Australia’s early games frustrate England before more bad weather brought the fourth day to a close as the visitors threatened to rain on the Stuart Broad parade.
- Australia got off to a perfect start in their quest for their second highest chase.
- They made smooth progress to 135-0 before rain saw the game abandoned.
- They need 249 more with Usman Khawaja at 69 and David Warner 58 not out
If Stuart Broad really were writing his own scripts, it’s fair to assume he wouldn’t have included one last twist that would see Australia reach an unprecedented goal.
That would certainly be an even worse blow than the rain that brought a sodden Manchester-style conclusion to the penultimate day of what has become the farewell Broad Test.
There is still a long way to go on Monday if Australia are to get to 384 and post the second most successful chase in their history and the highest by some distance at the Oval.
But they took big strides into the rain at the Broad parade Sunday in a cruise at 135 not only without loss but without even the semblance of opportunity or hard time.
Two Australian batsmen saying farewell to the Ashes in David Warner and Usman Khawaja almost certainly had no problem when Broad took the pitch for the last time as one of England’s greatest bowlers.
Even the wave of emotion caused by Broad’s decision on Saturday to end a truly outstanding run was not enough to inspire England to make the last big push expected of them and take the leveling series victory they deserve.
Instead the ball stubbornly refused to turn or turn, England and this Oval crowd poised for a perfect Broad send-off were surprisingly flat, and Warner and Khawaja helped themselves to an unbeaten half-century with the minimum of fuss.
The fourth day also started very well. The sun shone down on Broad as he stepped out onto a field where he has starred in so many famous sendoffs alongside the man he will always be inextricably linked with in his strike partner Jimmy Anderson.
This time, however, they were together as partners of last resort with England looking to extend a lead that was already at 377 and seemingly already out of Australia’s reach.
As Broad made his way down the steps of the Bedser Stand, he was greeted by an honor guard of Australian players whom he has clashed with so often in a career that has been defined by his success in the heat of many Ashes battles.
At the bottom of the stairs, Broad briefly put his arm around his old friend’s shoulders as if to encourage him to share the spotlight, but Anderson, 41 on Sunday, wanted none of it, as if to emphasize that he has no Intend to follow Broad in the evening.
Perhaps Anderson was having second thoughts about that when he walked away when the rain came an hour after lunch because again he was innocuous in bowling 10 overs without his signature move and any kind of threat.
But any thoughts that England would end the day under pressure were far from the minds of the big two as Broad took out what would turn out to be his last ball in Mitchell Starc’s Test cricket over the ropes for six. Only West Indies and Middlesex’s Wayne Daniel has done that before in Test Cricket.
Anderson was due to fall to Todd Murphy before Broad could grapple with another ball, but it seemed England had left Australia with an insurmountable challenge to claim their first Ashes series away win for 22 years.
It doesn’t seem so daunting now. Warner, at 36, has set his own retirement date for his home ground of Sydney in January when Australia take on Pakistan, but started here needing a big score to prevent Australia from pulling the plug before he can get there.
That Broad script would have dictated that he quickly landed his man for the eighteenth time in Test cricket, but there would be no red flags for Warner against his nemesis after having bested Broad just short of Ben Duckett in the ravine when he was on seven.
The only time Warner was in any kind of trouble after that was when Anderson delivered what Jimmy’s seasoned spotters felt was the first lightning bolt they remembered when bowling, a nasty delivery that Warner somehow hit for four. while falling.
By the time the rains came, Warner had made it to 58, while his 36-year-old Khawaja partner had moved on to 69 and again surpassed Zak Crawley as the top run-scorer in this Ashes, just in twice as long.
England had lacked energy and ideas. Moeen Ali came forward as early as the 10th in an attempt to replicate the slow spin and occasional uneven rebound which saw Nathan Lyon’s substitute Murphy finish with four wickets.
But it quickly became clear that he had not fully recovered from his groin injury on day one and Moeen was quickly replaced by Joe Root as England searched in vain for the breakthrough.
It was surprising that Ben Stokes held off Mark Wood until the 33rd, but it looked like they were waiting until the ball had deteriorated and Wood could find the reverse swing, but there was little for their fastest bowler when he was finally introduced.
Wood generated enough pace to give Khawaja a nasty shot that damaged both his helmet and the ball, but the new one was unresponsive in the hands of the English after the referees changed it like the old one and Australia remained unmoved.
They will return on Monday and will need another 249 with all wickets intact to pull off what, frankly, would be a travesty of a scoreline in a 3-1 win after England played almost all of the cricket and provided most of the entertainment in this one. Ashes. .
For now, introspection can wait because a couple of quick wickets this morning would change the landscape considerably, but Broad needs to write that final chapter and get his legs moving one last time if the old foe doesn’t want to crash his party.