England left to rue costly batting errors as Australia seize control at Lord’s
England’s costly habit of unforced batting errors reared its head again at Lord’s as they gifted control of the second Ashes Test to Australia.
The tourists, already 1-0 up after edging a nail-biter at Edgbaston, ended day three with a commanding 221-run lead and a platform to make themselves overwhelming favourites to win both the game and the series.
England were knocked over for 325 in a deflating morning session, losing six wickets for 47 as they turned a competitive position into a first-innings deficit of 91.
At one stage on the second evening they had looked at ease on 188 for one, but 24 hours later they had a mountain to climb.
While a host of England’s leading batters were the authors of their own downfall, Australia once against trusted a more pragmatic approach as they gritted their teeth in awkward conditions to reach 130 for two.
With the ball nipping around under floodlights and murky skies, Australia’s insistence on a more risk-averse strategy than England’s all-out aggression paid dividends.
Usman Khawaja, dropped on 19 by James Anderson, led the way as he did in the first Test at Edgbaston as he compiled a hard-working 58no.
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 breaking point.
After Ollie Pope, Ben Duckett and Joe Root fell on their swords during an adrenaline-fuelled bouncer battle on Thursday evening, England continued to fold on Friday.
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 that may rule him out of the series, Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad even managed to give his part-time understudy Travis Head two wickets in an over during a dispiriting collapse.
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) aimed the bat towards midwicket, Cameron Green swallowed a thick edge 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 smash 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, but things were only getting worse.
Bairstow reached 16 but surrendered by 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. Cummins, tearing in, made short work of Josh Tongue at number 11.
David Warner and Khawaja saw off six overs before lunch, nudging the lead past 100 off the last ball of the session and kicking off a gutsy stand of 63.
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 the tourists ground out just 69 runs in the afternoon session, Tongue responsible for the solitary wicket of Warner (25), while DRS was an increasingly big part of the conversation as Marnus Labushcagne struggled to settle.
He overturned an lbw from Tongue and then saw Broad go up with three huge appeals either side of tea.
Stokes was right to wave off the first two, but, when he declined to pursue the third, the technology supported Broad’s shout.
When head coach Brendon McCullum relayed the information from the balcony, the seamer was visibly fuming.
Labuschagne did not make them pay, lazily wafting a wide one from Anderson to point, but England’s muted celebrations told the story.