The Ashes 2023 has reached an intense stage with Australia closing in on a 2-0 lead against England in the second test match. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins showcased their brilliance to dismantle England’s top order in the final session of Day 4. Despite England’s short-ball strategy earlier in the day, Australia managed to take crucial wickets, leaving England reeling at 114 for 4, still needing 257 runs to win.
Starc and Cummins Dominate
Australia’s fast bowlers, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins, played a pivotal role in putting their team in a commanding position. Starc’s movement with the new ball troubled England’s batsmen, leading to early breakthroughs. He accounted for the dismissal of opener Zak Crawley, who feathered an edge down the leg side. Starc’s exceptional delivery then shattered Ollie Pope’s stumps, leaving England in a precarious position.
Cummins, known for his ability to create Ashes moments, delivered an outstanding over that may be remembered as the highlight of the series. He targeted England captain Joe Root with a vicious delivery that struck his forearm, resulting in a catch to slip. Continuing his remarkable spell, Cummins replicated the same delivery that dismissed Root in the previous Ashes at Old Trafford, claiming the wicket of Harry Brook.
England’s top order crumbled under the pressure imposed by Starc and Cummins. With England four wickets down and only 45 runs on the board, the situation looked bleak for the home team. However, Ben Duckett and Ben Stokes displayed resilience, forming a crucial partnership of 69 runs. Duckett, who scored his second half-century of the match, remained unbeaten at the end of the day.
The absence of Nathan Lyon, who surprisingly appeared to bat at No. 11, did not prove to be a factor in England’s fightback. Although Starc took a brilliant catch to dismiss Duckett, the third umpire ruled it not clean, much to Australia’s frustration. This decision allowed England to end the day with a glimmer of hope, but their task of scoring an additional 257 runs with a long tail seemed daunting.
A Controversial Tactic
England’s attempt to unsettle the Australian batsmen involved an unprecedented short-ball strategy. For a significant portion of the fourth day’s play, England relentlessly bowled bouncers, causing the game to come to a standstill. This tactic sparked debate, especially considering England’s previous emphasis on entertaining cricket. However, their persistence paid off as wickets started to fall.
The fourth day witnessed a record number of short deliveries in ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball database since 2015. TV graphics revealed that 98% of the deliveries bowled by England in the second session pitched eight meters or shorter. Although the strategy slowed down the game, it proved effective in breaking partnerships and creating opportunities for England to stage a comeback.
Australia’s Collapse and Recovery
Usman Khawaja, who had been in fine form throughout the series, played a crucial innings before falling to a top-edge to long leg. This dismissal triggered a frenetic period where Travis Head was dropped by James Anderson at backward point before he could even score. Anderson’s missed chance was his second of the game. On the very next ball, Steven Smith top-edged a catch to deep square leg.
Head’s dismissal followed soon after when he fended a catch to short leg, brilliantly caught by England captain Joe Root. Australia lost three wickets for just ten runs, injecting some life into England’s campaign. However, Cameron Green and Alex Carey steadied the innings until lunch, frustrating the English bowlers and ensuring Australia’s strong advantage remained intact.
Stokes’s Marathon Spell
During the afternoon session, the game reached a virtual stalemate as Green and Carey cautiously played out the deliveries. England’s all-rounder, Ben Stokes, bowled a marathon spell, reminiscent of his heroic innings at Headingley in 2019. Despite visibly grimacing at the crease due to his knee injury, Stokes played a crucial role in taking wickets at the other end.
Carey, who had been batting with resilience, eventually succumbed to Stokes’ persistence and edged a catch to short leg. Stokes’ spell also accounted for the dismissal of Pat Cummins, who fended a catch to gully after being given a lifeline when Stokes overstepped. Finally, Stokes earned a well-deserved wicket when Josh Hazlewood turned the ball to short leg.
Lyon’s Heroic Effort
The innings took an unexpected turn when Nathan Lyon, unable to use a runner due to ICC playing conditions, hobbled to the middle with a badly damaged calf. Lyon’s determination to contribute despite his injury was commendable. He managed to add 15 runs to Australia’s total and even scored a pulled boundary, but his efforts were in vain as his calf injury is likely to rule him out for the rest of the series.
Australia’s Firm Grip
Despite Lyon’s brave effort, Australia may have felt they needed every run available. However, it was the exceptional new-ball bursts from Starc and Cummins that put them in a commanding position. With England’s top order significantly weakened, the match seemed destined to end in Australia’s favor. Barring any extraordinary turn of events, Australia is on the verge of a convincing victory in the second test.
The second test of the Ashes 2023 is heading towards a thrilling climax, with Australia just a few wickets away from securing a 2-0 lead in the series. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins displayed their class to dismantle England’s top order, leaving them with a steep target to chase. Although England fought back through a resilient partnership between Ben Duckett and Ben Stokes, the task of scoring 257 more runs remains a daunting one. The final day of the test promises to be a gripping battle between bat and ball as Australia aims to seal victory, while England looks to stage a remarkable comeback.