In the interval between the first and second Test, a kind of fatalistic mood seemed to settle upon the press: England were tired, out of practice and suffering from a World Cup hangover that Australia were more than capable of taking advantage of. Too much focus had been given to white-ball cricket to the cost of the red-ball format. Somehow, this all seemed a bit over the top – after all, Australia had also been caught up in World Cup fever and were similarly undercooked for the longer format.
As expected, Jofra Archer replaced the injured Jimmy Anderson, making one of the most eagerly anticipated Test debuts in a long time. With his express pace, he brings a new dimension to England’s attack. Australia coach Justin Langer suggested that Archer might lack stamina, and that their batsmen would be able to wear him down, but any sense that the Sussex man is just a limited-overs specialist is belied by his career record, which had brought him 131 wickets at an average of 23.44 in 28 matches. More pertinently, he’d bowled an average of more than 35 overs in each game.
With Moeen Ali so badly out of form, the only question was whether Sam Curran or Jack Leach would take his place. With lots of rain forecast, it might have been expected the selectors would plump for the extra seamer, but Leach got the nod instead. For Australia, Josh Hazlewood came in for James Pattinson, with Mitchell Starc having to wait a while longer to make his Ashes bow in this series. It’s fair to say that any attack that can afford to leave him out is a strong one.
The first day was washed out, so the Lord’s Test got under way on the Thursday, after all. The day was dedicated to the Ruth Strauss Foundation, with the stands packed with supporters dressed in red to mark the occasion. Australia won the toss, chose to field and quickly established the sort of control that the media had feared.
Jason Roy was caught behind third ball, having been lucky to last that long. The sense that his obvious talent is being unnecessarily exposed at the top of the order – especially when Joe Denly is at four and very happy to open – grows ever stronger. Joe Root didn’t stick around for long, but Rory Burns and Denly saw England through to lunch with the score on 76 for two. Not long after, Denly fell for 30.
The pressure from the Australia attack remained relentless. Burns, who had survived two dropped catches (he’s already shown in this series that he is, if nothing else, a lucky batsman), was brilliantly caught at short square leg by Cameron Bancroft for 53. The out-of-form Jos Buttler and the in-form Ben Stokes soon followed him back to the pavilion and England were 138 for six. Jonny Bairstow needed to show more of what we have come to expect from him and, in partnership with Chris Woakes, who loves playing at Lord’s, they began to repair the damage, putting on 72 for the seventh wicket.
Pat Cummins and Hazlewood continued to bowl with great hostility, backed up by the reliable Peter Siddle and the increasingly authoritative Nathan Lyon. It may not have been the wisest move to pepper Archer, who was unlikely to forget the experience when the roles are reversed. Bairstow reached his fifty, and saluted the crowd with an expression that suggested we had been at fault for ever doubting his quality. Soon after, he holed out to Lyon, whose third wicket it was, taking him level with Dennis Lillee on 355 Test wickets. England were all out for 258 and Australia had 13 overs to face at the end of the day.
Archer took the new ball with Stuart Broad, and the former could have had David Warner as his maiden scalp, but neither he nor those behind the stumps heard or saw the little nick. It didn’t matter, as Broad ensured he didn’t add to his score, clipping the very top of his middle stump, making it a third single-figure score for him in the series. There were no more dramas, as Australia reached 30 for one by the close, meaning that things were just about in the balance, in theory. The practice would depend on Steve Smith.
The third day provided just over 24 overs of play, but during that time England picked up three more wickets as Australia moved to 80 for four. Archer took his maiden Test wicket, trapping Bancroft in front, a decision that was confirmed on review. Broad also removed the dangerous Travis Head LBW, a decision Alim Dar bizarrely turned down, only for DRS to show it crashing into middle stump three-quarters the way up. Perhaps inevitably, Smith was still there.
Saturday at Lord’s is one of the great days of Test cricket, and there can have been few more remarkable days than this one. It started relatively quietly, with Australia moving to 155 for five by lunch, by which point Smith had set a new record, becoming the first batsman in Ashes history to make seven successive fifties. But it was after the break that things really changed – and it was Archer who changed them.
Bowling with real pace and hostility, the England paceman got quicker and quicker. Despite having already bowled some 25 overs in the innings, and with the ball more than 70 overs old, he rolled off eight overs on the bounce, and in one he averaged more than 92 mph, hitting a top speed of 96.1. Suddenly Smith was in a contest. He took a painful blow below his elbow, which seemed to restrict him. Then a bouncer from Archer hit him on the side of his neck, just below his helmet and floored him, and he was led away to check for concussion. Meanwhile, Leach was bowling with tremendous control and skill, not that anyone paid any notice, so transfixed was the crowd by Archer.
With the new ball, Woakes removed Siddle; Smith courageously returned and then larruped his second ball for four over mid-wicket, but was clearly not quite himself, and Woakes soon had him for 92, playing no stroke to a ball that was cannoning into the stumps. He reviewed it, but was walking off before the decision was confirmed. The tail was wrapped up, and Australia had reached 250, with Broad finishing with four for 65.
There was always a sense that, by choosing to bowl first, Australia had given themselves the best chance to take 20 wickets and hope they didn’t have to chase too many to win the match. Now it was a question whether they could execute that plan.
Cummins struck in his third over to remove Roy for 2, a leading edge looping back to the bowler to complete a miserable series thus far for the Surrey man. Next ball, Root edged behind for the first golden duck of his career and England were 9 for two and in deep trouble. Burns and Denly again combined to bring some stability, adding 55 for the third wicket before Denly drilled one straight back to Siddle and was out for 26 – eight of his ten innings to date have seen him out between 10 and 30, a frustrating pattern. Burns had again benefited from some luck, as chances went begging, but was on the receiving end of a snorter from Siddle: 71 for four.
Buttler joined Stokes in the middle, and the latter survived an LBW appeal from Lyon where the umpire turned it down and the Australians decided against reviewing, but it would have crashed into leg stump. He was also dropped by Warner, who was having as bad a day in the slips as with the bat. The pair saw England through to close, reaching 96 for four, to give England a chance of saving the Test.
A delayed start to the morning coincided with news that Smith would play no further part in the match, with Marnus Labuschagne his concussion replacement – a Test first. The question now was whether he would be deemed sufficiently recovered to play at Headingley on Thursday, as different organisations have different guidelines. Buttler and Stokes saw England through to lunch, with the lead now 165 and a real sense that they could contemplate pushing for a possible victory.
Buttler didn’t last much longer, but Stokes grew in authority and eventually completed his seventh Test hundred, his second against Australia and his second at Lord’s. He finished on 115 not out, and the scale of his innings can be shown by the fact that when he came in England were facing potential defeat whereas they now had a chance of victory. England declared on 258 for five – the first time England had ever made the same total in both innings of a match.
With 48 overs to bat, Australia got off to the worst possible start, as Warner then Usman Khawaja both fell to Archer. Labuschagne found himself as Smith’s successor in the most unwelcome way, when he too was felled by an Archer bouncer, second ball, but he recovered well. Next, Bancroft was LBW to Leach: 47 for three. Travis Head joined Labuschagne and the pair battled it out for 22 overs (not before Head was dropped in the slips by Roy off Stokes), before Labuschagne swept one, which ricocheted off Buttler and was superbly caught by a diving Root off Leach’s bowling. With his next delivery, the spinner removed Matthew Wade: 138 for five, with 10.5 overs remaining.
A brilliant diving, one-handed catch by Denly from Paine’s mistimed hook off Archer kept England’s hopes alive, and the pressure mounted, but Head was still gritting it out. With the light fading, Archer had to come off to be replaced by Denly with four overs remaining. There was no miracle finish for England, and Australia ended on 154 for six after a superb and compelling Test. Above all, there was a feeling that debutant Archer had changed the momentum of the series, and it was something of a surprise that he missed out on becoming only the eighth England player to win the Man of the Match award on debut, losing out to Stokes.
Bring on Leeds! It’s unlikely England will change their bowling line-up for the next Test, but questions remain about the batting, with Roy looking the most vulnerable. The fixture list may have come to his aid, however, as the first round of first-class games in a month is only now being played, so no one has had a chance to press a claim, based on their current form. It may just be that he and Denly will swap places in the batting order. For Australia, Mitchell Starc may not be held back any longer and James Pattinson will also be under consideration. They too have problems with their top order: Warner’s record may count in his favour, but Bancroft’s series is probably going to be over.