It only lasted 20 minutes, but the stars lined up for Australia in dramatic fashion as England were finally and perhaps decisively forced to take the back foot.
The light was desperately bad, floodlights were casting shadows on the outfield and storm clouds were closing in on Edgbaston when the beast in Australia awoke to a compelling play pass that gave them a slight advantage in this first Ashes Test.
There were few signs of the perfect bowling conditions to come in a morning session when Ben Stokes again proved himself to be an outstanding captain by winning the last four Australian wickets for 14 runs from 23 balls with the most tactical more imaginative.
That, along with Australia sent off for 386, gave England a seven-run lead in the first set and Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley extended it easily to 33, with Australia once again displaying ultra-defensive outfields, when rain stopped play for 75 minutes.
When the teams were able, if only for 22 deliveries, to get back on their feet, everything had changed. Now that the ball was starting to sink, Pat Cummins finally went on the attack after two and a half days of uncharacteristically shy, and England had to fight for their very survival.
England lost their first two games in a rainy afternoon session with Zak Crawley (pictured) the first to be sacked
Australian Scott Boland celebrates after dismissing Crawley as the visitors hit back in dramatic fashion during a brief spell on a rainy day three at Edgbaston
Rain stopped play for 75 minutes before everything changed when the teams were able to recover – but only for 22 deliveries as day three action could not continue
Not that that stopped them from trying to do it their way. Ben Duckett simply refuses to let the ball go but there was always a chance that his great attacking strength could become a weakness on the outside against this formidable Australian attack.
Now he played a wide ball which, with referees Marais Erasmus and Ahsan Raza getting nervous and looking at the leaden sky, he really should have started from Cummins and saw Cameron Green produce a sensational diving catch in the ravine.
It was now the Aussie machine we know so well, Cummins and Scott Boland coming in on steam and frantically calling every time the ball approached a pad.
Twice Erasmus refused to hear Boland’s very upbeat cries against Crawley before the metronomic precision of a man crushed by England in the first leg finally paid off.
Crawley got the thinnest of edges to a ball that strayed away from Boland and Alex Carey took the low hold to leave England 27 for two, Crawley watching the referee in no way questioning the decision but with disbelief that the game continued.
England may lament their bad luck batting at a time when everything favored the ball but they can’t really complain. The lights were on at Edgbaston, although it’s those odd ‘e’ shapes that don’t really do the job, and England’s stated intention to entertain at all times demanded that the third-day spectacle continue .
But they were greatly relieved when heavy rain finally arrived at 3.50pm to wash away the rest of the day with Joe Root, who survived two more over-exuberant calls, and Ollie Pope who hung on to do it again today. today.
That England entered their second innings with a small lead was almost entirely down to Stokes. His side had started day three in sloppy fashion when Jonny Bairstow could not hold an inside edge from Carey on 52 from Jimmy Anderson’s fourth ball of the day.
Ben Duckett leaves the field dejectedly in Edgbaston after being dismissed
Cameron Green (second from right) celebrates with teammates after catching Duckett
It meant England missed five chances, three of them by a Bairstow keeper given the gloves on his return to the side from injury in place of Ben Foakes.
The misses – Bairstow also missed Cameron Green’s second ball and dropped Carey on the 26th – will reopen the debate over England’s best glover but, really, Bairstow and Foakes should be on that side.
Crawley, or even Duckett, should have been the man to follow, with the opening captain, Foakes keeping and Bairstow returning as a specialist batsman, but England insist they never considered this option. As things stand, Bairstow remains a more than capable keeper, as he showed in his spectacular take on Marnus Labuschagne, and will improve as the series goes on.
England have a perhaps more serious concern over Moeen Ali, who is struggling with a bad blister on his spinning finger after playing 33 overs on his return to Test cricket.
Day three began with the news that Moeen had been fined 25% of his match fee for spraying a ‘drying agent’ on his damaged finger in the 89th round of the Australian innings on Saturday without permission referees.
Obviously the injury was affecting Moeen, who threw some big full shots and England can only hope he will be able to play effectively through the pain when it comes time for Australia to beat again. This could be critical for the result.
Ground staff worked hard to clean up standing water, but play was abandoned for the day just before 6:15 p.m.
England cruise through Australia in the morning session with Ollie Robinson (left) seen celebrating with Ben Stokes after dismissing Australian Pat Cummins
Even though Moeen wasn’t at his best and the conditions, at least in the morning, favored the rotation, Stokes somehow found the plans and the energy to send Australia back with couture just when it looked like they’d rather win that first round.
Anderson found a beauty to beat Carey for 66 but Usman Khawaja was still holding on and Cummins had joined him in an enterprising stand of 34 before Stokes went funky.
His fields were straight out of the Bazball playbook, six fielders surrounding Khawaja in a mini-circle and seemingly getting into the batsman’s head before he actually yorked for 141 against Ollie Robinson.
Khawaja went for a kind of Robinson send-off that seemed to offend Australian sensibilities and led referee Erasmus to have a word with Stokes. But, in truth, it was a minor indiscretion by Robinson, which wasn’t exactly in Khawaja’s face.
More imagination on the pitch came with an Aussie tailed short ball ploy, Nathan Lyon dug a deep square leg off Robinson, Boland headed Stuart Broad to a silly point and Cummins edged the Sussex bowler .
It was brilliant from the captain and a Robinson bowler who hadn’t done his best on day two and was wearing different boots apparently to protect the left ankle injury that threatened his participation in this test.
So Australia is collapsing, but the weather forecast is much better for today. All still a lot to play.