Ashton Agar dragged the Aussies back into contention with a frighteningly good knock on debut, but can the bowlers capitalise on day three?
Heads are still spinning in England after Ashton Agar, Australia's No.11 with a bullet, carved out a slice of history for himself at Trent Bridge. Agar joined Phil Hughes in the middle with the Aussies heading for disaster at 9-117. The four batsmen before him had combined for four runs total. James Anderson had his tail up. Michael Clarke cast a worried figure on the team balcony.
Fast-forward to the end of play and Darren Lehmann is reclining in the dressing room, a fluffy white cat in his lap, cackling at the evil genius of it all. Ashton Agar, the wolf in disguise, the secret agent on a mission to make Graeme Swann renounce spin bowling, has put the Aussies right back in this.
Get to a TV tonight because it's going to be a cracker of a third day at Trent Bridge. Australia will look to restrict the hosts to a gettable fourth innings target, with early breakthroughs the key to a first-up victory. Unluckily for us, overnight batsmen Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen are no chumps with the willow, and they'll be eying a big partnership when play resumes.
Alastair Cook is a pain in the proverbial to dismiss. Of his 25 Test hundreds seven are scores of 150 and above. He's made a half-century or more in 54 of his 92 Test innings (or slightly better than one every two innings). He's an expert at turning a promising start into a big ton and he holds the power to put this Test beyond the reach of the Aussies. The skipper is already 37 not out at stumps and if he can navigate his way through the first hour he may very well bat all day. England's hopes of a Test victory rest with their captain. Can he deliver in front of his home crowd?
Under the lid
Forget about Michael Clarke's back, it's his brain under the microscope today. The Aussie skipper, who failed to add to Australia's first innings total thanks to a Jimmy Anderson pearler, will need to be at his tactical best to find the breakthroughs the visitors need to keep this Test alive. Ending the overnight partnership in the first session will give the bowlers an early shot at England's fragile middle order. Ian Bell is already under pressure to deliver after failing in the first dig and, if you believe Nasser Hussain, Mitchell Starc has a bunny-in-waiting in Jonny Bairstow. Bowling changes, aggressive fields, mind games, the odd sledge or two – whatever it takes, Pup needs to march one of Cook or Pietersen back to the pavilion before lunch is served.
In the medical room
Confounding reports he would not bowl again this Test, Shane Watson completed three overs without incident in the final session on day two. He conceded not a run from 18 deliveries and all 18 of them were bowled at Cook. These two facts are surely related. Assuming he pulls up well in the morning, we can expect to see Watson whip off his designer shades and give the frontline seamers the occasional chop-out on day three.
Meanwhile, there is every indication that England's main injury concern, Stuart Broad, will bat if and when he is required. Broad copped a duke to the shoulder courtesy of a lovely James Pattinson delivery in England's first innings and was bowled sparingly on day two. Cook waited until the 53rd over to introduce Broad, by which point Agar and Hughes had already combined for 98 runs, suggesting all is not well with the right-armed quick. But soreness will not stop him from padding up to Pattinson again in England's second dig.
Between the wickets
The UK's national weather service is forecasting bright sunshine for the entirety of day three, which spells disaster for the Aussies. A top temperature of 26 and no cloud cover means Mitchell Starc and co will be hard-pressed to get the ball swinging, and it could be a hard slog if Cook and Pietersen dig in through the opening session. Graeme Swann found some turn on day two and Agar could be a handful if he lands it in the right spots, especially against Pietersen, who is not at all fond of left-arm spin.
Bye the way
Highest successful fourth innings run chase at Trent Bridge: 284 (England vs New Zealand, 2004)
Highest successful run chase in an Ashes Test at Trent Bridge: 189 (England v Australia, 1977)
Today’s play is dedicated to… Leslie O’Brien Fleetwood-Smith:
Trent Bridge, 1938: Early on day three, Australia was in the somewhat precarious position of 6-194, chasing England’s epic 658.
Australia’s Stan McCabe stepped things up with one of his finest Test innings, flailing the English bowlers, as Australia was 7-for, then 8-for and then 9-for. It would appear McCabe had run out of partners, but wait! Cometh the moment, cometh the man. The unlikely figure of wily left-arm spinner ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith strode confidently to the wicket and contributed a handsome five runs to the last wicket stand of 77 in just 28 minutes that enabled the bat-swinging McCabe to reach 232, before McCabe was out, completely ruining Fleetwood-Smith’s hopes of a century.
The pair’s last wicket heroics lifted Australia to a first innings total of 411 that, although still forced to follow-on, allowed the Aussies to hang on for a draw.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
First Posted 12 July, 2013 2:05PM AEST