Vodafone Men's Ashes
Wickets tumble but Aussies retain upper hand
Ball dominated bat on day two as 17 wickets fell but Australia’s seamers, led by Pat Cummins, ensured the home side retain the upper hand even as England fought back late
15 January 2022, 11:59 PM AEST
After 17 wickets fell across three sessions in Hobart – the highest toll of batters in an Ashes Test on Australian soil for more than 20 years – Australia limped to stumps shaken and bruised but holding a lead of 152 and knowing conditions can only be better to stretch that advantage in the morning.
For the second time in as many days, Australia's top-order faltered against England's seamers armed with a new pink ball as the hosts staggered to 3-33 with David Warner (0), Marnus Labuschagne (5) and Usman Khawaja (5) scuttled in a gripping final session.
Whereas it was century-maker Travis Head who came to the rescue on Friday, tonight it was Scott Boland who took up nightwatchman duties in his third Test appearance and withstood a barrage from England's fastest bowler Mark Wood to finish 3no from 25 balls faced.
The 17 wickets that fell on day two, for the addition of 287 runs across 82 overs, represents the most hectic day of Ashes cricket in Australia since 18 wickets fell for 341 on the epic (and extended) final day of the 1998 Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
The home team resume in light of day tomorrow after 3-37 with Steve Smith unbeaten on 17 and the knowledge any target above 250 should prove challenging for England's batters who once again imploded today.
That will be an even tougher assignment if Australia survive into the final session, with batting against a new ball under lights a thankless assignment as Warner and his fellow top-order teammates found tonight.
It was Warner's dismissal in the first over tonight that set the tone for the session.
Warner is the first opener to bag two pairs in the Ashes. His was the 71st pair by an opener in Test cricket; he's one of six openers to have two pairs, after Atapattu, Atherton, Gibbs, Gayle and Louis Tancred of SA. https://t.co/aC5cDaJoIw— Andy Zaltzman (@ZaltzCricket) January 15, 2022
Broad has now claimed Warner's wicket 14 times in the 26 Tests they've squared off, and it was the opener's second pair of ducks in his celebrated career with the previous occasion being the Ashes Test at Old Trafford in 2019 when Broad also knocked him over in both innings.
England should have been rightfully pleased with the manner of their fightback in today's opening session when they captured the final four Australia wickets for the addition of 62 runs to wrap up their first innings for 303.
It would have been an even tidier first hour if not for Nathan Lyon's entertaining cameo in which he gave a credible impersonation of a dashing Caribbean opener circa 1980 with three bludgeoning pull shots that cleared the boundary, one of them landing in adjoining Church Street.
But any suggestion batting had become as breezy as Lyon suggested was scotched as soon as Australia took pink ball in hand, and England ended the day as they had begun it – in the field.
After a calamitous start, skipper Joe Root found himself at the wicket with the score 2-29, the fifth time in as many Tests during this campaign he had been summoned to the middle with the ball less than 10 overs old.
By contrast, his rival No.4 batter Steve Smith has confronted that predicament just twice in the series, in this current Test when Australia have slumped to 2-7 and then 2-5 inside the opening half-hour of both innings.
On both those occasions Australia were able to rally ... an attribute that proved beyond England.
After a brief show of resistance from Root and Dawid Malan that brought 49 runs for the third wicket, a middle-order collapse that coincided with the arrival of dusk ensured England were once again sadly adrift in the game.
Malan became the first of three batters caught behind the wicket from attempted leg glances today, and his dismissal heralded a decisive 21-ball spell in which Australia snared 3-7 with a ball more than 20 overs old.
In addition to Malan, Cummins claimed the scalp of his rival skipper Root for the first time in the series by pinning him so palpably lbw the England captain opted not to review even though the ball was shown to be skimming the bails over middle stump.
Next over, Mitchell Starc got rid of Ben Stokes although the credit should be at least shared with Lyon who intercepted a brutal back-foot punch that was screaming towards the backward point boundary by diving low to his left to pluck a stunning catch.
It proved the high point of an Australia fielding effort that quickly tapered off, with Warner shelling a waist high chance at slip off Chris Woakes from the first ball the England all-rounder faced, and which would have placed Scott Boland on a hat-trick if accepted.
Six overs later, Boland was again the unlucky bowler when Woakes (on 5) drove lustily and edged a shoulder-high catch to the left of Khawaja at third slip who was unable to hang on as he dived in front of Smith at second.
Had those catches been claimed, Australia's first innings lead might have stretched closer to 150 given Woakes finished as England's top-scorer with 36 and was involved in a 42-run stand for the seventh-wicket with Sam Billings who impressed with 29 on debut.
Sometimes selections that you never thought would happen end up being the best ones .. We might be saying that about @sambillings !! I have loved the enthusiasm & energy he has bought this week .. #Ashes— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) January 15, 2022
However, England could also argue they were overdue some good fortune having been without the services of new-ball seamer Ollie Robinson for most of Australia's first innings after he suffered a back spasm in yesterday's opening session.
That meant a heavier workload was heaped upon Broad as well as fellow quicks Mark Wood and Woakes, with Broad's frustration revealed when he beseeched television crews to "stop moving the robot" in reference to the remote camera that routinely scoots around the outside of the boundary rope.
If the veteran of more than 150 Tests is thrown off by the sight of a remote-controlled car operating in the distance, it surely sends a warning to any teammate who might walk in briskly from the fine leg boundary with Broad on approach.
But that pique would have paled alongside Broad having to bowl in the first and final sessions of the Test's second day after England made their customary disastrous batting start from which they once again failed to recover.
It says much about the acumen of the rival outfits that Australia's last pair have averaged more (14) in their three chances to bat this summer than England's opening pair (12.78 from nine attempts) with a maximum of one innings per team remaining in this series.
England's first-wicket average might have slipped further when Rory Burns appeared to feather a catch behind in Starc's first over and before his team had managed a run.
But despite the apparent interest shown by Australia's catchers behind the wicket, no discussion was had to gauge the merit of a review and it was only retrospective television analysis that suggested a faint edge.
Not that Burns, recalled to the team after being jettisoned for the third and fourth Tests due to his lack of runs, benefited from his possible reprieve given he was run out for a duck in the following having exhibited an equally grave shortcoming – a lack of urgency.
He became the first England opener to be run out without scoring in a Test since Wilf Slack earned the dubious honour in the second innings of the 1986 match against West Indies in Trinidad, and the first for his team to suffer that fate in an Ashes fixture since Andrew Stoddart at Old Trafford in 1893.
While Burns's unwillingness to dive for safety ultimately cost him his wicket, it was his opening partner Zac Crawley's stutter soon after setting off for the fateful run that proved decisive, a debate the pair were able to conduct in the dressing room's privacy 30 minutes later when Crawley departed.
The 23-year-old, who impressed in England's second innings at Sydney, looked to be finding rhythm once again until he became Cummins' first victim of the day.
The right-hander squeezed a catch to short-leg where Travis Head was stationed, proof that no privileges exist in Cummins' egalitarian outfit with the series' leading runs-scorer deployed in the least-cherished fielding role previously filled by axed opener Marcus Harris.
An irregular visitor to close catching positions since suffering a nasty fracture to his left little finger last summer, Head called upon his Australian rules heritage by leaping quickly to intercept a sharp chance that rebounded from Crawley's bat and body, clasping it at the second grab.
As he was engulfed by joyful teammates, none would have been more appreciative than the successful bowler given Cummins had deployed himself in that unfamiliar role in the dying moments of the Sydney Test as he pushed unsuccessfully for the final match-winning wicket.
"It's hard with the grille (on the protective helmet), you can't the ball where it goes - I don't know how they do it," Cummins noted at the time.
Now that he's seen how that magic happens at close quarters, he might also want to enlist expert tutelage on use of the Decision Review System in reference to catches.
Not only was Burns seemingly reprieved in the opening over, Malan survived a vehement shout in near identical circumstances against Cameron Green when on 13 and with England showing the first signs of a fightback at 2-44.
The ball had squeezed between the left-hander's bat and back pad and, despite a conference between Cummins, keeper Alex Carey and others it was decided not to refer the mysterious noise to the third umpire.
A non-binding inquest conducted by television commentators revealed the Australians had missed another trick, and one executed by Malan not for the first time in the series having admitted he should have been caught and bowled by Lyon at the Gabba.
However, Australia didn't review that incident with replays showing the ball had rebounded flush from the glove of England's right-hander thereby denying Lyon his 400th Test wicket.
It remains one of the tourists' few notional on-field 'wins' of another forgettable Ashes visit.
Vodafone Men's Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Sam Billings, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood
First Test: Australia won by nine wickets
Second Test: Australia won by 275 runs
Third Test: Australia won by an innings and 14 runs
Fourth Test: Match drawn
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Blundstone Arena