Foreboding clung to Australia throughout the second day at Trent Bridge as they successfully delayed what seemed to be inevitable England progress towards regaining the Ashes. The word “successfully” is used loosely. For the second Test in succession, they were faced by the threat not just of defeat, but defeat inside two days, but just as they did at Edgbaston, they summoned enough resistance to delay the suffering.
Delaying the suffering is one thing, tempering the condemnation that is already sounding back home quite another. Michael Clarke, poised to lose his second Ashes campaign as captain in England, suffered another disheartening dismissal that, at 34, might yet tip him into international retirement at the end of the series.
A two-day Ashes result is such a rarity it last occurred in 1921, and it seemed an evens bet when Australia embarked upon their second innings shortly before lunch with a deficit of 331.
Ben Stokes did his best to make it happen. He summoned by far his best bowling display of the Ashes summer, finding markedly more swing than any member of the England attack, but others were beginning to flag. Waiting can be such a tiring business.
Stokes took three wickets in consecutive overs late in the afternoon session as Australia’s opening stand of 113 crumbled before their eyes, and left the field briefly for cramp in the final session, but he returned with his effectiveness unimpaired to strike twice more. By the close, with Australia seven down and trailing by 90 runs, he had 5 for 35 in 16 overs and the persistent threat of his boomerang swing will have caused many to see him with different eyes.
Stokes was not just the combative allrounder who England envisage can become a game-changing figure for years to come, he was also the fourth seamer who Australia, mistakenly, had gambled that they did not need. The message – one of many unwelcome lessons – will not be lost upon them.
For 24 overs, Australia stood firm as they faced a first-innings deficit of 331 at Trent Bridge. The fortune that favoured England on the opening day when Stuart Broad’s dream sequence blew away Australia for 60 was reluctant to bestow its favours upon them a second time as they pursued the victory in the fourth Investec Test that would enable them to wrest back the Ashes.
But Ben Stokes would have none of it. He summoned his best spell of the Ashes summer, finding more swing than any member of the England attack, taking three wickets in consecutive overs late in the afternoon session as Australia’s opening stand of 113 crumbled before their eyes. At tea, the deficit was still 193, a two-day defeat still a possibility.
Chris Rogers and David Warner had half-centuries banked, Rogers methodically, Warner with an air of growing menace, but the fraternal handshakes at the landmark were quickly followed by disappointment.
Rogers was the first to go, a slick, one-handed rescue at third slip by Joe Root which bore comparison with Stokes’ own effort the previous day. Warner’s flip pull, which had caused his downfall at Edgbaston, almost cost him when he squirmed Mark Wood over long leg for six. A repeat against Stokes caused his downfall as he popped up a catch to mid-on. Shaun Marsh’s poor Test was then completed by another catch for Root, a simpler one this time.
England’s plans then proved strikingly successful, Cook bringing Stokes in at short cover for Steven Smith and being rewarded when his sliced drive at a wide one was held low down, taking the bowler, Broad, past Fred Trueman’s tally of 307 Test wickets. Four wickets had fallen in 27 balls and Stokes almost followed up with a run out. There is no end to the appetite for aggression in this series even when it defies all logic.
He was not just the combative allrounder who England envisage can become a game-changing figure for years to come, he was also the fourth seamer who Australia, mistakenly, had gambled that they did not need. The message – one of many unwelcome lessons – will not be lost upon them.
Going anywhere this weekend? Tickets for the cricket may not quite have the value they appeared. Alternative attractions include Nottingham’s urban beach, where Australia could have sand kicked in their faces, or outdoor theatre at Nottingham Castle.
Ashes contests should properly be fiercely contested and, as Australia embarked upon their second innings with a deficit of 331, and the distressing possibility of a two-day defeat, what luck there was initially fell Australia’s way.
Edges turned into play and misses and when England did find the edge, the slip catches that had been brilliantly taken first time around were spurned. Warner was twice reprieved, firstly on 10 when Alastair Cook could not hold a diving catch at first slip, again on 42 when this time Ian Bell failed to hold a testing opportunity.
Steven Finn bowled two lacklustre overs, there was no spin for Moeen Ali, and one sensed a little drooling around Warner’s moustache. Rogers, too, broadened and there was further frustration for England when Wood had him caught at third slip for 47 only for replays to show he had overstepped. He had bowled several no balls before then without umpire Ravi, who presumably prefers a no-interventionist approach to life, thinking to signal it, or mention it.
England declared at 391 for 9 to give Australia a tricky 10 minutes before lunch on the second day. When Broad passed Warner’s outside edge four times in the last over before lunch, without success, the challenge that lay ahead for Australia was clear to see.
Mitchell Starc salvaged his best Test figures of 6 for 111 from a match that otherwise has provided unremitting gloom for Australia.
After the delight of the first day came the levity of the second as England added a further 117 for the loss of five wickets. Three of them went to Starc, who swung the old ball skilfully, and late, too, and at one stage had six of the first seven wickets to fall.
Root, 124 to his name, had played the one innings of quality on the opening day, but he never locked onto the second morning. Starc persisted with wide deliveries outside off stump, aware that they have repeatedly caused his downfall. Root was impatient to punish them from the outset and after several fresh air shots edged one to the wicketkeeper Peter Nevill.
There was curious cricket at the other end, with Mitchell Johnson serving up driveable deliveries to the nightwatchman, Wood, who did not shun the opportunity to do just that. Starc plucked out his leg stump to end the fun and, in his next over, another lavish inducker emphatically cleaned up Buttler, so continuing his unproductive series.
When Stokes fell softly down the leg side against Josh Hazlewood, England, at 332 for 8, had seemed a touch wasteful, but Moeen was joined by Broad, who had arrived at his home ground to see his 8 for 15 already engraved on the Trent Bridge honours board.
The pair gambolled along with a stand of 58 in eight overs, Hazlewood suffering the indignity of 19 from one over, including two elegant drives on the up from Moeen and a top-edged six by Broad into the beer queue – a strategic position, one imagines, he will be joining himself before too long.