Australia 295 (Smith 71, Woakes 3-61) lead England 283 by 12 runs
Australia’s tortoises took a slim first-innings lead over England’s hares at The Oval, led by Steven
Smith. On the opening day, England smashed 283 in 54.4 overs, but Australia answered at a very different pace.
They took the lead after exactly 99 overs, due in large part to their captain, Pat Cummins. Cummins finished with 185 for 7, leaving Australia 98 behind, although he had partnerships of 54 with Smith and 49 with Todd Murphy in making 36.
Each of England’s four seamers bowled at least 20 overs, with Moeen Ali, who had a groin injury while batting on the first day, missing the whole second. Chris Woakes finished with three wickets for 61 runs, but Stuart Broad was the star of the assault.
Australia went nowhere for much of the morning session, scoring only 13 runs in the first hour, but Smith’s entrance at the crease – after Marnus Labuschagne was beautifully taken at slip by Joe Root – shifted the game’s pace.
With the first of them, he broke Don Bradman’s record for the most runs by a foreign batsman at The Oval, and he kept Australia’s innings together after lunch when five wickets fell at the other end.
Broad ripped the game up after the half, grabbing two wickets in his first two overs to remove Usman Khawaja and Travis Head, while none of Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey, or Mitchell Starc reached 20 as England sensed a significant advantage.
Australia reduced the gap as Smith escaped a close call from TV umpire Nitin Menon on a run-out opportunity and Cummins reversed a lbw verdict. Murphy batted from No. 10, hooking Mark Wood for his first, second, and third sixes of the season, then flicking a single off his pads to long leg to put them ahead.
Cummins swiped Joe Root down the ground after Woakes trapped Murphy lbw, only for Ben Stokes to take a superb catch on the boundary at long-on. It meant a 12-run first-inning advantage, with the fifth Test practically becoming a one-inning shoot-out.
Australia made 54 runs in 26 overs before lunch in the first session. The conditions were dismal and cloudy, which suited England’s seamers, and Khawaja and Labuschagne opted for tenacious defense; Labuschagne was especially tenacious, needing over 90 minutes to add seven runs to his overnight tally.
It needed a stroke of exceptional genius to reject him. Slamming one in midway down the pitch, Mark Wood pulled an outside edge that went into the space between Jonny Bairstow and Root at first slip. Bairstow sent the ball to Root, who reacted late but pushed himself low to his left and grabbed it with one hand.
Khawaja took it to lunch unharmed, but was bowled for 47 five balls later. Broad trapped him on the knee roll, and his evaluation was positive. Broad riled the fans in typical fashion and deviated from England’s traditional short-ball approach to Travis Head, instead going full outside off stump and wheeling away jubilant after hitting his outside edge.
Marsh felt that the only way to disrupt Broad’s stride was to attack, so he launched him for a soaring straight six. But he was out with a more hesitant stroke, inside-edging onto his own stumps as he nudged Anderson, who appeared happy to have taken another wicket, finally breaking a 35.2-over drought.
With Moeen out, Root was England’s sole spin option. Carey clobbered him for a straight six before chipping the next ball he faced – a sluggish, loopy, wide offbreak – to Stokes at short cover. When Starc top-edged Wood to long leg, Australia appeared to be in big danger.
On 42, Smith seemed to have run himself out while moving a ball towards the leg side and taking on George Ealham, a substitute fielder whose father, Mark, was a member of England’s squad in the 1990s. Bairstow blasted the bails off with Smith, diving at full stretch, short of his ground, before Ealham rushed in from deep midwicket and hurled at the stumps.
So it appeared at first. The audience moaned as Menon’s ‘not out’ judgement came up on the big screen; he was skeptical that the shorter portion of the first bail that was loosened had left the top of the stumps by the time Smith’s bat passed through the popping crease. Smith exhaled a sense of relief before pounding Broad down the field to reach 50.
When England got the new ball, Cummins was ruled out lbw by Joel Wilson but the decision was overturned, and Australia put on their first 50-run stand of the game. Smith collapsed while attempting to lash Woakes over square leg, with Harry Brook pushed up from the boundary; Bairstow went back and settled under his leading edge.
England went short to Murphy but abandoned the strategy as he swiped Wood away over the long leg, before a flick off Anderson gave Australia a slim lead. He made 34 crucial runs before Woakes trapped him leg-before, but his most important contribution in this match will come on Saturday, when he will try to prevent England from establishing a significant fourth-innings goal.