It’s improbable that Pat Cummins had ever witnessed something like it. Joe Root attempted to reverse scoop him over the slips off the first ball of the day.
Despite Root’s missed opportunity, the stroke signaled a sequence of play that in five overs moved Australia from attack to defense. They had three slips and a gully at first, but soon just had a lone catcher left. Root sent Scott Boland to deep third for a six and a four but failed to finish the reverse scoop. The opening three overs of the day saw England score 32 runs, which might have swiftly spiraled out of hand for Australia.
Their ambitions were dashed by Stuart Broad’s two late wickets, but Cummins and Nathan Lyon, the other major member of their attack, are to thank for the fact that they are not up against a more challenging goal. The two bowlers were exceptional, dismissing 42.2 of the 66.2 overs in England’s second innings for a combined 8 for 143.
With a delivery that will be often played, much like his ball to Root at Old Trafford in 2019, Cummins gave Australia their first breakthrough. This time, it was an inch-perfect yorker to Ollie Pope that sailed under the bat and was returned off stump.
The crucial wicket, however, belonged to Lyon, who outplayed Root as he descended the pitch and bowled him for the first time in his more than 11,000-run Test career. For Alex Carey, who had waited 16 matches for his first stumping, it was the third of the game. Like with Joe Root, he also caused Virat Kohli’s first such dismissal in Tests.
Lyon is a crucial component of this Australia team. As the first innings demonstrated, his loss of wickets will cost him in this series, but he never quits and stays in the game. He needs six more wickets to reach his 500th career victory, which would also mark his 100th consecutive appearance, and the second Test at Lord’s.
He asked his teammates to attempt to hit him out of the nets two days before the game because he knew he would be attacked by England’s hitters.
He added, “I just said come and slog me, try and hit me for six on every ball. I had Matt Renshaw and Josh Inglis.”
However, England was unable to score against Lyon at anywhere like to the same rate as they did in the first innings (3.33 compared to 5.13 on the first day). This was partially expected given the worn surface, but Lyon’s nuances also played a significant role.
Following Root’s dismissal, Harry Brook was forced to pull a delivery to midwicket that was not as short as the one on which a successful similar stroke had been made. Ben Stokes, who scored just 15 runs off of 35 deliveries, was also criticized by him, but he remained silent. While Jonny Bairstow made 4 off 20 balls, Lyon bowled to him. Following Lahore (six wickets to end the series), Galle (nine wickets in a victory), and Indore (11 wickets in a victory), it was also another significant foreign contribution in a little more than a year.
“For me, it’s about bowling my best ball and trying to get them to defend as much as I can while understanding they don’t want to defend,” Lyon said. “And that’s completely fine. To be honest, it’s a new task, but it’s thrilling. To be really honest, I’m bloody proud to be a part of the fantastic style of cricket that they are playing.
The two offspinners’ stories in this Test could end up being one of the deciding factors despite the contrast being unjust and glaring. Lyon has taken eight wickets, albeit at a high cost, and Moeen Ali’s return to the format has come with a badly blistered finger that makes bowling challenging and unpleasant, despite his stunning removal of Cameron Green.
In this thrilling game, Lyon’s duty with the ball is now complete, and he hopes he won’t be needed with the bat on the final day. However, England will surely need Moeen to contribute if they are to win. Lyon said he understood what Moeen was going through, even with a Test on the line.
Sitting here, I feel a lot of compassion for Mo, who was forced to bowl a lot of overs after being away from red-ball cricket for two years. “The best way I can probably sum it up, and it will probably sound funny, is like a singer who is having vocal difficulties but still plans to perform in public.
As offies, we put our fingers on the seam and try to spin up the back of the ball; that’s where we acquire spin, drop, and drift. It is quite difficult to grasp the ball as a finger spinner. There is a lot of pity for him because, as someone who has experienced it, it is painful.
After the game on Tuesday is over, the two might catch up on the ups and downs of offspin. However, it is still quite unclear who will emerge as the winner and the defeated, at least if the weather permits.