Malan and Root put up big third-wicket stand as England fight back

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Visitors end the third day of the first Test at 220 for 2 in their second innings, the deficit now down to 58 runs

England 2 for 220 (Root 86*, Malan 80*, Cummins 1-43) and 147 trail Australia 425 (Head 152, Warner 94, Labuschagne 74, Robinson 3-58, Wood 3-85) by 58 runs

England captain Joe Root proved why he is the top-ranked Test batter in the world, while Dawid Malan continued his love affair with the Australian bowling as England fought their way back from near oblivion to erase most of the 278-run first-innings deficit and keep themselves in the game.

The pair have so far put together an unbroken 159-run stand for the third wicket, with Root making 86, while Malan finished the day on 80 to leave England just 58 runs behind with eight second-innings wickets in hand. They came together at 2 for 61 midway through the day with England 207 runs behind and staring at a possible innings defeat. But they played with fluency and positivity as the Gabba surface flattened into a great batting track and Australia’s celebrated attack showed signs of the vulnerability India exposed last summer. However, England still have a huge mountain to climb to either save or win the game.

Earlier, Travis Head made his second Test 150 to help Australia build their first-innings lead. Head showed England’s bowlers the same contempt on the third morning as he did in the final session on day two. He clubbed Ben Stokes over mid-off and flicked Mark Wood over wide fine-leg for sixes.

Head’s thirst for big scores has increased in the last 14 months and is part of the reason for his return Test cricket. In his last six first-class centuries since October 2020, including this hundred, he has converted five into 150-plus scores, after having only converted two of his first 12.

After Australia were bowled out for 425 eight overs shy of lunch, England’s openers were bombarded either side of the break. Rory Burns curiously didn’t face the first ball for the first time in 40 innings and just the third time in his Test career, as he stood at non-striker’s end and watched Mitchell Starc steam in to Haseeb Hameed, who faced the first ball in a Test innings for the first time.
The tactic to avoid a pair nearly backfired when Burns was adjudged lbw later in Starc’s first over only for it to be overturned on review, with the extra bounce in the Gabba track ensuring the ball was going over. England got to lunch unscathed but that same bounce undid Burns after the break as Pat Cummins got one to rear from a length and clip the gloves on the way through to Alex Carey.

Hameed also gloved Mitchell Starc down the leg side 11 overs later for 27 after again looking comfortable during his 58-ball stay.

Root was predictably greeted by the duo of Josh Hazlewood and Cummins on his arrival, having fallen to the pair a combined 15 times in the past. But he withstood a stern examination of his front-foot defence, and waited 20 balls to score his first boundary with a sumptuous clip off his toes.

Thereafter, Root played with the class and authority that he has shown throughout 2021. He looked in complete control against the quicks and played one of the shots of the match off Starc, thumping him through the covers on the up. But, more impressively, he toyed with Nathan Lyon, sweeping, pulling and reverse sweeping him consistently. He did have one slice of luck with an inside edge bouncing off pad and just over Marnus Labuschagne at short leg, but he was flawless otherwise. He became the eighth man to pass 1500 runs in a calendar year and the first Englishman to do so.

Root’s fluency undoubtedly freed up Malan after he was troubled early. He wasn’t as much in control as his captain, but played some lovely strokes through the off side. He played roulette with Lyon, sitting back to cut, and was rewarded a few times without nicking despite playing and missing at many deliveries. Malan’s half-century was his fourth in Australia to go with his hundred in 2017 and he has now scored more than half of his Test runs in Australia, averaging more than 46 compared to 22 elsewhere.

Australia had no answers in the late afternoon heat. Hazlewood, remarkably, only bowled eight overs for the day but there were no indications of an injury issue. David Warner, meanwhile, spent all day off the field nursing sore ribs following the blows he copped while batting. Lyon was frustrated as he could not find his elusive 400th Test scalp. Starc looked ragged late in the day. And Cameron Green was used sparingly as Cummins tried to a lot of the heavy lifting himself.

Starc fared better with the bat in the morning, proving the perfect foil for Head in an enterprising 85-run partnership that took Australia well clear of England. Starc made 35, including five boundaries, the best of which was a dismissive lofted on-drive off Chris Woakes. But he holed out to deep square-leg two balls later.

Lyon hung around to add 15 in a partnership of 29 with Head. Wood continued to run in with unwavering commitment and eventually got some reward finishing with 3 for 85.

Lyon top-edged a pull shot to square leg with Head still three runs shy of 150. And while Wood tried the three-card trick to Hazlewood, delivering two bouncers and a yorker, Australia’s No. 11 was equal to it.

Head brought up his 150 soon with a blistering slog sweep off Jack Leach – left-arm spinner finished with figures 1 for 102 from 13 overs. Head was eventually clean bowled by a rocket from Wood, as he exposed his stumps to try and carve the ball past point. Head finished with 152 off 148 balls, only Adam Gilchrist has scored a faster Ashes 150 in terms of strike rate.

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo


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