As far as truncated days go, things could not have gone any better for England today.
Just 24.1 overs were managed on day three and perhaps in any other setting, with better adjusted batting line-ups, this game would already be cast onto the pile marked “DRAW”. Alas, in English conditions, on a pitch misbehaving and a Dukes ball wanting to dominate, these two fallible sides are not ready or willing to stick a fork in this one.
“There’s 98 overs for the next two days, which for both teams has been enough to bowl each other!” joked Stuart Broad. Well, it wasn’t so much a joke, rather an astute observation rounded off by some chuckles in the crowd. “There’s certainly hope for both sides.”
Already England are wondering about bowling Australia out by lunch on day four, which represents their best chance of fashioning a win and squaring the series. The wicket of David Warner on Thursday evening was followed here by those of Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja and Travis Head. Australia, 80 for 4, trailing by 178, know if they take out another session with their first innings still in play, they’ll move on to Leeds with their lead intact.
As far as feel-good moments go, Jofra Archer’s first Test wicket was right up there today. Whatever fears there were that he might not take to Test cricket as he has to literally every single other form were allayed. His first 13 overs in Test cricket went for just 18 runs and featured six full maidens and his first Test dismissal. Fittingly, his 132nd first-class wicket was reminiscent of many of those previous: a ball cutting into the right-hander late off the pitch and threatening his stumps.
Cameron Bancroft was the victim, unable to cover the movement to be struck in front of off-stump. He questioned the height, first to his partner Usman Khawaja before officially sending it up to the television umpire to add to the theatre of the moment. “Umpires call” it was and Archer celebrated for a second time in as many minutes.
His pace was consistent and, barring a brief moment when he was a touch too wide and short – as were the rest of the attack for this period – he looked every inch a Test bowler.
“He’s already been a successful international cricketer having been involved in the World Cup win, but he’s got some great attributes (for Test cricket),” said Broad. “These conditions at Lord’s have been a bit favourable to the bowler on day one and day two, but that’s not taking away anything he brings. You feel even on day four and day five pitches with his height and bounce, he’s going to bring stumps into play.
“I don’t think there are any doubts within the group or within the media that he has the attributes to be a Test cricketer. There’s going to be times when he’s going to blow teams away. What impressed me was his nagging line, the fact that he can bring all dismissals in. He’s aggressive with his bouncer.”
Broad was quick to temper his praise for Archer’s benefit. Though the Sussex quick has been around the circuit and columns for the last few years, he is still relatively new to the game, not just this format.
“This is his first Test match. It’s a big learning experience. You sometimes forget he’s what, 24? In our minds, because he’s been involved in World Cups and been talked about so much in the last six months that we think he’s a really experienced, older, knows-it-all cricketer. He’s still learning his trade a little bit, although he’s doing it with great success.”
Another, albeit lower-profile positive, was how England bowled to Steve Smith. The former Australia captain withstood 40 deliveries in trying conditions, leaving exactly 20 of them and having to make do with scraps. Instead of getting drawn into the quirks and histrionics, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes from the Nursery End treated him as any other right-hander.
There were no funky fields: instead, they looked to keep him dry before the rain ensured there was no play after 12:57pm. Perhaps they could have bowled straighter when it was clear Smith was keen to leave as much as possible. But already the lessons from Birmingham, where England indulged his tucks and flicks, appear to have been learned.
“”We bowled well at him today,” championed Broad. “The biggest thing with that was there a little bit of nibble in the pitch.
“Chris Woakes bowled with three slips and a gully – a regulation field. Ben Stokes bowled a couple of beauties at him outside off stump. With world-class players you always have to adapt to the conditions that are in front of you and conditions today at Lord’s suggested we should bowl six of our best balls and question their outside edge.”
Not that Smith will get bored of leaving or even this tactic. As Broad went on to state, he simple adjusts to what’s going on. He doesn’t so much impose himself onto a game, but rather takes its shape. It’s this fluidity that makes him the best Test batsman of his and other eras.
More of the same conditions should be around tomorrow which will make England’s pursuit of those final six wickets – and Smith’s – a little easier. Time, though, is of the essence.