England collapse allows Australia to turn screw at Lord’s

England collapse allows Australia to turn screw at Lord’s

England continued their costly habit of unforced batting errors at Lord’s as they gifted control of the second Ashes Test to Australia.

The home side were knocked over for 325 on a deflating third morning, 91 behind, having apparently taken charge at 188 for one midway through the second evening.

While a host of England’s leading batters were the authors of their own downfall, Australia’s more pragmatic approach saw them reach 81 for one at tea, defying tricky conditions to stretch their lead to 171.

The successes of the ‘Bazball’ era have been built around an ultra-positive ‘no regrets’ policy, but the manner of several dismissals over the past 24 hours may push that rule close to the breaking point.

After Ollie Pope, Ben Duckett and Joe Root fell on their swords during an adrenaline-fuelled bouncer battle on Thursday evening, England lost their last five wickets for 47 in the morning session. Harry Brook reached 50 but gave up his wicket with a wince-inducing swat at Mitchell Starc, while Jonny Bairstow hacked a rare full ball straight to mid-on.

With Australia spinner Nathan Lyon on crutches with a serious calf injury, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad even managed to give part-timer Travis Head two wickets in an over during a dispiriting passage of play.

The tourists rubbed it in by building their lead with some careful top-order batting as the ball started to nip around under the floodlights, with James Anderson dropping Usman Khawaja on 19 to compound matters.

Khawaja, player of the match in his side’s victory at Edgbaston, was 45 not out at tea with Josh Tongue responsible for the solitary wicket of David Warner.

England began the day 138 behind on 278 for four, diminished by their losses to the short ball but still well placed to push for a lead of their own. Instead, they were rocked by the dismissal of Ben Stokes to his first ball of the day.

Having curbed his attacking instincts during a responsible knock late on day two his reward was a fine welcome delivery from Starc, angled across the left-hander and lifting as it left the bat. Stokes (17) angled the bat towards midwicket, Cameron Green took the catch and England’s best-laid plans were already up in smoke.

Australia offered no respite, Starc and Pat Cummins bowling with hostility and repeatedly threatening Brook and Bairstow with deliveries that reared up off the pitch. Brook, resuming on 45, was hit on both glove and helmet before bringing up his half-century but that was as far as he got.

Faced with a fiercely difficult contest he tried to slog his way out of trouble, backing away to leg and attempting to swat Starc down the ground. Brook has made his name as a free spirit in the middle order but as the ball popped up to cover it was a soft and unedifying way to go.

After an hour’s play England had added just 33 for two and things were only getting worse, Bairstow reaching 16 before hacking Josh Hazlewood to mid-on, eyes lighting up at the long-awaited chance to drive.

Australia’s ruthless streak was out in force now, Green rattling Broad’s grille with an 86mph lifter that left the England physio assessing his jaw. England’s fight had gone and they lost the next three wickets in seven balls, Head having Robinson caught on the charge then trapping Broad lbw before Cummins made short work of Tongue.

Warner and Khawaja saw off six overs before lunch, nudging the lead past 100 off the last ball of the session. Conditions in the afternoon offered some cause for English optimism, with clouds overhead and the floodlights switched on.

But while their four seamers worked away diligently and beat the bat on a series of occasions, Australia were digging in. When the chance did come, Khawaja pulling Tongue’s second ball to midwicket, Anderson struggled to pick it up and saw it burst through his hands for four.

The hunt went on as they ground out just 69 runs in the session, but when the lively Tongue had Marnus Labuschagne given lbw for three, DRS ruled that he had been hit outside the line.

Broad had two huge appeals against Labuschagne in the final over, close calls on caught behind and lbw, but Stokes wisely opted not review either.