Six-shooter Archer on target to leave Aussies lagging
Steve Smith's run-scoring ways cut short on 80 as Jofra Archer cleans up around him for a six-wicket haul that has Australia already 78 runs behind
Andrew Ramsey at The Oval
14 September 2019, 06:44 AM AEST
Australia might have retained the Ashes but their hopes of winning their first series on British turf since 2001 hang in the balance after another disappointing batting effort in the final Test.
Despite the now-expected spectacle of Steve Smith (80) standing head and shoulders above his teammates, Australia were bowled out for 225 and surrendered a first innings advantage of 69 to England.
After 20 minutes of batting in their second innings the hosts had extended that advantage to 78 without loss heading into day three.
Although Australia should have removed Joe Denly for a duck in the day's final over when Marcus Harris shelled a chest-high slips catch off Josh Hazlewood.
To add further indignity to a dirty day, Denly's opening partner Rory Burns was adjudged lbw from Hazlewood's final ball only for umpire Kumar Dharmasena's decision to be overturned on Burns's call for a review because it pitched outside leg stump.
Just as Australia's batting had revolved once more around the irrepressible Smith who has scored 751 runs (at 125.16) from six innings, England's surge to level the series was led by their new fast bowling hero, Jofra Archer.
Archer's 6-62 from almost 24 overs represented the second six-wicket haul of his three-and-a-half-Test career to date and was crowned by a remarkable one-handed catch by Rory Burns at gully to end Australia's innings.
The Barbados-born quick not only put the wind up Australia's under-performing top-order and plucky tailenders, he struck Marnus Labuschagne a painful blow on the right forearm shortly before dismissing him for 48.
The responsibility for reviving Australia's dream of a drought-breaking win with the series poised 2-1 again resides with the battle-weary bowlers who have covered for the sub-par scores of most batters (other than Smith) throughout the campaign.
Smith appeared destined for his fourth century of the series for which he will forever be associated with, with the prospect of running short of batting partners seemingly the only stumbling block as Australia crashed to 7-166 when he was 66.
But having been granted a reprieve on that score – dropped by Joe Root at slip from a head-high chance off Ashes debutant Sam Curran – Smith stunned the crowd (and himself) when he walked across his stumps and missed a straight ball from Chris Woakes.
Until that moment, Woakes had looked the least threatening member of an England attack spearheaded by Archer who averaged around 140kph for much of the day, and Curran (3-46) who played a stunning cameo either side of tea.
Archer's battle with Smith was the day's most absorbing narrative although – as Smith has noted – he was again unable to dismiss the former Australia skipper who became only the second batter in Test history to post six consecutive scores of 80 or above.
The only other to have done so in 142 years is West Indies legend Sir Everton Weekes against England and then India in 1948-49.
The sight of Smith standing tall was made all the more familiar by the now regular backdrop of his top-order colleagues falling around him.
The notable difference in this innings was that his former vice-captain David Warner was dismissed by Archer rather than Stuart Broad, although his eighth single-figure score of the campaign made that point of differentiation somewhat moot.
And once again it was Labuschagne who proved Smith's only reliable ally, and indeed the more productive partner in their 69-run third-wicket stand before the Queenslander became Archer's third victim.
Archer had rediscovered the blistering pace and challenging lengths that had brought him such success in the second and third Tests, and that was reflected in his haul of wickets as well as the scarcity of runs he conceded.
But it was Curran's ability to swing the ball into the right-handers that Australia have added to try and curb Archer and Broad's dominance of their lefties that proved almost as decisive.
The 21-year-old left-armer, who starred during England's previous home Test summer against India, was also able to push the ball across the right-handers towards the slips which kept the Australia batters guessing.
He felt he'd claimed his first Ashes wicket when he trapped Matthew Wade on the crease when the newly elevated Australia No.5 had scored seven, with the not out verdict referred to the third umpire by England.
That process showed the ball was missing the stumps, but Wade was clearly upset that it had made it to that stage of the review process, so adamant was he that had edged the ball on to his pad.
Close examination of the evidence viewed by off-field adjudicator, Sri Lanka's Ruchira Palliyaguruge, seemed to vindicate Wade's outrage and cast further doubt on the dependability of the UltraEdge technology that was the centre of controversy earlier in the day.
Wade was left with no such misgivings four overs later when Curran angled a delivery into the left-hander's pads and was rewarded with an on-field verdict.
Wade's hope that the review process he so overtly distrusted a dozen runs earlier might come to his rescue proved misguided as it showed the ball clipping leg stump.
Curran then returned from the opposite (Vauxhall) end after the tea break and removed Tim Paine (1) and Pat Cummins (0) from consecutive balls with a classic one-two combination.
Paine fell to a full delivery angled across him that he attempted to drive, only to edge a catch behind while Cummins was trapped plumb in front by a late in-swinger that he reviewed purely out of forlorn hope.
Curran was denied a remarkable Ashes hat-trick by Siddle, the last bowler to achieve the feat when he celebrated his birthday in rare style at the Gabba in 2010.
With the almost unfathomable removal of Smith shy of a century, and with Australia's deficit 107, led England to ponder a three-figure lead until Siddle (18) and Nathan Lyon (25) put together a 37-run ninth-wicket stand.
But their eventual lead was more than they might have dared consider after falling to 8-226 late on the opening day.
England had then begun a stunningly sunny day two hopeful their talismanic tailender Jack Leach might stay with free-scoring Jos Buttler long enough to propel the total beyond 300.
But it was Buttler who succumbed, having added six to his overnight score in which time Leach had knocked up a further 11 to lay claim to being the dominant partner.
Buttler perhaps recognised that unlikely reality when he aimed a hefty heave at the first ball of Cummins' third over of the morning, with the resultant inside edge smashing on to his pad and then hitting the stumps' base.
An over later, Leach edged directly on to his wicket in trying to fend a ball from Mitch Marsh who had been given the ball in preference to Hazlewood to hunt his first five-wicket in haul, and was feted by his teammates upon achieving that benchmark.
Marsh led the team from the field, holding the ball aloft and doubtless expecting a few hours respite before being required to don the pads in line with the other element of his all-round role.
However, he was diving into his kit bag within half an hour as both Australia openers were again dismissed before the score had reached 20.
If the tactical intrigue of Test cricket is similar to chess as some claim, then opening batters in this campaign have filled the role of pawns, sacrificed in the initial skirmish of each new innings.
The penultimate outing of Warner's forgettable campaign brought an element of comic farce, after he flashed unnecessarily at a wide delivery in Archer's opening over.
England's appeal for a catch behind was hardly emphatic, and it was only at the insistence of vice-captain Ben Stokes (stationed at second slip) that Root sent the matter to third umpire.
Despite most of the visual evidence suggesting a gap between bat and ball, the soundtrack revealed a noise that was deemed to prove Warner had hit it, a case that was neither compelling nor overtly disputed by the Australia opener as he walked off, head bowed.
If the Australia camp was aggrieved by the apparent ambiguities in the outcome, they might have felt the universe repaid them soon after when Labuschagne missed an attempted pull shot from the fifth ball he faced.
That delivery, from Broad, passed without apparent deviation and even a muffled appeal from an England fielder yet the same technology that did for Warner showed some sort of aural disturbance as ball flashed past batter.
But the scorebook shows Warner was out, and the record books reveal his unwanted place in history as the first opener to register eight single-figure scores in the course of a Test series.
Not that his current partner at the top of the order has enjoyed any more fruitful returns.
Harris battled half an hour for his three runs before being pinned on the crease by a ball from Archer that nipped away late from the left-hander, with the resultant edge smartly clasped by Stokes tumbling forward.
For the fifth time in six innings this series, Smith was at the wicket with the ball virtually brand new and the bowlers just loosened up which is when 142 years of Test history suggests almost all batters are most vulnerable.
But as Smith has repeatedly shown, he is nothing like most other cricketers.
Australia XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Mitch Marsh, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
England XI: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Chris Woakes, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval