ENGLAND’S Ashes series lead is in jeopardy after Steve Smith’s maiden double century, and a rush of early wickets for Australia’s pace attack, put the tourists in control at Lord’s.
Smith reached 215 and Chris Rogers made 173 as they completed Australia’s highest stand at the home of cricket, 284 for the second wicket, in a first-innings of 566 for eight declared in this second Investec Test.
Mitchell Johnson then led the demonstration of fast, swing bowling as England lost three wickets for two runs en route to 30 for four – before Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes engineered a partial recovery to 85 without further loss at stumps on day two.
James Anderson had observed 24 hours earlier that – despite Australia’s 337 for one at that stage – England merely needed to ‘win’ the remaining four days to go 2-0 up here after all. But Smith refused to yield until almost tea as Australia extended their plunder on a benign pitch – and then Johnson and Josh Hazlewood took the surface out of the equation by bowling full, fast and moving the ball late.
The ploy of delaying the declaration until one over into the evening session, preventing any leeway for England’s openers to adjust mentally from toil to new-ball pressure, perhaps affected Adam Lyth. He was first to go, to a poor shot, pushing out on the back foot as he edged behind off Mitchell Starc for a second-ball duck.
Gary Ballance registered four boundaries, with gaps available as Michael Clarke packed his slip cordon. But England’s No 3 was then stuck deep in the crease, as he has been so often this summer, and was bowled off-stump driving without using his feet as Johnson found telling swing.
That was the first of three wickets in successive overs, Hazlewood bowling Ian Bell with more of the same, and Johnson doubling up when Joe Root went after a short ball but could only edge behind for debutant wicketkeeper Peter Nevill’s second catch already.
Smith had lost his status as the world’s number one batsman when he mustered only two 33s in last week’s defeat at Cardiff, but will surely be heading back to the top after passing 200 for the first time at any level – and becoming only the third Australian to do so here. The moment came in mid-afternoon with a clip past midwicket off Moeen Ali for his 24th four from the 336th ball he had faced.
England’s rewards for improved bowling were relatively meagre before lunch. They amounted to Rogers’ departure, after more than six-and-a-half hours and 300 balls, and then Clarke’s too following a much shorter and more vexed stay.
Rogers drove at a Stuart Broad inswinger and inside-edged on to his stumps via pad. Clarke appeared to have nowhere to go when England went short at him – and having struggled to seven off 32 balls, the Australia captain mistimed a pull straight to square-leg off Mark Wood.
But it was in early afternoon that England, thanks to Broad who took four for 83, had a sudden and temporary spike of progress. One very good delivery appeared to be slanting up the slope on the angle, but then nipped down it to take a thin edge and have Adam Voges caught behind. Mitch Marsh was soon undone when he went back to one that did not make the expected height, and induced the chop-on.
If England thought the damage limitation was under way, Nevill had other ideas in a stand of 91 with Smith which ended only when the senior partner was finally dismissed – lbw chancing a reverse sweep at Root. After a DRS process which marginally endorsed the decision, Smith departed to a standing ovation – the level of non-partisan acclaim reserved for a truly memorable performance.
Root added the wicket of Nevill and Australia waited until Johnson holed out off Broad at the start of the third session before inviting England’s reply.