Ashes 2015: Steve Finn claims five wickets as England close in on beating Australia in third Test inside three days at Edgbaston

Australia (136 & 168/7) lead England (281) by 23 runs

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The Independent Online

Another day in the Ashes, another riveting spectacle. The breathtaking nature of the contest is showing no indications of abating as England and Australia continue to try to pummel each other into submission.

For sheer unadulterated drama it is the top show in town and England are laying substantial claim again to being the star attraction. There was simply never a dull moment on the second day of the third Investec Test and by its close the home side were threatening to take an improbable 2-1 lead in the series.

Protecting a first innings lead of 145, they reduced Australia’s second innings to 168 for 7, propelled by the returning hero, Steve Finn. Less than a year ago he had sunk so low that he was deemed to be unselectable, for several compelling overs today in two spells he was unplayable, which is a different thing altogether. Two years after his last Test, against the same opponents when his captain, Alastair Cook, dare not trust him to bowl, he had 5 for 45. By any standards this has been a staggering comeback.

 

But in the evening session, on the verge of confirming their advantage, England lost the leader of their bowling attack, Jimmy Anderson, to a side strain. Anderson walked off in the middle of an over and whilst the prognosis is uncertain it must be highly likely that he will miss the next match at Trent Bridge, starting next Thursday, if not the rest of the series.

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Finn (right) celebrates his wicket of Johnson with Broad

The effects of his absence could be crucial on pitches such as this at Edgbaston where he was operating at a stunning level of control. First they have to embark for Nottingham with this match in the bag.

After an astonishing opening, courtesy of Mitchell Johnson who delivered two venomous wicket-taking bouncers, England retook the initiative in the match with an eighth wicket partnership of 87 between Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad. Blazing away in the early afternoon sunshine, their liaison may come to be viewed as the most significant of the summer.

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Michael Clarke is caught by Adam Lyth for 3

For long enough, it seemed as though there would be the first two-day finish to a Test in England for 15 years but in the nick of time the tourists managed to assemble a solid rearguard action. It may not be enough but it was something. In a low scoring match of this nature any and all runs are vital, possibly changing the outcome.

Peter Nevill, the wicketkeeper who was contentiously retained for this match ahead of the veteran Brad Haddin, ensured that the match would go into its third day with a dogged, watchful stay of nearly two and a half hours. Had it not been for the assault of David Warner, whose aggressive innings was at odds with all going on around him, Australia would already be out of this.


England would prefer not to chase any more than around 50 on this pitch. Anything around 100, they would still be favourites, of course, but doubts would easily invade their soul should early wickets fall. If the pursuit is 150 then anything could happen and probably will.

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Adam Voges (right) walks to the pavilion after being out for a duck

The day began thrillingly. England were three behind and surged into the lead when Jonny Bairstow cover drove the third ball of the day from Jos Hazlewood for four. There was no impending sense of menace as Joe Root clipped four off Johnson’s first ball and then took a single.

The third ball, to Bairstow, reared up from short of a length at the batsman’s throat. In the circumstances he did well to glove it through to the keeper. There was no opportunity to remove himself from the line, he had to play it, he could not control it.

Two balls later, Johnson duplicated the delivery to the left-handed Ben Stokes. The outcome was indentical, Stokes fending the ball to wicketkeeper Peter Nevill.

There was the distinct possibility that Australia would run through England now but Johnson suddenly put the short ball in to storage and when he took it out again it had lost its potency. Still, England were as capable of playing moderate strokes as Australia had been on the first day.

 

Joe Root, magisterial for most of his confident half century, essayed a cut cum prod at a ball well outside off stump from a struggling Mitchell Starc. Australia gleefully pouched the slip catch. Jos Buttler had scratched around for more than an hour and just survived a review when he was rather tamely lbw.

Moeen survived precariously at first and could have been out every other ball. But he rode his luck and after lunch he made it count, unfurling a series of elegant drives against a now errant Johnson.

The lead seemed significant and it was soon to look even more substantial. Broad accounted for Chris Rogers with the new ball, having him lbw stuck on the crease but Australia then rattled along for a few overs. David Warner was irrepressible, ignoring the occasional play and miss to execute some crunching drives.

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Jimmy Anderson grimaces in pain after suffering a side strain - he will be assessed by England medics

England needed a wicket. They took a clutch. Steve Smith was out to Finn for the second time in the match, mis-pulling a long hop off a top edge. This seemed to inspire Finn who in the late afternoon sunshine found movement and bounce which befuddled Australia.

Michael Clarke may soon find himself playing his career if his wretched sequence continues. He edged Finn low to fourth slip where Adam Lyth swooped to take a low catch. Next ball Adam Voges followed one outside off and was caught at second slip. Mitchell Marsh, too, was a victim of the renascent Finn, driving around full length ball that moved late.

Warner watched this carnage and continued about his business. Two matches were taking place out there. It took a  moment of magic from Anderson to remove him as the batsman aimed to leg and was caught at mid-off. Two overs later Anderson felt a twinge, bowled one more ball, stretched, took his sweater and walked off.

Resistance ensued from a vigilant Nevill and Johnson until Finn returned to dismiss the latter, who also found a leading edge. Australia survived perilously with Nevill dropped by a diving Buttler. England would be bitterly disappointed not to win from here.

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