December 10, 2021
First Test, day three: England 147 & 220-2; Australia 425As it happened: England trail Australia by 58 runsTwo days of one-way traffic on Vulture Street had threatened to derail England’s Ashes campaign from the outset but, through a resumption of Joe Root’s remarkable form in 2021 and Dawid Malan’s penchant for Australian conditions, an impressive fightback was marshalled on the third.By stumps it felt as if their tour had finally begun in earnest. Root was unbeaten on 86 from 158 balls, fresh from overtaking Michael Vaughan’s record of 1,481 runs in a calendar year and smiling once more, while Malan was 80 not out from 177. England appeared to need snookers when 147 proved their maximum on day one but through the pair’s unbroken stand of 159, one that took the tourists to 220 for two, just 58 behind, the gloom had lifted.
Root and Malan’s unbroken 159 leads England fightback in first Ashes Test
Both Englishmen batted beautifully. Root was back in the bubble that has returned six centuries since the start of January, removing all risk, sweeping Nathan Lyon confidently to continue the off-spinner’s hunt for a 400th wicket and repelling the seamers with authority. The captain had spoken of setting the record straight in Australia before this series and, having battled through cramp and worn blows to the body and knee along the way, a new highest score in these parts had put words into action.More important, however much Australia remained favourites to take a 1-0 lead, the pair had delivered an important reminder to others that life does get easier once the Kookaburra ball goes soft and the heat kicks in. If Lyon can be successfully milked, the pressure on the seamers increases. Root, at the crease for eight of England’s 10 century stands this year, was always likely to be one to issue this diktat.Back in the UK there is every chance that Ed Smith, the former England selector, was nodding away in his pyjamas about Malan. It was Smith who dropped him in 2018, with the parting comment that his game was perhaps better suited to overseas hanging over the left-hander for some time. Yet as ill-judged as that appraisal was, given Malan’s sensitive nature, it did acknowledge what is a clear strength.Now an experienced campaigner at 34, and with a century in Perth four years ago to his name, Malan clearly thrives on bouncier surfaces. There was one narrow escape here when a ball from Lyon missed his off-bail by less than two centimetres, plus a review for caught behind on 23 that showed nothing on HotSpot despite Australia’s belief to the contrary. But otherwise he held firm, his well-judged recall last summer summed up by one imperious driven four off Pat Cummins that was arguably the shot of the day.Needless to say that on a day when one brave England supporter successfully proposed to his Australian girlfriend in the stands, the alliance that formed out in the middle was desperately needed. When Mark Wood speared a yorker into the stumps of Travis Head on 152 in the morning to terminate Australia’s first innings for 425, the first-innings deficit of 278 runs looked as sheer as California’s El Capitan.Having ransacked a century the previous evening, Head helped plunder 83 more runs in the space of 20.3 overs, mowing Jack Leach square to bring up his 150 from just 148 balls and bringing up three figures in the left-armer’s runs column to boot; coming in 12.1 overs, Leach’s gallon is now the fastest in Ashes Cricket. At least the return of Ollie Robinson and Ben Stokes with the ball allayed concerns over their fitness.
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