Ashes 2015 day two report: England on verge of winning the Ashes with Australia trailing by 90 runs with just three wickets remaining

The tourists managed to avoid the embarrassment of losing inside two days

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The Independent Online

The Ashes should be back with England today. Against all expectations, prophesies and polls, the side led with increasing conviction by Alastair Cook will take an unassailable 3-1 lead in the series against Australia.

It is so nearly done yet England, with the finishing line looming into view as they approached the final bend, had a worrying fit of the jitters. Four lapses – two dropped catches and two no balls which would have brought wickets – made a task that was never likely to be straightforward suddenly a whole lot more complicated.

At one stage in the afternoon it looked as though the fourth Investec Test would be over on its second day. The errors and a belated Australian cussedness, as if they remembered at last they were indeed Australian, ensured that there is still something left in the contest.

But perhaps Australia did not remember quite enough. With three days nominally left, the tourists are 241 in their second innings, 90 runs behind. It will have occurred to them that if they can convert this into a lead of, say 150, then they can transform their fortunes.

Ben Stokes, the combative all-rounder, was the most incisive of England’s bowlers, taking five wickets in two long spells of accomplished swing bowling. Of the others, Stuart Broad was impeccable but unfortunate, Steve Finn probing in the afternoon and Mark Wood extremely rapid.

 

The events of the day were not quite as dramatic as those on the first, but then that would have been expecting the loaves and fishes miracle the day after water was turned into wine. England batted joyously in the morning while donating their wickets, sprang a surprising declaration, were delayed while Australia exhibited some necessary resolution and then made a succession of breaches which appeared to settle the issue.

It has been difficult to assimilate all that has happened in this frenetic series played at a constantly rollicking pace, meaning that anything could happen and has. England, on the floor earlier in the year, came into it with both a new coach and a new approach to life.

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England's Mark Wood loses his wicket bowled out by Australia's Mitchell Starc

 

The change was instigated not simply by the relaxed persona of Trevor Bayliss, the Australian who is now in charge but by something that happened during the Test and one-day day series against New Zealand. Those opponents brought a joie de vivre to the business of playing cricket that was infectious.

In no time at all, England found that they liked it and that it was not only a jolly fun thing to do but that it might also be effective. Of course, Australia are different and they arrived in June as hot favourites in their minds and the minds of everyone else who gave the matter of the destiny of the Ashes more than about a five second’s thought.

But their hosts, encouraged and enthused by their progress in the early part of the summer, and visibly more relaxed, indicated that they would not be intimidated. Of no-one else believed they did.

Perhaps Australia did not help themselves. It was not they thought all they had to do was turn up, not at all, but they clearly imagined themselves to be much superior. If they played at their best, they said, England would not live with them.

When it emerged that their captain was struggling for form and is in a trough from which he might never emerge at this stage of his career England’s conviction multiplied. The effect on Australia has been profound and then England stumbled on a secret ingredient. Why not prepare English-style pitches on which English players might prosper? It was the bleedin’ obvious which has been conveniently conveyed as a eureka moment.

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Joe Root of England raises his bat as he leave the ground after being dismissed for 130 runs by Mitchell Starc

 

England made it more difficult than it should have been yesterday. Not only did they drop two catches but they were also guilty of reprieving two batsmen because of no balls. If the drops were surprising considering how smart England’s catching was on the opening day no balls by and large are inexcusable and deserve scant sympathy.

The lapses came with Australia’s total on 32-0, 77-0, 105-0 and 181-5. David Warner was the recipient of the first two pieces of undesirable largesse when he was put down by Alastair Cook at first slip, going to his left, off Stuart Broad, and less culpably by Ian  Bell at second slip, darting low to his right, off Ben Stokes.

Wood, who has previous in this regard, bowled a fearsome lifter to Chris Rogers which Joe Root took smartly at third slip. But as Rogers trudged off replays showed that Wood had overstepped.

Steve Finn repeated this unwanted trick when he induced Peter Nevill to edge a late away swinger to slip. He, too, was not called initially but replays showed he was well over the line.

Maybe this is to quibble. There were still many wonderful aspects about England’s play. After Cook called a halt to their first innings 20 minutes before lunch at 391 for 9 they were delayed by the first wicket partnership between Rogers and Warner.

It had reached 13 before Stokes made his first intervention. Coming from round the wicket he induced Rogers to edge to third slip where Root took a grand diving catch. Australia then lost three wickets for six, their top order in disarrary.

Stokes had Warner caught off a leading edge – a familiar failing – Shaun Marsh went hard at a ball outside off and was also caught by Root and then Steve Smith was snared by Broad, driving low but loosely to point.

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Michael Clarke of Australia looks dejected after being dismissed by Mark Wood

 

There followed anxious moments for Michael Clarke. He could not last and did not, undone a by a full, fast ball from Wood which went to slip. Adam Voges and Nevill put on a diligent partnership of 50, large indeed, before Nevill shouldered arms to a clever Stokes inswinger and was lbw. There was just time for Johnson to give Stokes his fifth wicket before bad light curtailed the day with five minutes left.

England had enjoyed themselves emormously in the morning, playing almost a shot a ball while giving away wickets. Although Root added only six to his 124, nightwatchman Wood, Broad and Moeen Ali were in rampant form.

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