Steven Finn yesterday bowled England to the verge of a resounding victory, and 2-1 Ashes lead, at Edgbaston.
Finn, back for his first Test in two years after much-chronicled technical problems, took 5-45 as Australia stumbled to 168-7 by stumps on day two – a lead of only 23, despite opener David Warner’s defiant 77.
Deemed “not selectable” at the peak of his problems 18 months ago, Finn took two wickets in two balls here as England produced an outstanding turnaround after their embarrassing 405-run defeat at Lord’s.
Barring more remarkable events, it ought to be merely a matter of time – and not much of it at that – before they complete the win on the third morning of this third Investec Test.
They have appeared in control almost throughout a manic contest, but had to regain their composure – via half-centuries from Yorkshire’s Joe Root (63) and Moeen Ali (59) – after Mitchell Johnson dented home confidence with two wickets in three balls in his first over of a sunny morning.
Moeen’s eighth-wicket stand of 87 with Stuart Broad proved a telling passage of play, as England scrambled to 281 all out after Johnson’s early successes made it 142-5.
Conditions favoured the bowlers from the outset here, prodigious movement available via seam and swing – and with batsmen refusing to tolerate the concept of mere survival, hectic pace took hold.
So it was in Australia’s second innings, Finn surging through the middle order to leave a sell-out crowd rapt and no doubt mystified that he has been unable to compete at this level since the 2013 Ashes opener at Trent Bridge.
It was Broad who made the first breakthrough, though, round the wicket to pin Chris Rogers lbw for a rare failure.
Warner counter-attacked emphatically in a second-wicket stand with Steve Smith, on the way to a 35-ball 50 during which Finn conceded 14 runs in his first over, a solitary one from the City End.
When he switched directions, he immediately had Smith miscuing an attempted pull high into the gloves of Jos Buttler.
Finn moved into overdrive after tea, his two-in-two beginning with a fine catch by Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth at fourth slip to consign Michael Clarke to another low score.
He got one in the perfect place to Adam Voges first ball, Ian Bell taking the catch at second slip –and after a six-over wait Finn had England’s next too, Mitch Marsh bowled by an inswinger.
After Warner was sixth out, skying an attempted flick to leg off the returning James Anderson to cover, England lost their all-time leading wicket-taker to a worrying side injury which saw him leave the field wincing mid-over.
But Finn was back with his fifth wicket, Johnson going Warner-style to a catch in the off-side ring to the first ball of his third spell.
Australia’s bowlers had earlier been inconsistent.
For all Johnson’s brief brilliance, his team-mates – and Johnson himself – allowed plenty of scoring opportunities.
It was not obvious that either Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow, to his first ball from Johnson, or Ben Stokes to his second could have done anything much different to avoid gloving behind two brutish short deliveries.
Root was again England’s cornerstone until, with a run-a-ball 50 to his name, he squeezed an edge to slip driving at Mitchell Starc.
Buttler’s dismissal was a curiosity, for several reasons.
It completed a bizarre sequence for Nathan Lyon (3-36), who was taking a wicket – as he had twice the previous evening – in his first over, the others each having come in separate minimum spells.
Buttler was hit low on the front pad pushing forward in defence, and decided against DRS only to discover on his return to the pavilion that Hawkeye was simulating the ball clearing the stumps.
Moeen began unconvincingly, playing and missing with near comic regularity against both pace and spin. But increasingly, there were some memorable shots too, and England had more than doubled Australia’s total by the time Broad mis-pulled Josh Hazlewood (3-4) into the hands of mid-on.
Mooen then upper-cut Hazlewood to third man as the final three wickets fell for four runs in under three overs.
Dark times make this more satisfying, says Finn: Page 22.