Mitch Marsh century changes game for Australia on day one of third Ashes Test
Mitch Marsh took advantage of England’s sloppy catching to smash a brutal century and change the game on the first day of the third Ashes Test at Headingley.
The home side had started this must-win match with fire in their belly and were well on top when Marsh, making his first appearance in almost four years as an injury replacement, nicked Chris Woakes to slip with just 12 to his name.
Had Joe Root taken the regulation chance just after lunch Australia would have been in trouble on 98 for five, but Marsh made him pay in full as he powered them to 240 for five at tea.
Marsh batted with unfettered aggression after his reprieve, flaying 17 fours and four sixes as he racked up 118 at exactly a run-a-ball.
The pain finally stopped for England in the last over before the break, Woakes getting his man as an inside edge looped to Zak Crawley via the thigh pad, but significant damage had already been done.
England had dictated terms in the first session, Mark Wood turning in an electrifying burst of breakneck speed to whip up the Leeds crowd and Stuart Broad striking twice, but ultimately their hands let them down.
As well as Root reprieving Marsh, two chances slipped through the grasp of wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow. Back in the spotlight after his controversial stumping at Lord’s sparked a row about the spirit of cricket, Bairstow saw two chances go down.
The first was a tricky take off Steve Smith but the second should have been a simple catch off Travis Head, who had nine and went on to reach 39no.
There was also bad news for Ollie Robinson, who suffered a premature end to his day after leaving the field with a back spasm.
At 2-0 down with three to play, England captain Ben Stokes knew it was do-or-die and sent Australia in to bat in what looked a bold move at the toss.
Given the level of antagonism that met Australia’s actions at Lord’s on Sunday, it was no surprise to hear the capacity crowd welcome their opening pair with a chorus of boos – the loudest emanating from the reliably noisy Western Terrace.
David Warner made a good start to shutting down the jeers, driving Broad’s first ball down the ground for four, but the left-hander was back in the pavilion before the over was complete. Flashing outside off stump he threaded a catch to Crawley, who made no mistake at second slip to bring the fans to their feet.
The intensity stepped up several notches when Wood made his belated introduction to the series, having been held back until now due to concerns over his match fitness.
His first ball was clocked at 91mph and he quickly hit a peak of 96.5mph, the kind of fiery pace England have been crying out for all summer. He did not concede a run until his 23rd ball and soon had his rewards, scattering the stumps of Usman Khawaja with a full, fast, swinging delivery that was designed to do damage.
That brought an end to an electrifying spell, logged as the second fastest bowled in this country since ball-tracking data began in 2006. Wood, inevitably, holds top spot too.
England added another when Woakes, back after an 18-month hiatus from Test arena, had Marnus Labuschagne held in the cordon with a perfectly aimed delivery nipping around off stump. By then Bairstow had already been wrong-footed by a Smith nick down leg.
That chance would not haunt England thanks to Broad, who nipped one back into Smith’s inside edge to send him back for 22, but a second spill could yet be costly. The returning Wood grazed Head’s bat and despite making good ground, Bairstow could not stop the ball popping out of his gloves.
It may not have mattered had Root swallowed Marsh’s edge at the start of the afternoon, but that handling error proved a nightmare. Marsh erupted in the afternoon, standing tall at the crease and throwing his hands through a series of powerful drives and barbaric pulls.
Nobody was immune, Wood shocked to see a 93mph short ball hooked for six and Moeen Ali’s spin drilled with disdain, as Marsh sprinted to a century. England looked ragged as he piled the pressure on them, but Woakes coaxed a mistake just before tea as he chipped to slip off bat and pad.