Both sides brace for second new ball to play a part

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England face tantalising prospect of setting a tricky target if they can weather Australia’s next barrage

The new ball never came into the equation in England’s first innings, but both teams know it shapes as a potentially crucial period on the fourth day at the Gabba after Joe Root and Dawid Malan ate significantly into Australia’s advantage.

There will be 10 overs to go in the morning with England 58 behind and the tantalising prospect that if they can weather the next barrage from Australia’s three frontline quicks that they could yet set a tricky final-innings target.

When Root won the toss and opted to bat he noted that the pitch was starting slightly soft and he thought it may cause indentations that could become tricky. Malan indicated that was happening – Root himself was hit by a vicious delivery from Pat Cummins that climbed from a length – although the paltry 147 and a deficit of 278 gave them a mountain to climb to exploit it.

“It has hardened up a little and a few more divots,” Malan said. “There’s that big period now and then that second new ball is going to be crucial for them and hopefully we can counter that.

“It has got a little more inconsistent… there’s really big divots in the wicket. It’s still coming through really nicely but it’s slightly two-paced and the odd one hits the back of a divot and bounces a bit more. It’s a little bit tougher to judge the bounce.

“That first hour will be really important tomorrow then we can start thinking about how well we can play. But we need one more good hundred-run partnership to put a good score on the board, then who knows what can happen.”

There were eyebrows raised that Josh Hazlewood was only used for eight overs on the third day – particularly given his record against Root who he has dismissed eight times – but the indication from the Australia camp was that it was with an eye on that second new ball even though he was not used beyond the 29th over.
“Hoff’s fine. We’re just making sure we’re prepared really well,” Marnus Labuschagne said. “We know that there’s some times at the Gabba where there’s not as many wickets that fall and we’ve just got to hold in that period and make sure we rotate our bowlers well so we’ve got someone fresh.”

With home-ground knowledge of the Gabba, Labuschagne remained confident that Australia would be able to break the back of England.

“I certainly think there’s enough in the pitch,” he said. “If they keep batting well and putting runs on then we’ll need to go to plan B,C and D but the key for us is building pressure. I’ve played a lot here at the Gabba, we know the format, we know the template to take wickets.”

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo


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