Match Report:


Smith class, Head fireworks give Australia ascendancy

Australia were sent in to bat by England at Lord's but finished day one in a strong position after half-centuries to Steve Smith, David Warner and Travis Head

A brutal fourth-wicket partnership of 118 from 122 balls between Steve Smith and Travis Head ensured Australia ended day one of the second Test at Lord's in ascendancy in conditions that seemed certain to benefit England's all-pace attack.

After being sent into bat amid heavy cloud and dim light that endured throughout the day, the visitors finished at 5-339 with Smith in ominous touch on 85no and keeper Alex Carey unbeaten on 11.

It's Australia's highest day one score when batting first at Lord's – surpassing the 8-338 they compiled at the start of the 1926 Ashes encounter – and came on a day that England had begun feeling was tailor-made to get them back in a series they trail 0-1.

The fact their most successful bowlers were seamer Josh Tongue (in just his second Test) and spare-parts off-spinner Joe Root says much about the influence of their more vaunted quicks.

But more pointedly, it speaks volumes for the technical skill and tactical nous of Australia's top-order who dominated the day in what could scarcely be considered ideal batting conditions.

Their position might have been even more impregnable but for a couple of moments of madness in the final hour that brought two wickets in four balls for England's only accredited spinner, part-timer Root.

He had been tossed the ball in a bid to revive his team's dire over rate before the second new ball became due, but instead became a target for both Smith and Head who looked to further lift the scoring rate after the total breached 300.

Head had raced to his half-century off 48 balls, the third-fastest by an Australia batter at Lord's behind Smith and Ray Lindwall, and looked on track to repeat his heroics of the Ashes opener at Brisbane in 2021-22 by clubbing a century in a session.

Image Id: 03DA0D6D9B87436490E50D2C1BB33D9F Image Caption: Head smashed 14 boundaries in his innings of 77 off 73 balls // Getty

But in attempting to charge Root and slog him down the ground, he was beaten by a wide ball that spun even further away before it was reeled in by keeper Jonny Bairstow who completed the stumping.

If Root was delighted at the unlikely breakthrough, he was beside himself three balls later when Cameron Green tried to maintain the momentum by muscling him over mid-wicket only to spoon a leading edge to mid-off.

While it wasn't quite the crazy declaration England had perpetrated on day one of the series opener it was a profligate loss of key wickets when Australia had England's lacklustre attack at their mercy on a day that seemed heaven-sent for their seamer-heavy line-up.

Amid that late flurry, Smith remained unmoved at the non-striker's end, having already become the second-fastest (in innings) player to reach 9000 Test runs behind Sri Lanka's Kumar Sangakkara, and with a 32nd century in sight in his 99th Test.

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Smith had seemingly set himself for another virtuoso performance at a ground where he averages above 54, stopping to a standstill at boundary's edge to survey the gladiatorial arena before – accompanied by a chorus of boos – striding to the crease.

The former Test captain, who received an even more hostile reception at the supposedly genteel venue four years earlier when he was eventually felled by England quick Jofra Archer, immediately cut a vastly different figure from the batter at Edgbaston almost a fortnight earlier.

Whereas in the first Test he looked to occupy before conquering, ultimately dismissed for 16 from 59 balls faced, Smith today began at better than a run per ball.

The first delivery he faced from England's most threatening bowler Tongue was crisply driven through mid-on for three, while his next (from Ollie Robinson) was dismissed through mid-wicket for a couple as he walked imperiously into position across his stumps.

A majestically measured pull to the square leg boundary from Tongue's next over saw the greenhorn quick replaced by old-hand Stuart Broad, who was immediately dispatched to the extra cover rope from consecutive deliveries before the bowler got his measure.

Smith pushed forward to ball from Broad that nipped away down the Lord's slope and the unanimous celebratory appeal from all behind the wicket as well as the bowler was upheld by umpire Chris Gaffaney.

But Smith seemed convinced there had been no contact with bat, and his instant call to review proved shrewd as technology revealed no spike in 'snicko' at the point at which ball passed blade.

Image Id: 2B4549CE682C489ABEB9985DD2CA4489 Image Caption: Smith was able to reverse this decision of caught behind when he was on 24 // Channel 9

It was obvious from Broad's opening delivery of the day, which leaped from the pitch as if from the surface of a sponge pudding before bouncing a second time on its way to 'keeper Bairstow, that anything other than genuine pace was going to pose few problems.

But England's three most experienced bowlers rarely managed to exceed 130kph and, once the hardness was lost from the Dukes ball despite the day-long presence of thick cloud, the four-pronged seam attack was reduced to fodder.

It did not seem quite so easy for former world number one-ranked Test batter Marnus Labuschagne who endured a tough time for much of his two-and-a-half-hour stay.

But Labuschagne still played an integral role in his 102-run stand with Smith for the third wicket after openers Usman Khawaja (17) and David Warner (66) had seen off the new ball in the toughest of the day's hazily humid weather.

Despite working on technical 'glitches' that saw him twice caught behind the wicket off Broad at Edgbaston, Labuschagne was beaten a number of times outside off stump today as the England bowlers honed in at an area of perceived weakness.

However, it was a delivery to which he offered no stroke that looked to have done for Labuschagne on 33 but his decision to review the lbw verdict proved canny when it was shown to be bouncing over the stumps.

Image Id: B54C46960647437DB424A8487A408B02 Image Caption: DRS overturns Stuart Broad’s wicket of Marnus Labuschagne // Getty

In his next over, Broad felt he'd got his man again when he squeezed a yorker-length ball past Labuschagne's inside edge but this time umpire Ahsan Raza ruled in the batter's favour and England's use of the review system did not yield sufficient information for a reversal.

By tea, Labuschagne had found some of the same rhythm Smith enjoyed from the moment he reached the middle and was within sight of a half-century.

But soon after resumption he was again undone by the thin outside edge, and cut a disconsolate figure as he trudged back to the pavilion, to be replaced by Head who made batting seem an altogether simpler proposition than his teammates had across the first four hours.

In the moments after Pat Cummins called 'tails' and the coin landed heads-up on the verdant pitch-edge, Ben Stokes fairly bounded towards the on-field commentators to confirm his men would be gleefully bowling.

With four specialist seamers plus his own handy more-than-medium pace, Stokes knew the XI England selected was purpose-built for precisely such a scenario if conditions conspired.

And even then, the hosts could barely have hoped for a more helpful set of 'overheads'.

The misty rain that saw the hover cover gravitate into place in the half hour before play started abated but the Test began under cloud cover so foreboding the floodlights blazed with the ball expected to behave with similar incandescence.

But from the moment Test cricket's most potent new-ball pairing shared yet another one, the track on which it was supposed to dart about at Formula One speeds was revealed to behave more like a B-road hosting heavy lorries.

'For us it was protecting the wicket': Warner on protestors

With 40-year-old James Anderson, who is believed to be suffering a bit of calf soreness, and his 37-year-old partner Stuart Broad rarely pushing past 130kph, the torrid start openers Usman Khawaja and David Warner might have expected became a watching brief.

When there was movement, it happened so ponderously the batters were able to compensate.

Warner gave the impression batting might be problematic when he wafted at Anderson's second ball of the morning but sent reassurance to anxious teammates in the dressing room when – after re-scratching his guard – he leaned into the fourth offering and sent it purring to the cover boundary.

The most malevolent threat in the opening hour came before the second over began, when a pair of protestors slipped through the flaky defence of Lord's security and tried to deposit their payloads of orange powder on the pitch before being arrested short of their target by a cordon of cricketers.

Having summed up the wicket's pace and lack thereof from England's opening pair, Warner tried to assert himself by twice moving outside off stump and attempting to scoop Broad over the square leg, with the first bid hanging tantalisingly in the leaden sky before falling safely to the turf.

If there was magic in the green-tinged pitch then England's bowling wizards were unable to harness it, but the switch of Broad to the pavilion end from where he was able to take the ball down the slope and away from the left-handed openers shifted the balance back towards the bowling team.

It should have delivered the wicket of Warner who, on 20, pressed hard forward at Broad who was attacking him from around the wicket with the resultant edge flying sharply to the right of Ollie Pope stationed close at fourth slip, with the chest-high chance promptly dropped.

It was the second squandered opportunity in the opening session, although the edge from Khawaja (on 1) off Anderson was played with such soft hands it would have taken an exceptional effort diving forward by Root at slip to gather it before it kissed the grass.

It also represented the second-most unfortunate mishap to befall Pope on day one, with England's number three suffering yet another shoulder injury shortly after lunch when he dived to save a ball at backward point and was forced from the field for the remainder of the afternoon.

It would have been an entirely forgettable first session for England if not for the impact of Josh Tongue who – in only his second Test, both of which have been at Lord's – lifted his team by striking on the stroke of lunch.

The introduction of a bowler able to exceed 140kph on a pitch that was decidedly sluggish if not altogether slow was immediately obvious, and begged the question why Tongue had not been deployed until the 18th over.

After conceding 10 from his first over, the 25-year-old switched to around the wicket and nearly knocked over Warner with a delivery that nipped back into the opener and was inside-edged past the stumps for four.

It was a portent of what was to come, even though the ageless Warner belted him into the crowd beneath Old Father Time to reach just his second half-century in England from 15 innings.

The movement Tongue was able to find from around the wicket eventually accounted for Khawaja who – having faced almost 550 balls in the first Test with barely a false stroke – offered none at a delivery that veered violently towards him and into his unprotected off stump.

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It meant England could head to lunch without a full-blown case of dyspepsia, although Australia's first innings return of 1-73 was hardly the scoreline Stokes had envisaged when he let loose his bowlers in made-to-measure conditions.

Not only had Australia's openers blunted their opponents and the conditions, they had defied recent Lord's history whereby teams batting first over the past 10 Tests had lost at least one wicket before the team total reached 20 in eight of them.

The aberrant exception was India's visit in 2021 when they were sent into bat and first-wicket pair Rohit Sharma and K L Rahul fashioned a stand of 126 before they finished day one a mere 3-276 on their way to a first innings total of 364 and – ultimately – a 151-run win.

By the time a second rain interruption hit shortly after lunch, albeit lasting six minutes, Australia were closing in on 100 for the loss of Khawaja and the first fleeting appearance of sun for the day suggested batting might become even easier.

But Tongue put paid to that myth by firing a couple of cracking deliveries in at Warner, the first scything past the opener's midriff and perilously close to the stumps and the second near-identical offering even closer, to the extent it knocked back leg peg.

Not since the very first Test Lord's hosted in 1884 – when England's Ted Peate knocked over Australia's Alec Bannerman and Percy McDonnell – has a bowler rattled the stumps of both openers in the same innings at cricket's home.

Warner had batted under duress having copped a series of blows to his left hand as well as copping a deep bruise at the base of his left thumb courtesy of batting practice, but his 66 had not only deflated England's hopes of utilising the optimal bowling conditions but laid a platform for those who followed.

2023 Qantas Ashes Tour of the UK

First Test: Australia won by two wickets

Second Test: Wednesday June 28-Sunday July 2, Lord’s

Third Test: Thursday July 6-Monday July 10, Headingley

Fourth Test: Wednesday July 19-Sunday July 23, Old Trafford

Fifth Test: Thursday July 27-Monday 31, The Oval

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey (wk), Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis (wk), Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Todd Murphy, Michael Neser, Matthew Renshaw, Steve Smith (vc), Mitchell Starc, David Warner

England squad: Ben Stokes (c), Rehan Ahmed, James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Harry Brook, Zak Crawley, Ben Duckett, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Ollie Pope, Matthew Potts, Ollie Robinson, Joe Root, Josh Tongue, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood