The Ashes: England regain lead in fluctuating Ashes series

England's Ian Bell and Joe Root celebrate victory during day three of the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston. Picture: David Davies/PA.
England's Ian Bell and Joe Root celebrate victory during day three of the third Ashes Test at Edgbaston. Picture: David Davies/PA.
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England cruised into a 2-1 Ashes lead with an eight-wicket win before tea on day three at Edgbaston.

Ian Bell, with his second half-century of the match on his home ground following promotion back to No 3, made the task look unnervingly simple - even after the early loss of captain Alastair Cook - as England knocked off their target of 121 in 32.1 overs.

England's Steven Finn celebrates taking the wicket of Australia's Adam Voges. Picture: David Davies/PA.

England's Steven Finn celebrates taking the wicket of Australia's Adam Voges. Picture: David Davies/PA.

They were held up in the field by the minor inconvenience of lower-order resistance from Peter Nevill (59) and Mitchell Starc (58) after Australia resumed on 168-7.

But the long overwhelmingly likely outcome - an unfeasible turnaround from the hosts’ embarrassing 405-run defeat at Lord’s last week - was never in the remotest doubt after Bell and Joe Root (38 not out) had joined forces in the run chase.

England first eked out the final three Australia wickets in a total of 265.

Then with a sell-out crowd voicing delight and crowing at Australia’s misery at this famously noisy venue, Bell (65no) ensured plenty to shout about as the meagre target was surpassed to go one up with two to play in this Investec series.

England's Jonny Bairstow is dismissed by Australia's Mitchell Johnson at Edgbaston this morning. Picture: David Davies/PA.

England's Jonny Bairstow is dismissed by Australia's Mitchell Johnson at Edgbaston this morning. Picture: David Davies/PA.

Nevill’s maiden Test 50, in just his third innings, occupied 126 balls and kept England waiting longest.

But Steven Finn finished with a career-best 6-79, Nevill’s the extra wicket he added on a sunny morning after his heroics the previous day.

Nevill’s half-century came after a scare late on day two, when Jos Buttler failed to hold a tough chance which would have given Stuart Broad his 300th Test wicket.

There was another moment of fortune on 53 when Buttler this time did hold another one down the leg-side, off Broad, but umpire Chris Gaffaney did not detect the ball brushing over the bottom glove - as revealed by Hotspot.

It was not a costly moment for England, however, with Nevill going soon afterwards to a second fine take by Buttler leaping to his left, the thin edge confirmed on DRS to give Finn his sixth wicket.

The end of a stand of 64 was a relief for England, but Starc was intent on making them sweat a little more and completed his 50 too with a swat over long-on for six off Moeen Ali.

Josh Hazlewood helped him add another 28, until - in the absence of the injured James Anderson, who will also miss next week’s fourth Test at Trent Bridge because of his side strain - Ben Stokes struck with his second delivery of the day, the number 10 brilliantly caught by Root high to his right at third slip.

Then, in the final over before the new ball was available, Starc was last out when he poked a catch to cover off Moeen - leaving England with a straightforward-looking final lap.

It was still 18 more than they had managed in their hapless second innings at Lord’s.

But on a surface offering less seam movement than it previously had, only swing stood in England’s way.

It was too much for Cook, bowled off-stump when he played defensively inside a very good ball from Starc.

But Bell was in a hurry, clipping more of Starc’s full-length swing off his pads for a four first ball and going on to a largely serene 68-ball 50.

Australia did miss one chance to eliminate him and apply some pressure when Bell guided a catch to second slip off Starc, but it was captain Michael Clarke who had himself to blame when he spilled the ball.

He immediately replaced Starc with Mitchell Johnson, but to no avail and eventually more merriment in the crowd at the expense of the Australian they prefer to mock most.

England did also lose Adam Lyth, whose unconvincing form will be a worry to go with Anderson’s unavailability on the road to Nottingham.

But after the opener fell lbw on the back foot, to residual movement off the pitch from Hazlewood, Bell and Root gave Australia no further encouragement in an unbroken stand of 73 as England won with over two days to spare.

Australia were up against a significant extra opponent in Birmingham, where a raucous crowd lapped up the home success.

But Clarke was not complaining about that, and insists Australia need to be able to combat all varieties of home advantage.

He said: “I think it’s fantastic ... a big part of homeground advantage, you’ve got the crowd behind you.

“That’s one of the best things about playing sport at the highest level.

“It was only a few days ago that we played some wonderful cricket so we know we’ve got it in us – we just have to turn up and be ready in Nottingham.”

Clarke admits he feels he is letting his Australia team-mates down with his run of low scores, but is adamant too he is still capable of a major contribution in this summer’s Ashes.

Clarke, who has never won a Test series in England in three previous attempts, must overturn a 2-1 deficit in the remaining two Tests if he is to taste success here for the first time. He conceded that his output of just 94 runs in six innings at No 4 so far is a significant part of the problem.

“I think it’s always going to be hard to beat any opposition when they’ve got 11 and we’ve only 10,” added Clarke.

“With my performances so far, I certainly haven’t led from the front as I’d like to do as captain.

“I’ve always made that very clear – that’s a big part of my role as leader of this team, that I’m scoring plenty of runs and leading by example.

“You need to make sure you’re scoring a lot more runs than I have been so far.”

Asked if he is still sure he is worth his place, however, he said: “I am 100 per cent confident.

“My self-belief is still there and for me to have success, it’s always been about my preparation and working hard. That gives me my best chance.”