Wood leaves Australia reeling as big-hitting England on brink of series-levelling win


Bairstow and Wood heroics put England in control

MANCHESTER, (Reuters): A hostile spell of bowling from Mark Wood helped restrict Australia to 113-4 in their second innings on day three of a thrilling fourth Ashes test, still trailing England by 162 runs as the hosts close in on a win that would level the series.

England had looked dead and buried in the series after the Lord’s test, trailing 2-0, with no team since 1936-37 coming back to win the Ashes having lost the first two matches.

But after their exhilarating success at Headingley, England have taken the attack to Australia in Manchester, with the tourists having no answer to this new-found, aggressive approach from the hosts.

Looking to extend their first innings lead on Friday, Jonny Bairstow produced a blistering display with the bat to finish unbeaten on 99 as he helped England post a colossal 592 all out — their highest Ashes innings total on home soil since 1985.

With rain forecast for the weekend and England holding a 275-run lead, it was clear Australia were playing for a draw that would help them to retain the Ashes.

After a steady start in reply, Wood struck to dismiss Usman Khawaja for 18, before David Warner played onto his own stumps, again not building on a solid start this series, scoring 28.

The Durham fast bowler removed Steve Smith for 17, an opportune moment for Wood to take his 100th test wicket, and Travis Head shortly after to put England on the verge of a famous, series-levelling victory.

BOOMING BAIRSTOW

It was always going to take some effort for England to replicate their efforts from Thursday in chasing down and surpassing Australia’s first innings total of 317.

In scenes rarely seen in this format of the game, England raced along, scoring at a rate of 5.33 per over, the fourth fastest ever, for an innings of five overs or more, against Australia by any side in test cricket history.

Captain Ben Stokes and Harry Brook were much more conservative, however, as England resumed on day three, but the runs kept coming, with both reaching their half centuries with ease.

Stokes was the more attacking and looked ready to loosen the shackles before he was bowled by Australia skipper Pat Cummins for 51, bringing Bairstow to the crease.

Brook has been key to England’s aggressive ‘Bazball’ approach, but having played sensibly to get to 61, his 10th score of 50 or more in just his 11th test, he was caught chasing one off the bowling of Josh Hazlewood.

With wickets falling around him, Bairstow then went into big-hitting mode, much to the delight of the raucous Old Trafford crowd, plundering four sixes to all corners of the ground to compound the tourists’ misery.

England’s number 11 batsman James Anderson could not stick around long enough to help Bairstow score one of the fastest test centuries of all time. When Anderson was trapped leg before wicket, Bairstow was left stranded one run short of scoring a 13th test ton.

It completed an innings that was very fitting for England’s new aggressive ‘Bazball’ approach. In the history of test cricket, there have been 3,828 innings lasting 100 overs or more and this was the second fastest run-rate, with England accumulating 5.49 runs per over.

England got the early breakthrough they needed with their first innings lead of 275, with Khawaja caught behind by wicket keeper Bairstow and Warner swiftly following.

Smith and Marnus Labuschagne frustrated England with some solid defensive work, looking comfortable and set to see the tourists through to a rainy weekend, but Wood’s 100th test wicket again turned the tide in the hosts’ favour.

There was plenty Smith could have done to avoid nicking the ball through to Bairstow when attempting an ill-advised hook shot, but the 91 miles-per-hour thunderbolt that was the undoing of Head was almost unplayable.

Wood finished the day with damaging figures of 3-17.

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