Jofra Archer’s first Test wicket provided the catalyst as England’s bowlers enjoyed a profitable third morning against Australia at Lord’s but heavy rain ruined their hopes of capitalising as the remainder of the third day was washed out.
Showers forced the teams off just before the lunch break with the tourists 80-4 in response to the home side’s 258 and the weather refused to relent, meaning the second Ashes Test has now lost five full sessions and could already be meandering to a draw.
England’s best hopes of avenging their defeat in the series opener at Edgbaston probably involved them skittling Australia cheaply in their first innings but they must be mindful of balancing risk and reward in the next two days.
A sold out crowd would have been frustrated not to see more than 24.1 overs, with many hanging around until the curtain finally came down at 5.20pm, and a partial refund will prove scant consolation for the missed opportunity of seeing England’s buoyant seam attack continue doing battling with Steve Smith.
Archer, Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad took a wicket apiece in a half-hour period that saw Australia lose three for 11 but the familiar sight of Smith at the crease – an infuriating blend of tics, flourishes and precise decision-making – meant they could not yet claim to have the upper hand.
When play resumes on day four Smith will begin again on 13, yet to betray any further signs of weakness since his match-winning pair of centuries in Birmingham.
Play resumed under dark skies and with the floodlights on, the kind of conditions seamers relish. And yet for eight overs Usman Khawaja and Bancroft made light of the overheads, doubling their overnight score of 30-1 with relative ease.
Broad’s initial burst was generally too wide, while Archer also allowed too many leaves – a problem he corrected to emphatic effect in his fifth over.
Tightening his line and coaxing some sharp inward movement off the pitch, the 24-year-old thumped Bancroft just under the thigh pad and persuaded umpire Aleem Dar to award the lbw.
He celebrated his watershed moment not once but twice, a passionate outburst when the finger went up and a group hug with his team-mates when a DRS referral showed the ball to be trimming the bails.
That brought Smith to the crease and Archer’s first ball to the limpet-like No 4 topped 93mph, albeit sailing harmlessly a yard outside off stump.
England capitalised on the breakthrough three balls later, Woakes taking Usman Khawaja’s edge on 36, finding just enough movement off the seam to hand Jonny Bairstow a regulation catch.
The next 24 deliveries yielded just a single run as England’s grip tightened and, while Smith was happy to soak up the pressure, it was no surprise to see Travis Head buckle.
He was locked to the crease when the returning Broad pinned him on the front leg with a full delivery. The ball was destined for middle stump and Dar’s baffling not-out call was quickly overturned.
A third lbw of the day was awarded to Ben Stokes, then struck down by batsman Matthew Wade, before rain ended the session a couple of minutes early.
By then Smith had soaked up 40 balls, treating England to his full repertoire of routines at the crease and an increasingly extravagant selection of leaves. Only one caused him genuine concern, a tester that kicked sharply and beat the bat from his Rajasthan Royals colleague Stokes.
Remove the former captain early on Saturday and there is still some hope of pressing for a positive result, but allow him to fill his boots for the third innings in a row and England will be heading to Headingley at least 1-0 down.
England bowler Olly Stone has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a partial stress fracture to his lower back, his county Warwickshire have announced
The 25-year-old made his Test debut in England’s victory over Ireland at Lord’s last month, but was unavailable for the start of the Ashes series.
Stone’s injury was sustained on England’s tour of the Caribbean, returning to action in early July, and will now cause him to miss the remainder of the season.
“We’re obviously gutted to lose him just over a month after returning to senior cricket,” Warwickshire’s sport director Paul Farbrace said. “Olly had such a fantastic season in 2018 and looked set to play an important role for England as well as ourselves this summer after making his Test debut just two weeks ago.”