Aussies wobble but hang on in drawn Ashes epic
A Ben Stokes ton, more Jofra Archer magic, a contentious catch and a gritty knock from Australia's super-sub highlighted a thrilling finish to a captivating Test
Andrew Ramsey at Lord's
19 August 2019, 11:00 AM AEST
For the second Sunday afternoon in five weeks, England forged a fairytale finish at Lord's on the strength of heroic individual performances from allrounder Ben Stokes and fast bowler Jofra Archer.
But unlike the World Cup final that delivered the country's first global ODI trophy after 44 luckless years, their push for an extraordinary Ashes win in a dramatic, if rain-affected, second Test was ultimately stymied by a most unlikely intervention.
Whereas overthrows and super-overs lent that World Cup decider an unprecedented air, Australia's quest to survive 48 overs and force a draw after being set 267 runs to win was underpinned by super-sub, Marnus Labuschagne.
At several stages during a gripping final session, England looked set to surge to victory until Travis Head (42 not out in more than two hours) and Pat Cummins (one not out) staved off an intense last half-hour to see Australia end the match on 6-154.
Labuschagne filled Steve Smith's berth at number four on a torrid final evening despite his name not appearing on Australia's team sheet at Thursday's coin toss, and played a remarkable innings in his unlikely role which then ended in controversial fashion.
Leaving Australia's middle-order exposed to Archer and spinner Jack Leach, and ultimately Head to see his team to stumps in partnership with Cummins, thereby preserving Australia's 1-0 series lead heading to Leeds this week.
Despite Stokes' earlier century and Archer's 3-32 and blistering speed in the gathering darkness, the second miracle win in barely a month that beckoned for England ultimately slipped through their fingers, quite literally given a costly spilled catch.
To heighten the parallel to England's breakthrough World Cup triumph five weekends earlier, Australia were set the challenge of scoring 267 to win or survive 48 overs – roughly an ODI innings - to avoid losing.
The latter option looked a forlorn hope when Archer unleashed an opening spell every bit as fast and dangerous as the one that had put Smith on the deck, and ultimately out of the Test, the previous afternoon.
The Barbadian-born speedster, who regularly let fly deliveries above 150kph from his disarmingly gentle run-up, struck with his ninth delivery of the innings when he removed Australia's out-of-form opener David Warner.
Me getting out of bed tomorrow morning pic.twitter.com/dQ6FK91EWr— Jofra Archer (@JofraArcher) August 18, 2019
The former vice-captain can claim a measure of ill-fortune, with the sunshine (under which England's middle-order had prospered during the afternoon) hidden behind clouds and the Lord's floodlights blazing after just two overs of England taking the ball.
But the manner in which Warner fell – pushing hard at a ball that held its line and flew low to third slip – was uncomfortably familiar, being his fourth consecutive single-figure score for the series and the fourth time he's fallen to a right-armer operating around the wicket.
With his tail up and the crowd behind him, Archer found effortless rhythm and scary pace as he left Usman Khawaja stranded on the crease and pushing hesitantly at a full ball that found the faintest of edges.
He then welcomed concussion substitute Labuschagne to his place in cricket history with a bouncer that flew high over the Queenslander's head (and was also called no-ball), and followed that with an even faster, nastier delivery that revived grim memories of his felling of Smith.
It was effectively a 147kph off-break that reared up the Lord's slope at Labuschagne who, two balls into his Ashes career, had no time to lift his bat in self-defence before being smashed in the protective grille, which saved the same happening to his jaw and cheekbone.
The 25-year-old was knocked off his feet by the impact, but bounced up instinctively before being attended by Australia's team doctor who must have been tempted to assume a sprinter's pose in starting blocks boundary-side whenever Archer was bowling.
After the concussion sub was himself checked for concussion symptoms and a new grille fixed to his helmet, Labuschagne was soon in behind subsequent Archer thunderbolts in a manner of which Smith would have been proud.
Labuschagne and opener Cameron Bancroft weathered the 40-minute storm until tea, but immediately after the break Bancroft fell to the left-arm spin of Jack Leach when he played back to a delivery that kept ominously low.
But Labuschagne held firm in his impromptu role and forged a crucial stand with vice-captain Head that yielded 85 runs but more crucially soaked up 22 overs.
Head should have been dismissed on 22 when Jason Roy dropped a straightforward catch at second slip off Stokes' bowling with Australia far from safety at 3-106 and a further 20 overs to negotiate.
Labuschagne then reached a half-century as memorable as it was historic, but departed in suitably sensational circumstances when the sweep shot he struck flew from the fielder at short leg to square leg where Joe Root claimed a diving catch low to the turf.
Television replays suggested it might have bounced as the England captain wrapped his fingers around it, but with umpire Aleem Dar's 'soft' on-field decision being out the review process upheld that verdict.
That dismissal signalled a frantic final hour, as Matthew Wade fell cheaply to a simple catch at bat-pad, and then Tim Paine's attempt to counter-punch Archer failed spectacularly thanks to a simply stunning one-handed grab by Joe Denly at mid-wicket.
The final half-hour was played out with fielders clustered around the bat and, eventually, Archer unable to bowl so gloomy was the fading light, and given their earlier predicament the tourists could feel the drawn outcome was almost as meritorious as a win.
The hopes that Australia might have held overnight, that a successful final-day run chase was possible if England's last six wickets could be prised loose within a session or so, doubtless dimmed with the morning news their best batter wouldn't be batting.
As a result of the frightening neck blow he sustained on Saturday, Smith had woken with a headache, some grogginess and a decline in some of his responses to crucial concussion tests even though he had reported a comfortable night's sleep.
The decision to withdraw him from further participation in the second Test, thereby casting doubt over his involvement in the third starting next Thursday, meant the first formalised concussion substitute took his place in a Test match just weeks after the procedure was ratified by the ICC.
It also altered the dynamic of a series in which, until Saturday afternoon, Smith had stood astride as the difference between the teams.
It's not unfair to suggest that England's remaining batters might have slept less soundly than did the wounded former skipper, having ended Saturday 4-96, a lead of 104 and facing day five on a pitch that had played its share of tricks between the many rain breaks.
That unease would scarcely have been salved when that pitch spent several more hours under covers as the ground received another morning soaking, the start delayed by 70 minutes which pruned 10 overs from the day's requirement of 98.
But when play began, in breezy but sunny conditions, the menace that Lord's had hosted over the previous four days had been replaced by the most benign batting conditions of the match.
Either that, or Australia's attack had been blunted by the loss of their talismanic batter in clearly troubling circumstances.
Either way, while England pair Stokes and Jos Buttler showed prudence and rarely looked to dominate the bowlers, neither were they as ill-at-ease as had been players from both teams in the game's earlier iterations.
Buttler's innings was uncharacteristically subdued, but Stokes slowly began to exert the authority he had last shown at Lord's on that World Cup final afternoon.
At close of play on Saturday, after he had twice been missed at slip and survived an lbw shout that would have been given out if Australia had reviewed it, former England captain Alec Stewart noted on radio that he had not seen Stokes bat more scratchily.
Within half an hour of the next day beginning, Stokes was so assured he was skipping a step or two down the pitch to tackle Australia's seamers.
It was another tangible sign of the momentum shift imposed upon the game, potentially upon the series, from the time of Archer's war against Smith the previous evening.
Stokes reached 50 – at the cautiously sedate rate of a run every second ball faced – with a single from Nathan Lyon who was but a shadow of the force he proved on the final day of the series opener at Edgbaston where he took 6-49.
Come the lunch break, England had defied the match trend and survived an entire session without losing a wicket, and rarely gave the impression it was a possibility.
Where they had begun the day nervously mindful of a middle-order collapse that might open the door for an Australian win, Root dined while also chewing over the optimum timing of an afternoon declaration.
In doing so, he needed to balance a sufficiently sizeable lead so as to prevent Australia chasing it down, while allowing his bowlers time enough to claim 10 wickets on a pitch that seemed to have lost its mojo.
The need to pick up the scoring rate post-lunch gifted Australia a wicket, when Buttler flicked Pat Cummins to deep fine leg.
But that only hastened the run flow, as Jonny Bairstow joined Stokes and the pair immediately slipped back into the one-day mode that had brought England history a month earlier.
As the bowlers flagged and the capacity 30,000-strong crowd increasingly found voice, the pair subdued and then slogged to put together a 97-run unbroken stand from 14 overs for the sixth-wicket.
The crowning moment arrived soon after 3pm when Stokes knocked a delivery to square leg and jogged through for his 100th run, clenching his fist and sending a roar into the north London sky for the second time in five weeks.
This time, instead of popping champagne corks, the celebration was launched by an array of audacious shots that saw Josh Hazlewood and then Peter Siddle heaved into the baying Lord's crowd.
At 3.27pm and with, propitiously, 50 overs remaining flashing on the electronic scoreboard, Root called his free-wheeling batters in and sent his fearsome fast bowler out.
Within a handful of overs, they had Australia reeling and the prospect a second famous Lord's victory hung tantalisingly on another epic Sunday.
Australia XI: David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Matthew Wade, Tim Paine (c/wk), Pat Cummins, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
England XI: Rory Burns, Jason Roy, Joe Root (c), Joe Denly, Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow (wk), 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), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, 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