After two poor performances in the first two Tests, the Australians finally showed what they are capable of in the third Test at Old Trafford from Aug 1 to 5. They were in with a good chance of winning the match before the Manchester weather decided the result as a draw.
England had won the first two Tests and with this draw retain the Ashes. But the next two Tests at Durham and The Oval will be all about winning or drawing the series.
The best Australia can achieve by winning the remaining two Tests is a drawn series. Meanwhile, England will be aiming, at minimum, to win the series. If they win the next Test, the hosts will be targeting an unbeaten series—which bodes well ahead of a further Ashes series later this year in Australia.
Form Turns Corner for Tourists
Batting first after winning the toss in the third Test, Australia amassed a first innings score of 527 for seven, declared, with a lead of 159 after dismissing England in their first innings for 368 runs.
In trying to stretch the lead, Australia scored 172 for seven wickets, declared. England, requiring 332 to win the game, lost two quick wickets and were in a lot of trouble on 27 runs when they lost their third. When rain stopped play after only 20.3 overs had been bowled on day five England had 37 runs for three wickets.
After some weeks of sunny weather the pitch, which had been turned 90 degrees from its traditional direction, was a firm and good batting wicket. Rain was expected every day, but it held out until the last day.
Australia were unlucky not to keep the chance of regaining the Ashes alive.
It would be easy to believe that this was not how England would have wanted to retain the Ashes. The tourists were outplaying them. Rain came and saved them.
Regardless, winning or retaining the Ashes for these rivals holds great importance.
England Captain Alastair Cook appeared flat in the post-game press conference, despite achieving their team’s first goal.
“Obviously today has been a bit of a strange day,” said Cook.
“If you had said 14 days ago to me ‘It might rain the last day, but you’d retain the Ashes after three games’ I would have snapped your hand off.
“We’ve played some pretty good cricket. We’re two-nil up with two to play, so it’s a pretty good place to be.
“The first thing was to retain the Ashes and now we want to go on and win the series,” he said.
With Australia appearing to have found better form as England’s had slipped, Cook acknowledged that improvement was needed to beat the spirited tourists in the next Test.
“I think it shows in this Test match how competitive Australia are. We played very well at Lords; they played very well here.
“We showed a lot of fighting character to get through this game. We need to up our levels a little bit at Durham,” said Cook.
Cook’s Australian counter-part, Michael Clarke was pragmatic in his post-game press conference.
“Yesterday afternoon I thought we were in a pretty good position,” Clarke began.
“The plan was to come and use as many of the 90 overs as required today to hopefully bowl them out.
“But, it wasn’t the case.”
The disappointed Australian captain also acknowledged England’s performance so far in the series and made no excuses.
“It’s certainly unfortunate from an Australian perspective and all the boys in the room are quite disappointed with not being able to get over the line today,” said Clarke.
“But in saying that, I certainly don’t want to take any credit away from England. They outplayed us in the first two Test matches, especially at Lords.
“You know when you come to the UK that there is a chance that rain is going to play a part throughout the series.
“Getting ourselves into the position to be two-nil down, it was always going to be tough to come back from that.”
Key players for Australia in the first innings were Chris Rogers (84), Michael Clarke (capt) (187), Steven Smith (89), Brad Haddin (65) and Michael Starc (66 not out), who all performed well with the bat and Harris, Starc and Siddle with the ball. Recall David Warner did not make a great impression on the game—he was out for five runs in the first innings and scored 41 before holing out to Joe Root in the second innings.
For England, Alastair Cook (62), Kevin Pietersen (113) and Ian Bell (60) all played well with the bat, staging a recovery after Tim Bresnan, Joe Root and Jonathon Trott had been dismissed cheaply. They produced a first innings total of 368 and avoided the follow-on. Graeme Swann was England’s most successful bowler taking five wickets for 159 runs in the first innings. James Anderson bowled well, but he did not gain much success in the Australian first innings. Anderson, Tim Bresnan Chris Broad and Swann all picked up wickets in the Australian second innings.
If winning the toss was important for Australia, avoiding the follow-on proved crucial for England.
To make such a good first innings score, with a number of their batsmen performing well, must have improved the Australian player’s confidence going into the final two Test matches and no doubt they feel that they have a real chance of drawing the series.
The fourth Test at the Riverside Ground, Chester-le-Street, Durham starts Aug 9 to Aug 13. The fifth and final Test is at the Oval, London between Aug 21 and Aug 25.