Ben Stokes a calming presence as high-risk England lose three morning wickets
England’s commitment to high-risk cricket kept all results in play as the first Ashes Test moved forward at pace on the fourth morning at Edgbaston.
The hosts hit 127 runs in the opening session as they came out at a gallop, but also lost the wickets of Ollie Pope, Joe Root and Harry Brook to allow Australia some serious inroads.
At lunch England were 162 ahead on 155 for five, with captain Ben Stokes for once providing a calming presence and Jonny Bairstow new to the crease.
Despite easily delivering on their promise to entertain, England were probably guilty of over-reaching against Nathan Lyon, with Root stumped as he charged down the pitch and Brook dragging to mid-wicket in search of a boundary. Both fell for 46 with big scores seemingly in the offing.
Root set the tone with an audacious start to the day’s play, attempting his trademark reverse ramp off Pat Cummins’ first delivery of the morning.
Root has become a master of that high-risk stroke but, even by his own standards, reaching for it so early with a crucial Test match balanced on a knife-edge was remarkable. Undeterred, he went back to the well twice in the next over, launching Scott Boland over the wicketkeeper’s head for six and then flicking four more beyond the slip cordon. It was a faintly surreal, but utterly exhilarating opening salvo.
England continued to go after Boland, with Root and Pope racking up 31 off his first three overs. For a bowler who has built a reputation for giving nothing, boasting an economy rate of 2.31 prior to this week, it was brand new territory.
By contrast, Cummins was working up a head of steam at the Pavilion End and he produced a picture perfect inswinging yorker to see off Pope (16), thudding the base of off stump as the batter groped for contact.
That left England 84 ahead and three down, but the arrival of Brook ensured the tempo did not slow. He took just three balls to register his first four, punching Cameron Green down the ground and quickly dialling up the aggression.
He helped himself to 13 off Lyon’s first over, not the kind of reception the spinner would have anticipated on a wearing fourth day pitch, and later launched him over extra-cover with a clean swing of the bat.
Lyon got his rewards for sticking at it, Root overly giddy as he ran down the pitch and left Alex Carey a simple stumping – Root’s first such dismissal in 131 Tests.
Stokes unexpectedly cooled things down, playing safely as he realised the importance of slowing Australia’s role, but Brook lost his patience as Lyon dried up the scoring options.
Within one shot of a first Ashes fifty he swiped at the spinner and was well caught by the diving Marnus Labuschagne at mid-wicket.
Another wicket would have put England in big trouble and there were huge roars in the stands when Bairstow successfully overturned an lbw decision in Boland’s favour in the final over before the break.