Ashes 2015: Ian Bell takes England over the line as hosts win by eight wickets at Edgbaston to take 2-1 lead in the series

England were set a target of 121 to win the Third Test

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England are ahead in the Ashes once more. In a series of remarkable ebb and flow they defeated by Australia by eight wickets yesterday to go 2-1 ahead in the series.

It was an emphatic victory, achieved in only eight sessions which followed their 405 run defeat at Lord’s less than a fortnight earlier and their own 169 run triumph at Cardiff in the week before that. England’s recent sequence of results now reads: win, lose, win, lose, win, lose, win, the most consistent run of inconsistency in the history of Tests.

The third wicket pair of Ian Bell and Joe Root guided England home shortly before tea, though not before Bell was dropped by Australia’s captain, Michael Clarke. A potentially tricky pursuit of 121 was thus converted to a procession and England have again defied those who understandably doubt them.

Their perplexing tendency to be up one moment, down the next suggests that they will lose the fourth Test in Trent Bridge which starts next Thursday and their chances have most definitely been diminished by the certain absence of their leading bowler, Jimmy Anderson. He sustained a side strain in this match on the second night and the medical bulletin yesterday morning confirmed fears that there was to be no easy fix.

The likelihood is that Anderson will also miss the final Test at The Oval, though in the gap of 18 days before then he will have the most sophisticated and intensive treatment available. In the meantime, England must hope that the revived Steve Finn, who was made man of the third Investec Test for his superb second innings exploits, can plug the gap.

This was, however, such a crushing reversal for Australia that it will take all their famous spirit and doggedness to overcome. In splendid fettle after dominating the match at Lord’s they were never in this contest, being confronted for the first time this season by characteristically English conditions which they lacked the method and gumption to manage. England, in the phrase, were all over them.


There were moments along the way when the tourists threatened not to go quietly but England were so buoyed by their exploits on the first day that they knew, they simply knew that this match was there for the taking. Australia were dismantled by Finn in their second innings after Anderson went about his business to an exemplary degree in the first.

If it was a calculated risk to come up with a pitch like this, then it was clearly worth taking and Anderson or no Anderson, it may be worth throwing the dice again in Nottingham next week. With the ball wobbling about off the seam, Australia are clearly vulnerable and England may think that they have enough skilful practitioners in those circumstances to come out on top.

There were no doubts that England were in the more comfortable position at the start of the third day. They needed only three more Australian wickets, their opponents had a lead of only 23. It was a case, as they say, of doing the maths.

But doing the maths only took you so far. Test matches are full of failed, small chases or successful small chases which cause heart murmurs before they are complete. Australia have enough conviction to make all opponents fight for the right to defeat them.

Official notification came that Anderson would take no further part. When 19 runs came from the first two overs it was pretty clear that Australia would play a shot or two in the desire to extend their lead to 150.

England needed a break and were denied one when Peter Nevill, playing an admirably diligent innings, was spectacularly caught by Jos Buttler plunging full stretch to his left. The umpire, Chris Gaffaney (both he and Aleem Dar had good matches) decided that Nevill had not given the ball a glancing blow. Replays showed that he had but England had wasted their reviews the night before. Nevill survived.

Another 21 runs came before Nevill was out in the same fashion at the other end. His own optimistic review was rejected. Still England were made to wait. What they would have given for Anderson now. Josh Hazlewood edged Ben Stokes high to slip where Root leapt to take the catch.

The last wicket added another 20 stubborn runs before Mitchell Starc drove off the edge to point after assembling an upright half century. England needed 121 to win. They had controlled the damage but they were not home yet.

Alastair Cook was out early in the afternoon, beaten by a ball from  the mercurial Starc that appeared to curve past the bat and crash into off stump. Bell now came in and asserted himself with a succession of boundaries, four from his first seven balls.

Soon England had reached fifty, a matter of time. Adam Lyth, who is finding precisely how different is Test cricket from the county variety, was leg before to Hazlewood stuck on his crease. Forlornly, he reviewed the verdict to be wrong on all possible errors of umpiring judgement.

Lyth’s well drilled hundred against New Zealand earlier this summer seems an age ago now. He needs runs and he needs them in Nottingham. England are beginning to test the depth of their batting resources to a level they would wish to have avoided.

With Bell in full flow – sometimes even at his ripe vintage he does not know when to stop – he was dropped by Michael Clarke at second slip trying to guide Starc to third man. It was a bad lapse in a poor match for Clarke and Bell did not make the same mistake again.

Root batted with verve and command and they shared an unbroken  partnership of 73 from 128 balls. The crowd roared England on, having much sport with Mitchell Johnson the way, and Root flicked four firmly off his legs to bring victory.

Cook is anxious that England avoid getting too far ahead of themselves but the plain fact is that they can reclaim the Ashes within a fortnight. To do they will have to break their unprecedented sequence.