It did not quite inspire pronouncements on sandwich boards that ‘He’s out’ as news of Don Bradman’s demise was once greeted at the Oval but, glory be, England finally found a way of dismissing Steve Smith yesterday to give themselves real hope in this final Test.
The man whose extraordinary statistics bear comparison with the greatest of them all was exasperating England again on Thursday as he moved to a record breaking 10th successive Ashes score of 50 or more.
But this time there was to be no Test defining century nor even a first innings lead as England at last came up with the answer to the question that has puzzled them all series. How do you get Smith out? When he misses a straight ball from Chris Woakes, that’s how.
Jofra Archer ripped through the Australian batting line-up with six wickets for 62 runs, completing nine maidens in 23.5 overs
On his first appearance in the 2019 Ashes series, 21-year-old all-rounder Sam Curran took three important wickets
Top-order batsman Steve Smith once again provided the biggest resistance for Australia with a score of 80
A score of 80, Smith’s lowest of an incredible series, was hardly a failure but coming in an Ashes where he has scored in excess of 700 runs and has looked almost invincible it deserved the roar of approval it gained from the Oval crowd.
And, in essence, it was the first time England had actually got Smith out when he was attempting defence rather than when he had in effect sacrificed himself in the pursuit of rapid runs or when he was clearly struggling after being badly hit at Lord’s.
It capped an excellent day for England who responded to their own under par 294 by bowling Australia out for 225 to take control of the latest Test ever staged in this country.
By the close they had extended their lead to 78 without second innings loss even though Rory Burns was struck a nasty blow by Pat Cummins and then wrongly given out in a shocker of a decision from Kumar Dharmasena to the last ball of he day from Josh Hazlewood that did not need a review to show it clearly pitched outside leg.
Joe Denly, who had returned to Kent for the overnight birth of his daughter, rode his luck too when he was badly dropped by Marcus Harris in that final over but both openers somehow lived to fight another day.
Now England can move into a position where they can push for that series-levelling victory as long as they show anything like the patience and application that has been lacking for so much of their Test cricket.
In truth, Woakes’ success was a rare positive moment for a bowler who looked to be suffering from a World Cup hangover when England left him out of the Old Trafford Test and has still appeared out of sorts here at the end of this longest summer.
Instead it was Jofra Archer, finishing his exceptional first season of international cricket with a bang, and Sam Curran on his Ashes debut who combined to take the other nine wickets between them on what was still a blameless Oval pitch.
Fast-bowler Pat Cummins took the key wicket of Jos Buttler at the start of day two as England ended on 294
Buttler had helped England rally and post a score of 294 that would eventually lead to a first-innings lead
Mitchell Marsh (centre) completed his first ever five-for, on his first 2019 Ashes game, with the final wicket of Jack Leach
TOP SPIN AT THE TEST
- After falling to Jofra Archer for five, David Warner became the first opener to suffer eight single-figure dismissals in a single Test series. He now averages nine in this Ashes, with 61 of his 84 runs coming in one innings at Headingley.
- There have now been 18 opening partnerships in succession in this series without a partnership of 50 – a world record.
- Steve Smith now has a world record of his own: 10 successive scores of 50 or more against a single country, beating Inzamam-ul-Haq’s sequence of nine for Pakistan against England. Smith’s scores in that time have been 239, 76, 102*, 83, 144, 142, 92, 211, 82 and 80.
- Smith fell to Chris Woakes for the third time in the series – the only England bowler to dismiss him more than once (Stuart Broad, Joe Root and Jack Leach have each taken his wicket too)
By Lawrence Booth
The Ashes may have gone but this is anything but a dead rubber for an England side who are looking to preserve an unbeaten home record against the old enemy that began with the greatest series against Australia of them all in 2005.
How much better it will be for captain Joe Root and whoever succeeds Trevor Bayliss as coach if they begin England’s new Test cycle this winter on the back of a 2-2 Ashes draw rather than the crushing disappointment of a 3-1 defeat.
That they now have a golden opportunity to achieve just that is largely down to the bowler who announced himself as a special talent in the World Cup and has gone on to have an outstanding first series of Test cricket.
Archer took the first three Australia wickets to fall after England had seen their first innings come to a rapid conclusion and returned to claim another three and record his second six wicket haul in only his fourth Test.
And, if anything, this was an even better performance than his six for 45 at Headingley because there was nothing in this Oval surface to assist the skill, aggression and sheer pace of Archer, who was back touching 90 miles per hour.
England fielder Jos Buttler attempts to take a difficult catch off a shot from Smith as Australia rally in the afternoon
Archer, only playing his fourth Test match, took his second five-for in Test cricket with an intelligent display of fast bowling
Australia captain Tim Paine scored one run before being caught by Jonny Bairstow off Curran as his poor form continued
All-rounder Curran struck again immediately by taking the wicket of Pat Cummins for a duck but couldn’t make it a hat-trick
That skill was perfectly demonstrated when Archer bowled Nathan Lyon with one of the knuckle balls that has been a feature of his bowling this summer to complete his five-wicket haul and his day was complete when Burns pulled off a brilliant diving slip catch almost behind him to dismiss Peter Siddle.
The only England bowler who did gain the swing that was seen after tea on the first day when Australia bowled was the player of England’s series last year against India now making a belated Ashes bow.
England have wanted Surrey’s younger Curran brother in their Test team all summer but were unable to find a way until Ben Stokes’ shoulder injury necessitated the need for another all-rounder and led to the omission of Jason Roy here.
Chris Woakes wheels away after trapping Smith lbw to get rid of the tourists’ biggest threat for his lowest score of the series
Smith walks off the field after missing a straight one from Woakes, 20 runs short of his fourth century of the summer
Curran was on a hat-trick, too, after he had sent back Tim Paine and Pat Cummins in successive deliveries but Siddle squirted his first ball for four and then added 37 with Lyon in an eighth-wicket show of Australian defiance.
Smith had not really been at his eccentric best on a ground where he scored Ashes centuries on his last two visits and Root dropped what would have been a screamer of a one-handed slip catch when he tried to upper cut Curran on 66.
But the reprieve did not prove anywhere near as costly as the no-ball dismissal of Smith by Jack Leach at Old Trafford as Smith became the seventh Australian to fall playing all round an innocuous delivery at the start off a spell from Woakes.
The man is human after all.
England carried a lead of 69 runs into the second innings after Australia’s collapse with Curran contributing with the ball
Rory Burns successfully appealed an lbw decision to ensure England’s openers survived until the close of play