Late reprieve for Ben Duckett keeps England’s hope of miracle chase alive
Ben Duckett was awarded a dramatic late reprieve to keep England’s hopes of an audacious chase alive at Lord’s and cap a remarkable day of cricket that saw Nathan Lyon book his place in Ashes folklore.
Duckett was on his way to the pavilion the closing moments of the fourth evening after a reckless uppercut off Cameron Green was caught by a sliding Mitchell Starc on the ropes.
The scoreboard briefly flashed up at 113 for five, with Duckett on his way for exactly 50, in what seemed a fatal blow to England’s hopes of chasing down a massive 371.
But TV umpire Marais Erasmus reviewed the replays and decided Starc did not have control of his motion before sliding the ball across the ground. To the horror of the Australian players, and the joy of the home crowd, Duckett was called back to the crease as he and Ben Stokes reached stumps at 114 for four.
They remain heavy underdogs to hunt down a score just seven less than the record chase against India last year, but with Duckett riding his luck and Stokes (29 not out) always capable of doing the impossible there is now just a sliver of a chance.
Despite the late controversy, and some remarkable dismissals from Starc and Pat Cummins, arguably the most memorable image of the day belonged to Lyon, whose participation in the match was assumed to be over.
The 35-year-old, last spotted on crutches following a serious calf injury on the second evening, limped to the crease to bat at number 11 in a bid to eke every run out of Australia’s second innings.
He was helped through the Long Room and hopped down the pavilion steps, rendered virtually immobile by the time he made it to the middle. The plan to occupy one end broke down when substitute fielder Rehan Ahmed produced a remarkable diving save to deny Starc a six, with Lyon wincing in pain as he dragged himself 22 agonising yards.
He even managed a boundary in a last-wicket stand of 15, a buffer Australia will hope they do not need on the final day of this gripping contest. Yet the mere fact that he was allowed to take the field suggested England’s reputation as fearless chasers had left its mark on the Baggy Greens.
Lyon was the eighth and final Australia batter to be dismissed by England’s relentless short-ball tactics, as the home seamers took it in turns to pound the pitch with bouncers over the course of nearly five hours.
It proved a remarkably effective method, driving Australia from 130 for two overnight to 279 all out. Stuart Broad led the way with four for 65, Josh Tongue picked up Steve Smith for the second time in the match and Ollie Robinson chipped in with two wickets. Stokes also defied his chronic knee problems with a 12-over marathon spell that culminated in the hard-earned scalp of Josh Hazlewood.
England looked a long shot as they began their chase but, having successfully pursued 378 against India last summer just three wickets down, they had done enough to give themselves an outside chance of another audacious chase.
With Lyon’s off-spin unavailable, there was even the sliver of a suggestion that Australia might be vulnerable – but their strike bowlers had other ideas.
The first wicket had an element of fortune, Zak Crawley strangled down leg for three as he feathered Starc to keeper Alex Carey, but the impact was significant. With a target that left minimal wriggle room, English optimism was wavering early in the piece while Australia had the breakthrough they needed to stiffen their belief.
Two balls later Starc saw an lbw decision against Duckett overturned, but the left-armer was in no mood to hang around. Returning for a third over he conjured a quite brilliant delivery, hooping it in at 90mph to leave Ollie Pope groping at thin air as his middle stump went flying.
Pope had taken the field with a painful shoulder injury on Friday in order to retain his regular slot at number three but must have wondered why he had bothered as he watched the replays on the big screen.
There was a fleeting moment of calm as England added 28 for the third wicket, but Cummins was about to blow the game wide open with a magnificent over that doubled his side’s haul.
The first ball left Joe Root with a bruise as he rose into his forearm but the second did the real damage, lifting sharply again and taking the edge as Root looked to open the face.
With England’s best player in the bag, Cummins came within inches of dismissing Harry Brook for a golden duck with a return catch and then knocked him over with surgical precision. Brook attempted to play the line but saw the ball snake past at high speed before pegging back his off stump.
Duckett batted with poise and purpose as he reeled off a calm half-century and Stokes held his nerve to reach the close, but the mood took a febrile turn that will surely carry into day five as soon as Starc’s catch was sensationally ruled out.