England set Australia target of 281 on day four of thrilling first Ashes Test

England set Australia target of 281 on day four of thrilling first Ashes Test

England’s commitment to high-risk, high-impact cricket hurried the first Ashes Test towards a gripping conclusion, setting Australia 281 to win on day four at Edgbaston.

Resuming on 28 for two, England put their foot to the floor as they moved to 273 all out at the end of an elongated afternoon session.

The hosts would have loved one of their middle-order batters to kick on to a substantial score, but saw Joe Root (46), Harry Brook (46) and Ben Stokes (43) dismissed one by one just as they were dragging control away from the Australians.

There were important runs too from from the tail, Ollie Robinson making 27 as the last two wickets put on 44.

England v Australia – LV= Insurance Ashes Series 2023 – First Test – Day Four – Edgbaston
Ollie Robinson chipped in with 27 (Nick Potts/PA)

Despite delivering emphatically on their promise to entertain, even those who roared their approval from the stands may reflect that England over-reached against Nathan Lyon at times.

Root was stumped for the first time in 131 Tests when he ran down the pitch and swiped fresh air and Brook cut short a highly promising stay when he dragged to midwicket trying to force a boundary.

Former captain Root set the tone for a colourful day with an audacious start, attempting his trademark reverse ramp off Pat Cummins’ first delivery of the morning.

Root has become a master of that audacious stroke but, even by his own standards, attempting it so early – with a crucial Test match balanced on a knife-edge – showed remarkable chutzpah.

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 v Australia – LV= Insurance Ashes Series 2023 – First Test – Day Four – Edgbaston
Scott Boland shipped 31 off his first three overs (Mike Egerton/PA)

England continued to go after Boland, who shipped 31 off his first three overs as his reputation for economy took its second battering in four days.

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 Ollie Pope (16), thudding the base of off stump as the batter groped for contact. He finished with four for 63 – an outstanding effort by any measure.

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 pitch – and later launched him over extra-cover with a clean swing of the bat.

England v Australia – LV= Insurance Ashes Series 2023 – First Test – Day Four – Edgbaston
Joe Root was stumped for the first time in 131 Tests (Mike Egerton/PA)

Lyon got his rewards for sticking at it, Root overly giddy as he ran down the pitch and left Alex Carey a simple stumping.

Stokes unexpectedly cooled things down, playing safely as he realised the importance of slowing Australia’s roll, but Brook lost his patience as Lyon dried up the scoring options.

Within sight of a first Ashes fifty he swiped at the spinner and was well caught by the diving Marnus Labuschagne at midwicket.

Jonny Bairstow successfully overturned an lbw decision just before lunch, with England heading in at 155 for five. They made another 118 in the middle session, but were bowled out in the extra half-hour as they wrestled for the upper hand.

Bairstow took the lead past 200 with successive fours – an impeccable square drive and a thick edge to deep third – but he was undone lbw by the wily Lyon for 20.

England v Australia – LV= Insurance Ashes Series 2023 – First Test – Day Four – Edgbaston
Australia’s Pat Cummins celebrates taking the wicket of England’s Ben Stokes (Nick Potts/PA)

That left Stokes in charge of building the lead and he batted with deliberate focus, putting away the slogs that have too often followed him around as captain.

He hit five boundaries in almost two hours of observance, before his opposite number Lyon trapped him leg-before with the lead at 217.

England will have been happy with their finishing position from there, Moeen Ali making a scratchy 19 and Robinson showing real composure as he chipped away vital runs.

He was close to being out for five, but Labuschagne brushed the ball across the ground after claiming the catch at short leg. He holed to give Lyon a fourth, with Stuart Broad and James Anderson adding 17 more before the latter edged Cummins behind.