England took a 2-1 series lead in the Ashes 2015 after wrapping up an eight-wicket win over Australia on Day 3 of the third Test at Edgbaston.
For the first 45 minutes of the day, the raucous Hollies stand at Edgbaston was kept quiet by an obdurate eighth-wicket partnership between the Australian overnight batsmen Peter Nevill (59) andMitchell Starc (58). However, the Birmingham crowd soon found their full voice as Australia’s tail was eventually cleaned up by England minutes before lunch, but not before setting the hosts a modest, yet defendable, target of 121 to win.
England lost their two openers Alastair Cook (7) and Adam Lyth (12) early, but were taken safely home by the resurgent home boy, Ian Bell (65 not out), and Joe Root (38), egged on by deafening chants of support for the home side and colourful words for the opposition.
If England did not know what type of pitch they wanted at the end of the Lord’s Test, they sure do now after wrapping up the Edgbaston match inside three days. The grassless surface in North West London was made with an intent of nullifying the Australian pace attack instead of boosting the home side’s own, which eventually led to a 405-run defeat for the Three Lions.
Over to the West Midlands 10 days later and there was a tinge of green on what was a fantastic wicket for both batsmen and bowlers — a proper Test match wicket. The fact that the match ended under three days could only be put down to the fact that Australia, for the second time in this series, put in a woeful all-round performance.
The team that wins the first day of a Test match usually ends up winning it, so it is safe to say that Australia had lost any hope of getting a positive result in this game when they were bowled out for 136 on Day 1 in under three hours, especially after winning the toss.
As bad as they were with the bat, the Australians flattered to deceive with the ball in the first innings, Mitchell Johnson in particular, whose two snorters in his first over took the wickets — and almost the heads — of Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes. England’s score was 142-5 at that point and with the better part of four days to play, it looked as if Australia were scripting a remarkable comeback.
However, it was not to be as the Australian bowlers failed to find the consistency that won them the Lord’s Test. Mitchell Starc sprayed it around like a drunkard in the loo, while Johnson lost all his momentum, as Root (63), Bell (53), Moeen Ali (59) and even Stuart Broad (31) made hay. “They were terrific bowling conditions — overcast, bit of rain around — but we just could not hit the areas consistently,” admitted Australian captain Michael Clarke, after the match.
Australia batted relatively better in their second essay, making 265 and thereby setting their bowlers a defendable total of 121, but could have easily got more had their middle order contributed more runs. If you leave out the Lord’s Test, the Australian numbers three to six have managed only 239 runs between them at less than 15 apiece.
The two batsmen who stick out when it comes to the middle order’s poor form are Clarke (94 runs in six innings at 18.80) and Adam Voges (73 runs in five innings at 14.60). Clarke was quick to acknowledge his shortcomings, saying that his batting form was akin to Australia playing with 10 men.
“It’s always going to be hard to beat any opposition when they’ve got 11 and we’ve only got 10,” he said. “At the moment that’s how it feels with my performance so far. I certainly haven’t led from the front like I’d like to do as captain. I’m very clear that’s a big part of my role as the leader of this team that I’m scoring plenty of runs to set an example. Number four is such a critical position and you’ve got to score more runs I have been scoring so far.”
Clarke said that the thought of hanging up his bat had not crossed him yet and that he hopes to turn his form around sooner than later. “My self belief is still there and that’s because I continue to work as hard as I have throughout my career. For me to have success it has always been about my preparation. I’m working hard and that gives you your best chance. While I keep doing the preparation that I’m doing, I believe I can have success out in the middle.”
Asked if he would consider moving down a spot to number five, Clarke said that it depends on what XI he is given by the selectors. “Statistically I have performed a lot better at number five than I have at number four, but it’s not like I have walked in at 2-10 throughout this series. I think our top three have done a really good job. The numbers are irrelevant. It’s about what’s best for the team.”
Meanwhile, Clarke’s counterpart, Cook, was all-praise for his team’s fightback after the trough of Lord’s. “I can’t really talk in terms of what I’ve done [personally]. The 10 other guys have put in a performance of high quality — every single one of them. There was a lot of negativity about our performance at Lord’s, which is justified. But then to bounce back and play as well is down to character and skill. I’m very happy.”
While Steven Finn took the man-of-the-match honours for his career best 6-79 in the second innings, also pleasing for the home side was the return to form of their new number three, Bell. Under pressure ahead of this match following a poor showing with the bat this year, Bell responded at his home ground with two half-centuries and topped it off by taking his team past the finish line on Friday.
“It couldn’t be more fitting for Belly to be walking off 60-odd not out at his home Test game,” said Cook. There was a lot of nerves around this morning when Australia were batting, but the way he played…We know he is a fine player. He’s had a bit of a tough time, but you’ve got to back the right horse in the end and Belly is the right horse. He’s absolute class and it was a pleasure to watch him.”
If there were to be any negatives for England in this match, it is the injury sustained by James Anderson, who was ruled out of the fourth Test. The England selectors are expected to reveal the squad for Nottingham on Saturday and Mark Wood, who missed the Edgbaston game due to a minor niggle, is expected to take his place.
“Jimmy and Woody are quite like-for-like,” said Cook. “Mark didn’t play this game due to a niggle. Hopefully his recovery is going well and he will be up for selection. It’s disappointing, with Jimmy’s record at Trent Bridge, but I said in the beginning of the week that we have an opportunity as a squad at 1-1 to do something very special for the next three games. Now, it’s an opportunity for someone lucky enough to replace Jimmy and take the new ball.”
England’s win at Edgbaston takes their form this season to an unprecedented sequence of win, loss, win, loss, win, loss, win. It’s the one area that the Three Lions will be keen to work on — their consistency. Cook said jokingly that he would be happy if the sequence carries on for the rest of the series, which will hand England the Ashes 3-2.
“It will be nice to break that trend at Trent Bridge,” the England captain said. “We have got to enjoy the performance here, but then cometomorrow morning we wake up to the challenge of Trent Bridge ahead of us. We have to back ourselves as players and get ourselves absolutely spot on for the game.”