Magellan Ashes 2017-18
Smith, Hazlewood put Aussies on top
An all-time classic century from Steve Smith and two late wickets to Josh Hazlewood have the Australians on top after three days
Andrew Ramsey at the Gabba, Brisbane
25 November 2017, 11:59 PM AEST
The much-hyped battle between Australia’s fast-bowling battery and England’s top-order batting that was stymied by a lifeless pitch in the opening days of this Ashes summer appears set to escalate as the home team wrested the initiative late on day one of the first Test.
After two and half days of arm wrestling dictated largely by the unexpectedly lifeless Gabba conditions, Australia busted the game open with a couple of crucial wickets that sees England enter the fourth day with a lead of just seven runs and the prospect of a searching fast-bowling barrage.
On the strength and sheer will of captain Steve Smith’s doggedly decisive 141 not out, Australia found the means to scratch out a 26-run lead and then shot out England’s leading scorer in all Tests (Alastair Cook) and in their first innings (James Vince) before it had been eradicated.
Both wickets falling to Josh Hazlewood who had been billed by many as Australia’s most potent pace threat heading into the Magellan Ashes series but had made little impact on a pitch that belatedly showed stirrings of life on the third evening.
But perhaps the most telling blow was landed in the over after Vince was smartly snared by Smith at second slip, when Mitchell Starc let fly a fearsome bouncer that smashed into the protective helmet of rival skipper Joe Root, at that stage yet to score.
Root required a change of helmet and was checked out by England’s team doctor for several minutes, with the medico again summoned to the middle several overs later to dispense headache tablets and conduct another standing examination.
Starc had opined at the close of day two that, given the manner in which England’s batters negotiated a barrage of short-pitched bowling on the moribund surface of the first two days, he was excited by the prospect of having a crack on a more responsive track.
That message was likely not the noise that hummed in Root’s head after the ball thundered into the left ear-guard of his helmet at a touch above 144kph, but it would have resonated with his teammates looking on.
Who might well have seen shades of Mitchell Johnson in his Ashes rampage of four years ago in the accuracy and ferocity of Starc’s strike.
The fact that Australia entered today’s final hour or so with momentum and a lead (albeit one that amounted to small change) was wholly attributable to Smith’s patient and close-to-perfect innings that was substantially abetted by Pat Cummins.
The pair batted for 139 minutes that produced hardly a false stroke, and about as many attacking ones, throughout the middle of another grinding day on a pitch that has made fluent shot-making a pipe dream and the lot of seam bowlers a nightmare.
That is, until the pace and bounce showed itself with a vengeance when the home team’s quicks took the new ball this evening.
Australia spinner Nathan Lyon, who boasts previous employment experience as a member of the ground staff at a Test venue, had predicted after day two that the Gabba pitch would dry out, harden up and become the fast, true batting track that Brisbane is expected to showcase.
But it became apparent under thick morning cloud that day three was not about to yield an overnight transformation in a pitch that, until Smith completed his hundred shortly before tea, had proved the most influential factor in a Test played at a correspondingly ponderous pace.
There was no more graphic illustration that the ball would not zip through as is expected when a Gabba Test nears its mid-point than the dismissal of Shaun Marsh in the day’s opening half hour.
Marsh had worked diligently to quell the disciplined England bowling and the equally persistent chorus of his Australian detractors to post a maiden Ashes half-century, as hard-earned as its statistical footnote of 158 minutes and 133 balls faced suggested.
But 10 minutes later, with his team still 127 runs of adrift of their rivals’ first innings total that was scored at a similarly cautious pace of around two and half runs per over, Marsh was tricked by an act of bowling brilliance from Stuart Broad.
With barely a hint of change in his approach or action, the England seamer slid his fingers down the side of the ball that was delivered with a demonstrable (if outwardly imperceptible) drop in pace so that it not only arrived later than Marsh expected, it ‘popped’ off the pitch as it did so.
Sensing a rare full-pitched offering on a morning that was as bereft of gifts as an agnostic’s Christmas, Marsh looked to punch it through the heavily populated off-side field only to find the ball strike near the splice of his bat and loop limply to mid-off.
The celebration that Broad unleashed in the face of the crestfallen batter was befitting of the ingenuity involved in hatching the dismissal, but was topped an hour later when Broad perpetrated a similar subterfuge upon Starc that resulted in a reflex catch accepted by the bowler.
The fact that wicket came immediately after Starc’s sole scoring stroke had sailed back over Broad’s head and beyond the boundary rope at long-off added extra piquancy to the seamer’s exuberance.
Of greater consequence was that it brought a double-strike with the second new ball, Broad’s long-time partner James Anderson having induced an edge from Tim Paine with an exquisite late out-dipper that was plucked with similarly clinical effect by Jonny Bairstow.
But having penetrated deep into Australia’s batting resources while still holding an advantage of almost 100 runs, Root then pulled a series of curious moves that allowed his foes to wriggle off the hook and ultimately to a lead of 26.
To be fair, the first appeared to be forced upon Root when his strike bowler Anderson seemed to suffer some form of side injury and was spelled after just three overs with the second new ball, and was restricted to only seven more for the remainder of the day.
Although his continued presence on the field for much of that three-hour stretch suggested his ailment was not so much serious as inconvenient.
However, it was a curious decision to resume after lunch with largely ineffectual pair Jake Ball and Chris Woakes armed with a ball not 10 overs old and not Broad, who had looked the seamer most likely to trouble.
It enabled Cummins to settle in and build what would prove a decisive partnership with Smith. The eighth-wicket pair remained resolute for more than two hours, Cummins posting a Test-best score of 42 before he edged to slip and outscored the world’s top-ranked batter who eked out 23 during that same period.
In addition to carrying Australia within sight of first innings parity that seemed so distant when Starc was dismissed, they kept England’s bowlers and fielders in the enervating afternoon sun for hours longer than they would have envisioned when the Australia tail was so quickly exposed.
Even after Cummins’ departure, Smith defied the tiring England attack who by that stage had adopted Australia’s plan of the previous day – remorselessly banging the ball into the pitch in the hope that it might bring a miscue from Smith who was being starved of scoring opportunities.
But unlike England’s profligate Dawid Malan who had gifted his wicket under similar circumstances on Friday, Smith became a walking advertisement for risk management and his 141, uncharacteristic and unbeaten, might yet prove a decisive act in the battle for the urn.
Australia XI: Warner, Bancroft, Khawaja, Smith (c), Handscomb, SMarsh, Paine, Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon #Ashes— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) November 22, 2017
England XI: Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root (c), Malan, Moeen, Bairstow (wk), Woakes, Broad, Ball, Anderson #Ashes— cricket.com.au (@CricketAus) November 22, 2017
2017-18 International Fixtures:
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Gabba, November 23-27. Buy tickets
Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Buy tickets
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Buy tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Buy tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Buy tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Buy tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Buy tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Buy tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Buy tickets
Fifth ODI Perth TBC, January 28. Join the ACF
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Buy tickets
Gillette T20 INTL Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Buy tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Buy tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Buy tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 13
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21