Mighty Marnus puts Aussies on top after England flop
Australia quicks run riot to skittle hosts for 67, before Marnus Labuschagne posts third straight fifty to increase lead to 283
Andrew Ramsey at Headingley, Leeds
24 August 2019, 07:00 AM AEST
After Australia's pace attack flattened England for a record-low score, another fighting fifty from super-sub Marnus Labuschagne and some stiff resistance from several others raised his team's hopes of securing the Ashes.
With a win in the third Test at Headingley assuring Australia of an unlosable 2-0 lead in the five match series, they take a 283-run lead into the third day which is once again expected to be played under bright Yorkshire sunshine.
Those conditions were supposed to assist batting on Friday, but instead Australia's three-pronged pace battery of Josh Hazlewood (5-30), Pat Cummins (3-23) and James Pattinson (2-9) reduced England's batting to rubble.
Despite the loss of several early wickets, and a late mini-collapse, Australia resume at 6-171 on a pitch that continues to confound most batters apart from Labuschagne, who remains unbeaten on 53.
To compound England's concerns, their star fast bowler Jofra Archer limped form the field midway through an over in the final hour but was diagnosed with nothing more serious than cramp and returned (showing some discomfort) half an hour later.
It was suitably dramatic end note to a day in which Australia's quicks wrought havoc despite the supposedly batter-friendly conditions, before Ben Stokes gave a lionhearted final-session performance in which he sent down 15.2 overs, virtually unchanged.
His figures of 2-33 from that epic spell underscored how difficult batting remains on the dry Headingley surface that offers significant swing and seam, with the current lead of 283 that Australia holds looking at least 100 runs more valuable than face value.
Having scuttled their rivals in the space of a session and a bit to hold an unlikely lead of 112 given the batting woes they faced on Thursday, Australia found themselves immediately in trouble on starting their second innings.
David Warner, who had followed up his day one half-century with four stunning catches at first slip as Australia's quicks ran rampant, thudded back to earth with a second-ball duck.
When Warner's new opening partner Marcus Harris (19) and then Usman Khawaja (23) fell inside the first hour of Australia's innings, England sensed they might have found a way back into the Test.
Certainly, if they had been able inflict a similar demolition job as they had endured and were batting again before day's end, that was a definite possibility.
However, that very real prospect was snuffed out by the middle-order that atoned for their lack of productivity in the face of the previous day's batting nightmare.
Travis Head batted more than an hour for 25 before he failed to jam down on a yorker from Stokes, while Matthew Wade added 33 having arrived at the crease showing great intent before finding runs increasingly difficult to extract.
But once again it was Labuschagne, furthering his claim as a like-for-like substitute for Smith by becoming the second player in this Ashes contest (after Smith) to post three half-centuries, who stood firm and stood out.
During his 213-minute innings, Labuschagne benefited from several shades of good fortune during a challenging final session as England – on the shoulders of indefatigable allrounder Stokes – hauled themselves off the canvas.
That included a chance offered to Joe Root at slip that was as straightforward as Warner's quartet were tough, but the England skipper juggled then dropped the chance with Labuschagne on 14.
On 24, Labuschagne was adjudged caught behind from Stokes but successfully reviewed the decision that showed the ball had clipped thigh pad rather than bat.
And upon reaching 35, Labuschagne made a late decision to withdraw his bat from a Stokes delivery that brought a confident appeal for a catch behind, and then a review from England after it was deemed not out.
That process was aborted before it had begun when footage showed Stokes over-stepping.
But subsequent television evidence – seemingly confirmed by the Queenslander on the field when questioned by Root – indicated he had indeed made contact, and another chance had evaded England.
It was the theme that ran through a day which had started with a distinctly different feel.
When Australia's sizeable contingent of supporters, and doubtless more than a few of their player group, pulled back their curtains on Friday morning to see Leeds bathed in sunshine they audibly groaned.
With wisdom born from previous Ashes ventures, they foresaw that the bowler-friendly conditions that existed throughout Thursday amid thick cloud and muzzling rain had evaporated with the return of summer.
There were mutterings of "British luck" and even fanciful claims of "weather-fixing" by local authorities.
Within an hour of play beginning in that weather that is supposed to render the Dukes-brand ball immediately powerless, England's top-order had wobbled to 3-24.
Sixty minutes later, as lunch was taken by visitors and those hardy Yorkshire folk who retained their appetite, that score was 6-54, then 7-54 one ball after the resumption.
By 2.07pm, and having endured with the bat for less than 28 overs, England were routed for their lowest Ashes total in more than six decades, and their smallest-ever at Headingley.
But those who have been watching England's Test team struggle while their white-ball side excelled were not so much surprised as wearily resigned.
It was, after all, the fourth occasion in the course of 18 months that the one-day world champions had crumbled for less than 100 in the five-day format – 85 v Ireland (last month), 77 v West Indies (earlier this year) and 58 v New Zealand (in March 2018).
The signs that another epic implosion was on the way came early, although it was initially feared poor batsmanship was to blame.
Out-of-form opener Jason Roy, who according to England coach Trevor Bayliss would be better suited to a berth in the middle-order, aimed a typically extravagant drive at Hazlewood's 11th delivery of the morning.
The surety with which Warner snared the ensuing catch moving smartly to his right confirmed that it wasn't only Australia's fast bowlers who had turned up for work fully switched on.
The same seemingly didn't apply to England captain Joe Root who fell to an even better Warner snare – this time to his left – to record a second-ball duck after his first-ball dismissal at Lord's, the first time he's returned consecutive noughts in 84 Test appearances.
It also marks a worrying form slump for England's number three, whose past 15 Test innings stretching back to last November have seen a solitary century and 362 runs at an average of 24.13.
If Root's form is troubling for England, then Joe Denly's must be causing the selection panel sleepless nights even though the 33-year-old top-scored for his country with a dozen.
But so out of sorts was the number four during his 77-minute innings, he played and missed at 16 of the 49 deliveries he faced and managed to get only the edge to a further seven.
A couple of those edges were of the inside variety that threatened his stumps, and before he had scored he survived being given out lbw by umpire Joel Wilson when Denly's review showed the ball clearing the stumps.
The battle that Denly was waging with Australia's relentless bowlers, and with himself, seemed to compel Stokes to take on sole responsibility for scoring England's runs.
That is perhaps the only explanation for the slashing drive he let fly at a quite wide, even fuller ball from Pattinson that hummed above head height to Warner who plucked it as if snatching an annoying mosquito.
When Denly's suffering was ended, and the plans hatched for Jonny Bairstow (elevated from seven to six ahead of Jos Buttler) to place fielders straight and attack his outside edge proved flawless, England's specialist batters had been removed before the total had reached 50.
So frenetic had been the clatter of wickets under the morning's uninterrupted sunshine there was a feeling among England's more buoyant supporters that surely the lunch break would act as something of a circuit breaker.
That thinking was revealed as wishful when Chris Woakes gloved a legside catch to keeper Tim Paine from Cummins' first ball after the break, and as pure fantasy when Buttler drilled a catch to short extra cover an over later.
Usman Khawaja had been positioned in the unusual catching role specifically for such an occurrence at over's start, and Buttler's unerring ability to pick him up neatly summed up the contrasting mindsets of the teams.
It was only a couple of counter-punches landed by Archer as he came in for a barrage of short-pitched balls from Cummins that carried England past an unwanted benchmark.
Had they been rolled for less than 60, the jokes and taunts aimed at Australia since they were skittled for that paltry score at Trent Bridge four years ago would have rung long and loud in their ears.
But Archer fell in circumstances – caught behind when he left his bat raised while trying to duck beneath a Cummins bouncer – that ensures he'll receive plenty more in the bowlers' half of the pitch for the remainder of this campaign.
Australia's only blemish on a morning they will remember as glorious for reasons beyond the late-summer weather was when Matthew Wade spilled a diving catch at short leg, having safely clasped the ball only to have it jolt from his grasp when his elbows hit the turf.
But such was their dominance at that stage of the day, Hazlewood simply changed his aim two balls later to smash into last man Jack Leach's leg stump to hand England some unwanted Ashes history.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon.
England XI: Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, 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, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval