Hazlewood shines as weather halts Aussie squeeze
Paceman claims all four day-three wickets, including prized scalp of Joe Root, but early rain and late poor light hinders push to retain Ashes in Manchester
Andrew Ramsey at Old Trafford
7 September 2019, 07:00 AM AEST
An inspired late spell from Josh Hazlewood transformed a previously frustrating day for Australia into a realistic opportunity to regain the Ashes in the rain-affected fourth Test at Old Trafford.
England opener Rory Burns (81) and his captain Joe Root (71) had batted their team back into the match with a dogged third-wicket stand that occupied much of a day that started late and ended earlier than planned due to Manchester's dreary autumn.
But Hazlewood removed both set men under heavy cloud and glaring floodlights and also knocked over repositioned opener Jason Roy (22) as England ended day three 5-200 and still trailing Australia's first innings by 297 runs.
While a draw remains the most likely outcome, with Headingley hero Ben Stokes (seven not out) still at the crease, the weather forecast for the weekend looks far more promising as Australia push for the win that would see them retain the urn.
In the space of 11 deliveries around the traditional stumps time of 6pm, Hazlewood not only broke the troublesome 141-run partnership between Root and Burns, he punched a hole in England's resistance and their middle-order.
Burns had battled a sustained attack upon his person as Australia's quicks went after him with bouncer after bouncer, but eventually fell to a full delivery angled across him that was sliced to second slip.
Then, in Hazlewood's next over, Root – who had also endured a bevy of blows during his 255-minute occupation – was pinned on the crease by a ball that skidded through and was trapped palpably lbw.
It represented the 44th occasion from 85 Tests (that include 16 hundreds) that Root has reached 50 but failed to push on to a century, while Australia's premier batter Steve Smith has 26 tons from 67 Tests with 25 half-centuries.
England's decision to push failed opener Roy down to number four (in actuality number five given the use of a nightwatchman on Thursday night) briefly looked to have paid dividends.
The aggressive right-hander found a semblance of form and the boundary three times, including a sweetly timed back-foot punch off Hazlewood that sped to the point rope and was perhaps his most authoritative stroke of a sub-par series.
Next ball, however, he returned to character as he pushed hard forward to a delivery that missed both bat and pad and instead found middle-stump which was uprooted.
England had lost 3-30 in the course of Hazlewood's devastating spell and it was only the deterioration of Manchester's weather that spared them further casualties.
Up until that final hour, England had staged a robust response under the carefully controlled batting of Burns and Root after the loss of an early wicket, also to Hazlewood.
The England pair had benefited from the Australia bowlers' inability to maintain a consistent line and to exert pressure in the manner they have preached previously in the campaign.
But that's not to say batting was anything other than an ongoing challenge, of which Root bore the physical brunt.
On reaching 36, the hosts' captain was squared-up by a ball from Mitchell Starc that jagged past the inside edge of his bat and hit him flush on what Englishmen of yore knew as the codpiece.
Not only was Root forced to seek medical assistance to regain his composure and dignity, he had no choice but to summon a replacement protective shield given the one he had been wearing had developed a sizeable split.
Cricket ball in the groin, featuring Joe Root 😳 New box, please! #Ashes pic.twitter.com/pbVHqoaZkf— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 6, 2019
An hour later, having advanced his score to 58, Root was hit just above the knee roll of his left pad by a fierce delivery from Pat Cummins that left the rival captain writhing on the pitch in pain.
The sight of Root in clear discomfort seemed to convince Tim Paine that the unsuccessful lbw appeal the blow had yielded should be reviewed, and it was Australia feeling the hurt when it vindicated umpire Dharmasena's not-out call.
That unsuccessful review took the team's tally in this series to six successful challenges from 25 attempts, a strike rate at which even the most inveterate gambler might consider enlisting professional help.
Compounding Australia's pain was the realisation Root should have been dismissed in Cummins' previous over (for 54) when he edged a waist-high catch that rifled between Paine and David Warner at first slip with neither fielder so much as throwing out a mitt.
The world's number-one ranked Test bowler was, at that stage, in the midst of a spell that created the impression it might bring a wicket at any moment, even though it went ultimately unrewarded.
But when Cummins, having bowled 10 consecutive overs broken only by the tea break at a cost of 22 runs, was replaced by Hazlewood the breakthroughs finally arrived.
It ended a lean stretch of more than four hours in which England had raised the genuine prospect of saving the Test and keeping the Ashes battle alive, if not somehow getting themselves into a position from which to manufacture a win.
Australia must have dared to imagine a first innings Headingley-style surge into England's middle-order when Hazlewood made an early strike.
Having lost the first session to the latest bout of persistent Manchester mizzle, speculation abounded as to what changes the Old Trafford pitch might have undergone after an extended incubation.
Initially, it seemed to have hardened which offered greater bounce and carry which Hazlewood exploited to remove nightwatchman Craig Overton in his first over of the day.
Having met the opening delivery from the tall seamer with a big forward stride that saw the ball hit the splice of his bat, Overton prodded more cautiously a couple of deliveries later and edged a catch to slip.
Such was the heightened pace of the day three pitch, the chance was upon Steve Smith faster than the ex-skipper expected but he clasped it waist-high as he jumped in the air.
At 2-25, England found themselves in similar peril to Australia days earlier who were in strife at 2-28 before posting a total just shy of 500.
The key difference was Australia had surrendered both openers while England had lost an opener and a tailender while the series' best-credentialed new-ball nullifier – left-handed Burns – remained at the crease.
Driven by the success they have previously found employing the short ball against Burns, and encouraged by the extra bounce on offer, Australia's quicks went searching for wickets rather than opting for containment.
A new addition to the Old Trafford honours board... #Ashes pic.twitter.com/cPWtP0rCZs— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) September 6, 2019
It produced a few false strokes but, as the England pair settled and the sun occasionally broke through, the resistance stiffened and the runs came.
Mostly, those scoring opportunities came against Nathan Lyon who battled to find consistency from the pavilion end, and Mitchell Starc who pitched full looking for swing that rarely materialised.
Burns in particular was peppered with short-pitched deliveries but, despite his ungainly stance and obvious discomfort against those aimed around shoulder height, he survived and ultimately prospered.
He and Root conspired to add 100 runs from the 35.3 overs between the day's delayed start and the tea break by which time Burns had reached his third half-century of the series.
The other five batters to have occupied the opener role during this campaign boast just one between them – David Warner's 61 on the first day at Headingley.
Just as Smith had dominated the first two days to put Australia firmly in the ascendancy, it was another obdurate innings from Burns that that led England's rebuttal and their bid to take the Ashes to a decider at The Oval.
But when they departed in quick succession, the wildly fluctuating series took another late (though perhaps not altogether unexpected) twist.
England XI: Rory Burns, Joe Denly, Joe Root (c), Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Craig Overton, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, Jack Leach
Australia XI: David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matt Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
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: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval