ENGLAND cruised into a 2-1 Ashes lead with an eight-wicket win before tea on day three at Edgbaston.
Ian Bell, with his second half-century of the match on his home ground following promotion back to No 3, made the task look unnervingly simple – even after the early loss of captain Alastair Cook – as England knocked off their target of 121 in 32.1 overs.
They were held up in the field by the minor inconvenience of lower-order resistance from Peter Nevill (59) and Mitchell Starc (58) after Australia resumed on 168 for seven.
But the long overwhelmingly likely outcome – an unfeasible turnaround from the hosts’ embarrassing 405-run defeat at Lord’s last week – was never in the remotest doubt after Bell and Joe Root (38 not out) had joined forces in the run chase.
England first eked out the final three Australia wickets in a total of 265. Then with a sell-out crowd voicing delight and crowing at Australia’s misery at this famously noisy venue, Bell (65no) ensured plenty to shout about as the meagre target was surpassed to go one up with two to play in this Investec series.
Nevill’s maiden Test 50, in just his third innings, occupied 126 balls and kept England waiting longest. But Steven Finn finished with a career-best six for 79, Nevill’s the extra wicket he added on a sunny morning after his heroics the previous day.
Nevill’s half-century came after a scare late on day two, when Jos Buttler failed to hold a tough chance which would have given Stuart Broad his 300th Test wicket. There was another moment of fortune on 53 when Buttler this time did hold another one down the leg-side, off Broad, but umpire Chris Gaffaney did not detect the ball brushing over the bottom glove – as revealed by Hotspot.
It was not a costly moment for England, however, with Nevill going soon afterwards to a second fine take by Buttler leaping to his left, the thin edge confirmed on DRS to give Finn his sixth wicket.
The end of a stand of 64 was a relief for England, but Starc was intent on making them sweat a little more and completed his 50 too with a swat over long-on for six off Moeen Ali.
Josh Hazlewood helped him add another 28, until – in the absence of the injured James Anderson, who will also miss next week’s fourth Test at Trent Bridge because of his side strain – Ben Stokes struck with his second delivery of the day, the No 10 brilliantly caught by Root high to his right at third slip.
Then, in the final over before the new ball was available, Starc was last out when he poked a catch to cover off Moeen – leaving England with a straightforward-looking final lap.
It was still 18 more than they had managed in their hapless second innings at Lord’s. But on a surface offering less seam movement than it previously had, only swing stood in England’s way.
It was too much for Cook, bowled off-stump when he played defensively inside a very good ball from Starc. But Bell was in a hurry, clipping Starc off his pads for a four first ball and going on to a largely serene 68-ball 50.
Australia did miss one chance to eliminate him when Bell guided a catch to second slip off Starc, but it was captain Michael Clarke who had himself to blame when he spilled the ball.
He immediately replaced Starc with Mitchell Johnson, but to no avail and eventually more merriment in the crowd at the expense of the Australian they prefer to mock most.
England did lose Adam Lyth, whose unconvincing form will be a worry to go with Anderson’s unavailability on the road to Nottingham. But after the opener fell lbw on the back foot, to residual movement off the pitch from Hazlewood, Bell and Root gave Australia no further encouragement in an unbroken stand of 73 as England won with over two days to spare.