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England toil in Edgbaston outback as weather gods come to Australia’s aid

How very unBazball to allow negative thoughts. Nevertheless, you have to fear for England if the Australian bowlers get a hint of assistance from any quarter this series. When the sky closed in, and the conditions made a devil of the ball, Pat Cummins and Scott Boland turned evil.

Stepping out to meet them, as England’s batsmen did without blinking when the sun was out, became a dead man’s game under a grey lid. Two wickets in three balls in circumstances spiced by the weather gods in Sydney changed the complexion of this contest. A ball that had done nothing was now on the move and spiteful. For the batsmen every delivery became a mission to survive, for the bowlers a cause to appeal.

How does Bazball cope in a vice operated by a bowling attack high on blood lust? Clearly it required something more than a positive attitude to deal with this heightened threat. Bowland, a big unit in benign conditions, was a venomous beast in these. Cummins, toothless in England’s first innings, was suddenly a vampire. Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley were naked in the face of the escalating challenge, stripped of a clue how to respond.

Duckett was the first to morph into jelly, jabbing nervously outside his off stump to a ball from Cummins he should have left. It was some catch, mind, from Cameron Green in the alley to terminate his innings on 19. Crawley was squared by a beauty from Boland, presenting a stiff bat to a moving target. Gone for seven to yet another nick.

This was the moment for which Australia had been waiting, an opportunity to swagger like the world champions they are. Seemingly spooked by England’s amped approach, intimidated even, Australia were operating in an environment they recognised. England, on the other hand, were strangers in their own land, unable to speak this rapidly evolving language nor read the ball.

Ollie Pope and Joe Root, who survived lusty multiple appeals in his short time at the crease, could not get out of there quick enough when the umpires reached for the bails for the second time in the afternoon. How different it was when Crawley and Duckett walked to the crease at the start of the post-lunch session.

So lifeless were the conditions Nathan Lyon was bowling by the sixth over, the third ball of which provided England’s first boundary, a reverse tickle to fine leg by Duckett. When the first rain interruption struck 35 minutes after lunch England were 26 without loss, picking off the Australian attack with ease at a rate of four an over. It appeared then simply a question of when Duckett and Crawley might go full Baz.

Equally, reverse all the way back to the start of play it looked like Australia might bat all day. Twenty-odd minutes into the morning, with the Australian batsmen untroubled, runs coming without difficulty, the ball doing not a lot, England were toiling in the Edgbaston outback. As Australia narrowed the deficit to near 50 thoughts drifted to the size of the lead they might establish.

When we talk about rhythm in sport, shifts in momentum, Test cricket is given to passages of play like this with one team is in control and the other stuck behind a plough. Then without a hint of warning, the breakthrough comes. Jimmy Anderson had been running in hard but wicketless, neutered by a slow, dry track. Alex Carey made the same positive move towards the ball as he had throughout only this time it nipped back, flicked a pad and splintered his stumps.

Anderson went off like a firework, leaping skyward, punching the air, his features bent by primal screams. He had delivered once again for England, his 1100th wicket in first-class cricket snapping a partnership that had reached 118. More than an hour would pass before Australia were breached again, Ollie Robinson taking out Usman Khawaja.

There was an element of fatigue in Khawaja’s exit. His departure 26 minutes before lunch had the same impact on England as the change in weather would on Australia, feeding Lyon into what was now a group with an appetite. Lyon, who was playing injudiciously at every ball, fell for the old one-two, hooking at one banged short by Robinson to Duckett of the deep.

Boland came and went just as quickly, popping a short one from Broad into the lap of Pope at silly-mid-off. With only Josh Hazlewood for company, Cummins began to chuck the bat. There was a mighty six off Broad, followed by a hole-out to Stokes running in from the square leg boundary.

After a low-impact start England ran through the Australian tail to lead by seven and set up what most assumed would be an afternoon run fest to take the game away from the opposition. Instead it is Australia at English throats as we head to day four.

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