Ben Duckett out for 98 as aggressive England fight back in second Ashes Test
Ben Duckett fell an agonising two runs short of an Ashes century as England took the fight back to Australia in the second Test at Lord’s.
England had been a shadow of themselves on day one but rallied impressively with bat and ball before being dragged into a costly a short-ball battle during a gripping final session.
The hosts took five for 77 in the morning session to dismiss Australia for 416, a strong total but one that represented a poor return from a peak of 316 for three.
Duckett then led his side to 278 for four, punching his way to a gutsy 98 but stumbling in sight of glory as he top-edged a Josh Hazlewood bouncer to fine-leg.
The Nottinghamshire opener would have been dismayed to spring a trap that also accounted for Ollie Pope and Joe Root, but this may still go down as a career-best effort.
Duckett has reached three figures twice before but with the quality of the Australian attack and the parlous situation in the series, this trumped his 182 against a limited Ireland earlier this month and his maiden hundred in a run-fest in Rawalpindi.
Australia bowled bumpers almost exclusively for an adrenaline-fuelled hour in the evening, playing on England’s eagerness and ego after spinner Nathan Lyon suffered a worrying calf injury.
On the occasion of his 100th consecutive Test, a testament to his spotless fitness record, Lyon pulled up lame as he collected the ball in the deep and had to be helped off the pitch.
There must now be major concerns over the role he can play in the remainder of the match, as well as in next week’s clash at Headingley.
Harry Brook rode his luck on his way to a dicey 45 not out, but captain Ben Stokes restored an element of calm with a responsible 17no from 57 balls at the close.
Australia started the day 339 for five, with England eager to respond to a performance that was labelled “absolutely shambolic” by Kevin Pietersen and improve on bowling branded “utter dross” by Michael Vaughan.
And while they were unable to prevent Steve Smith turning his overnight score of 85 into a 12th Ashes century, second only to the great Donald Bradman, they would have been more than happy with their efforts.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad had sent down 33 wicketless overs between them on the first day but picked up one apiece in a rousing opening burst that set the tone for an England comeback.
Broad jagged back in sharply off the pitch to pin Alex Carey lbw in his first over of the morning and Anderson following by snapping up Mitchell Starc’s outside edge.
Smith brought up his latest hundred with a majestic cover drive but when he slashed Josh Tongue to Duckett in the gully for 110, Ollie Robinson picked up the last two wickets in short order.
Duckett and Zak Crawley survived four awkward overs before lunch and proceeded to share a buoyant stand of 91 – England’s best against Australia since January 2011.
Crawley was in particularly pleasing touch, but gifted Lyon his wicket on 48 when he raced down the pitch and was well stumped by Carey.
Duckett continued his unconventional habit of steadfastly refusing to leave anything, but was able to score quickly and safely against a pedigree attack.
Alongside Pope, who eased concerns over his shoulder injury by emerging at number three, Duckett added a further 96 as the pace and hostility of the Australian quicks failed to affect his steady rhythm.
Duckett’s interest in feeling bat on ball helped, scoring handily from square drives and cuts that could have been left and sweeping with enough confidence to rotate the strike off Lyon. Starc and Hazlewood both leaked runs at an alarming rate, with the pair both seeing their economy peak at more than seven-an-over.
Duckett reached 50 with a clean punch off the pads and was past 80 before the bouncers started to fly in.
He top-edged one over the wicketkeeper on 84 and almost picked out fine leg on 86. It was at that moment that Lyon hobbled off in anguish and leaving his side a bowler light.
Pope was going well at 42 when he succumbed, stepping inside the line and toe-ending Cameron Green to the waiting Smith. Green thought he had key man Joe Root in the same over, only for a no-ball to cut celebrations short.
England continued the high-risk strategy of pulling and hooking with catchers in the deep and it came at a cost as Duckett shovelled Hazlewood to fine-leg to shatter his dreams of a century.
Root followed with a careless swipe at Starc, failing to cash in on his reprieve as he departed for 10.
Brook played some remarkable shots as he kept the aggression up, twice slashing airily past mid-on and almost losing his leg stump as he stepped away to swing at Green.
But Stokes settled his side in mature fashion as they ended 138 behind with six wickets in hand.