

Weather may play spoilsport at Edgbaston but there is one guarantee: entertainment. Cricketing action aside, supporters were having a field day turning up in various avatars. Apart from the Pope and cardinals, there was one set dressed up as England’s victorious 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning side, and guess what, even baby Trump made an appearance.

Whatever the outcome of the Test, or the series, this has been the ideal curtain-raiser so far.

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