Despite rain robbing the match of Day One in its entirety and most of Day Three, some enterprising captaincy from Joe Root offered an intriguing finish on Day Five. A match that might otherwise have ended in a tame draw instead concluded with the home team pressing for victory and the visitors fighting grimly to the very end.
Root wasn’t the only skipper responsible for bold decisions in this match, Tim Paine surprised many when he chose to bowl upon winning the toss. Yet it was a decision that seemed a master stroke when the Aussies had bowled England out inside 80 overs. Yet it was an advantage soon surrendered when the visitors themselves were skittled in their first innings.
While the Aussie maestro fell short of becoming the first man to score four consecutive centuries in England, he further enhanced his reputation in his fighting 92 in the first innings. Once again the former skipper’s efforts were the backbone of the Aussie top order failed ahead and around him.
Staring down a withering barrage from Joffra Archer, Smith made his way to 80 before a short ball struck him on the back of his neck. The new concussion protocols meant he needed to leave the field despite his protestations but he bravely recommenced his knock at the fall of Peter Siddle’s wicket.
While he he refused to let the blow get the better of him, it might well prove a decisive moment in this series. Delayed concussion symptoms prevented Smith from finishing this Test and perhaps more worryingly for Australia, may stop him from taking the field in Leeds.
When England slumped to 4/71 late on Day Four, it looked as though Australia was the only team that could leave London with a victory in the Test Match. By the time Ben Stokes left the field, upon Joe Root’s declaration on the Fifth Day, the wheel had turned completely.
Having helped rebuild his team’s innings in partnership with Jos Buttler, Stokes went about putting them into a winning position with some clean, aggressive heating. With the Australians at a loss at how to contain him, the left hander brought up his seventh Test Century, after scoring his second fifty in just 54 balls.
As much as Steve Smith’s injury looms as the turning point in this series, Stokes finding form in this match may be just as critical in deciding just who claims ownership of The Ashes.
For the first time in Test Cricket history, teams were given a reason to protect players from themselves by offering them the opportunity to replace players suffering from the effects of concussion. It was this concussion replacement rule that saw Marnus Labuschagne replace Steve Smith in the Australian team on Day Five of the Test Match.
One can only imagine the difficult the Australian medicos would have had in attempting to prevent Smith from batting on the final day if he could not be replaced in the batting lineup. Thankfully the argument is now taken out of his hands and his team is not disadvantaged as a result of him being protected from his own bravery.
Watching Jofra Archer torment the Aussie batters on Saturday and Sunday night saw this writer glad for the first time in his life that he lacks the cricketing ability to represent his country. The 24-year-old from Barbados was electrifying with his pace and bounce making life incredibly difficult for those facing him.
There is nothing in cricket quite like the electricity in the air when a fast bowler lets it go as fast as Archer does. His battle with Smith on Day Four was frightening and when he felled the Aussie and forced him to retire hurt, it became spell that will live long in Ashes folklore.
While it is harsh to tar the entire crowd with the same brush, the crowd at Lord’s produced a new low when the booed Steve Smith upon his return to the crease after being felled by Joffra Archer. We have acknowledged a number of times that we support the fans making their displeasure of Smith, Warner and Bancroft known, but there are times when it is entirely inappropriate. The English crowds have long pointed to the behaviour of Australian players as being distasteful but in this moment, they have more than outdone the worst displays produced the men under the baggy green caps.
After his World Cup heroics, David Warner has been a shadow of himself in this series so far, averaging just 4.50 with a highest score of 8 to show for his first four Test innings since returning from suspension. His opening partner Cameron Bancroft, who had less obvious claims for his recall, has fared little better with an average of 11.
Having made a rod for their own backs by making the bewilderingly selecting Bancroft for the First and Second Tests, the selectors now have a difficult decision to make ahead of the Third. With Steve Smith in doubt, will they decide to disrupt the batting line up further or will they continue to reward an opening pair that is seriously misfiring.
As sensational as the visitors efforts were on the Second Day, it could have been considerably better had they taken all their chances. Time and again, they grassed chances in a wasteful fielding effort.
It was the same old story in the second with Ben Stokes afforded a number of lives in his match turning century. While it didn’t ultimately cost them their lead in the series, this wastefulness did prevent them from potentially doubling it.