Australia punish lacklustre England seamers before Joe Root produces late boost

Australia punish lacklustre England seamers before Joe Root produces late boost

England bowled themselves into trouble on day one of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, before two wickets in an over from part-timer Joe Root offered a late morale boost.

Desperate to produce a statement of intent after their tense two-wicket defeat at Edgbaston, the hosts failed to make the most of Ben Stokes winning the toss in helpful conditions as Australia reached the close on 339 for five.

It could have been much worse for the hosts but Root, asked to carry the spin burden alone due to concerns over Moeen Ali’s injured index finger, halted the tide just as it threatened to carry England away.

Travis Head had clattered 77 at better than a run-a-ball when he was stumped racing down the track at a delivery that started wide and turned even further from the bat, then all-rounder Cameron Green threw his wicket away for a duck in a vain attempt to slog Root down the ground.

Two cheap wickets in four balls did not completely mitigate two-and-a-half sessions of deeply uninspired work from a lethargic seam attack, but it did halt a 122-run stand between Head and Steve Smith that was quickly heading towards game-changing territory.

Smith remains at large on 85 not out and with the chance to bat England out of the match on day two.

Prior to Root’s unexpected intervention, England had relied on rookie seamer Josh Tongue for two of their three wickets as James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson and Stokes himself all toiled without success.

Tongue produced two fine deliveries to clean bowl both openers, Usman Khawaja offering no stroke on the cusp of lunch and David Warner (66) cut in two by a gem, but even he was not exempt from the travails which swamped his team-mates.

The 25-year-old went at 4.88 over the course of the day, with Broad wicketless and Robinson visibly down on pace as he returned one for 86.

Stokes’ three-over cameo cost him 21 and although Anderson kept a lid on the scoring, he was worrying subdued for the third innings in a row.

Stokes could hardly disguise his grin when Pat Cummins called incorrectly at the toss, eagerly sending the tourists in under cloudy skies on a green-tinged pitch.

When the floodlights came on just before the start of play, the scene seemed set for the home attack to have some fun, but the anticipated clatter of wickets failed to materialise.

The game was interrupted after a solitary Anderson over when two Just Stop Oil protesters invaded the pitch brandishing orange paint powder, an incursion that ended with wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow lifting one of the activists off his feet and carrying him off the pitch while Stokes shepherded the other into the arms of security.

Warner and Khawaja did not allow the break to disrupt their concentration, although the latter offered a low half-chance off Broad that Root would have done outstandingly to hold.

Steve Smith and Alex Carey remain at the crease for Australia
Steve Smith and Alex Carey remain at the crease for Australia (Adam Davy/PA)

The bowling looked laboured at times, with Robinson struggling to crack 80mph, but Broad should have picked up Warner on 20 when Ollie Pope put down a regulation edge at fourth slip, an echo of missed opportunities in the first Test.

Pope spent the latter half of the day off the field receiving ice treatment for a shoulder injury and England will hope their vice-captain’s batting is not affected by the issue.

Warner sought to impose himself, bending the knee to sweep Broad and Robinson and hooking Tongue for six as his first three overs leaked 24 runs. But he showed plenty of character to get his side up and running either side of lunch.

He dismissed Khawaja moments before the break, nipping one down the slope and into the off stump, and saved something even better for Warner after the restart.

He put together a deliciously difficult over to the left-hander and capped it in style with one that speared between bat and pad as it flicked the bails.

Josh Tongue claimed two wickets
Josh Tongue claimed two wickets (Adam Davy/PA)

That brought Smith and Marnus Labuschagne together, fresh from the pair’s double failure at Lord’s. Smith was busy immediately but Labuschagne was shaky until a sequence of five boundaries from eight legal deliveries warmed him up.

Both were well settled as they took tea at 190 for two, but Robinson finally got himself into the contest in the evening session when he got one to stand up off the seam and take Labuschagne’s outside edge for 47.

England briefly had an opening, but a whirlwind knock from Head closed it emphatically. He laid into a tiring attack with gusto, hitting 14 boundaries as weariness and sloppy fielding began to take a toll.

With Smith showing signs of tunnel vision and a couple of DRS decisions correctly going against England, it took unforced error to lift Stokes’ side.

Root was apparently biding time until the second new ball but found a some bite from the rough and tempted Head into a rash charge.

Bairstow did the rest with a smart take and stumping, before Green hacked his third ball high to mid-off to take some of the shine off a strong day for Australia.