Published On: Thu, Sep 5th, 2019

Australia leave England with mountain to climb as Joe Root and co rue individual errors | Cricket | Sport

There will be some comfort in the fact England have shown themselves capable of charging to victory from deep in their own territory once already this summer.

But the feeling they might not get out of this one gripped at Old Trafford on Thursday after a blundering display surrendered vital ground in the Ashes battle.

There was no doubt Steve Smith delivered a masterclass, pounding and tormenting a flagging bowling attack to a third double century of his career, all in the Ashes.

He was eventually out reverse sweeping Joe Root for 211 taking his average to 147.25 in this series and 141.78 in the last two Ashes series.

Yet it was also not in doubt that plenty of the other bruises which showed on English flanks at the end of a tiring day were self-inflicted.

Jofra Archer dropped Smith on 67 in the second over of the day while Jack Leach got him out on 118 caught at slip but, shamefully for a spinner, had overstepped.

Australia captain Tim Paine, who shared a 145 run partnership with Smith for the sixth wicket, was also spilled twice, by Jason Roy on 9 and substitute fielder Sam Curran on 49.

The first two mistakes on both batsmen cost England 193 runs and allowed Australia to push up their first innings to 497-8 declared. In the 10 overs of reply England got to the close at 23-1, Joe Denly falling to Pat Cummins.

Perhaps more worryingly for Root, there were signs throughout the day that England’s bowling unit was beginning to creak.

Talisman Ben Stokes left the field with a right shoulder injury in the afternoon session and although he will be fine to bat, did not bowl more than 10.5 overs.

Archer looked a shadow of the bowler who terrorised Australia at Lord’s, going for 0-97 and the percentage of 90mph-plus deliveries has dropped from 24 per cent in London to five per cent in Leeds to three here.

There were also signs of frustration appearing to disagree with his captain Root when asked to come round the wicket at one stage and a lack of concentration in the field.

Craig Overton also felt a twinge in his back leaving Root’s off spin to be flogged at the death as Mitchell Starc, with an unbeaten 54 and Nathan Lyon, with 26 added 59 for the unbroken ninth wicket.

With rain forecast for the early part of Friday it could be that the weather will help England who face a mountain to climb to parity, still trailing by 474.

Root was spared coming in on Thursday night with Overton promoted to nightwatchman after Denly, bruised from wearing a rising ball from Starc, fended one from Cummins to short leg where Matthew Wade took a stunning catch.

You feel someone will need to contribute three figures in the reply even if reaching the levels which Smith operated at will be nigh on impossible.

This was another performance of genius from a player who now has 11 Ashes centuries, behind only Don Bradman and Jack Hobbs and has more runs this calendar year than any other batsman despite making his return to Test cricket after his ban last month.

Smith has 22 centuries in first innings of Tests from just 67 matches which is a stunning return and England tried everything to try and knock him out of his stride on Thursday, to no avail.

They bowled short particularly with the second new ball – a tactic Smith later insisted played into his and Australia’s hands softening the ball quicker and taking away lbw and the edge of his bat.

When that failed they bowled wide outside off-stump and he just shuffled across and whipped them to leg. Eventually, Root using Overton a blunt tool, they bowled just plain wide.

When his wicket finally fell, reverse-sweeping Root straight to Denly at short third man as the Australians accelerated with greater abandon toward an inevitable declaration there was a sense he let his own wicket slip away.

It certainly felt there was no way England were taking it until it was gifted.

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