Nathan Lyon grabs his 350th Test wicket and Pat Cummins his 100th, as Australia take 1-0 Ashes series lead with a 251-run win over England
Five wickets from Nathan Lyon who became only the fourth Australian bowler to reach 350 scalps in Test cricket stood as the crowning achievement of a remarkable Ashes win at Edgbaston.
After being reduced to 8-122 by a rampant England seam attack shortly before tea on the first day of the series opener, the prospects of the 251-run win that was sealed precisely four days later seemed the stuff of pure fantasy.
Even more so considering the ‘Fortress’ billing given to the Birmingham venue where the home team had not lost an Ashes Test since 2001 – the last occasion that Australia lifted the urn in a series played in Britain.
But now, with a 1-0 lead and confidence born out of an all-round team performance over a dominant past few days, Australia prepare for the second Test at Lord’s where they have lost just twice in the past eight decades.
The tourists’ mood is further boosted by knowing the four-man attack that took 20 wickets at Edgbaston can be augmented by strike pair Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood who will push their claims during this week’s tour game against Worcestershire.
Steve Smith’s batting brilliance with twin centuries aided by Matthew Wade’s century summed up Australia’s batting
By contrast, England must contemplate the failure of several key players plus the calf injury that looks likely to keep their most potent pace bowler James Anderson out of most of the campaign.
On the strength of the scoresheet, today’s win appears far more straightforward than it ultimately proved.
Certainly Australia could have been forgiven for thinking everything was set to roll their way when opener Rory Burns – England’s first-innings mainstay – was dismissed in the morning’s third over after the hosts resumed at 0-13 chasing an improbable 398.
Having occupied the crease for almost eight hours from Thursday evening until Saturday morning, Burns loomed as the player England would need to bat most of the day if they were to steal a draw.
Or contemplate an unimaginable win.
But the left-hander who had played the innings of his Test life to date to score 133 in the first innings was completely deceived by a short ball from Pat Cummins that left him unsure whether to defend or evade.
Ultimately, he simply stood, almost transfixed, as it hurried on to him and thumped into his gloves before ballooning to Lyon at point.
However, his removal ushered in an hour of escalating frustration during which opportunities were missed, either through rare on-field error or the far-more-predictable umpiring missteps.
The first of those arose when England skipper Joe Root had scored four and James Pattinson curled a delivery into the right-hander’s pads which umpire Joel Wilson deemed to be hitting the stumps.
The speed at which Root called for a review echoed the initial naked-eye assessment that the ball was sliding past leg stump, a distance shown to be several inches by the ball-tracking technology.
Less than four overs later, having advanced his score to nine, Root again fell foul of umpire Wilson – in his first Test since being elevated to the ICC’s elite umpire panel – when adjudged lbw to Peter Siddle.
Once again, Root had signalled for the decision to be examined before the Australians had completed their emphatic appeal, suggesting the England captain knew he had edged the ball into his pad.
A judgement that was shown to be emphatically true, by which time umpire Wilson’s confidence must have been far lower than were England’s slightly buoyed hopes of batting out the day.
The sense that things just weren’t going to roll the visitors’ way grew when Jason Roy (on 18) was squared-up by Siddle who was in the midst of a suffocating spell of pinpoint seam bowling, and Roy edged a catch behind the wicket.
But Tim Paine was momentarily wrong-footed in his belief that the ball was shaping towards leg stump, and was unable to lay a glove on the chance that instead flew to the boundary.
It was Lyon who eventually made the crucial second breakthrough, although Roy’s wicket owed as much to an epic brain fade in the face of such unstinting opposition pressure as to the record-breaking off-spinner’s guile.
Boasting impeccable credentials as a white-ball thrasher but virtually no experience as a first-class opener, Roy provided ammunition to the many who have queried his Test place by charging head-long at Lyon in a moment of panic.
His woolly swing across the line failed to make contact, and if the ball had not crashed into the top of middle stump he would have been stumped by a metre or so, or perhaps run out if he had continued his dramatic forward surge.
From that moment, England were fighting a rearguard action that quickly became more and more futile.
Joe Denly took several pages from Roy’s book, and despite landing a couple of hefty sweep shots against Lyon he sent a clear message he was out there for a good time rather than a long time.
After 19 minutes of breezy strokeplay that yielded 11 runs, Denly was given out when he squeezed a catch to Cameron Bancroft, who ex-Test skipper Steve Waugh had anointed pre-game as the best short-leg fielder he had seen.
Perhaps emboldened by the litany of overturns the decision review system had brought during the Test, Denly opted to query his dismissal even though replays showed the ball had effectively defected off bat face, to pad, to Bancroft.
Australia then tried their luck with the third umpire, when Jos Buttler (1) survived a confident lbw shout from Cummins that was referred off-field by the bowling team before being deemed ‘umpire’s call’ with the ball clipping Buttler’s leg bail.
That technically meant umpire Wilson had got it right, while at the same time potentially having it wrong.
No such conjecture came two balls later when Root leaned forward to Lyon, whose sharply turning off-break grabbed the inside of the rival captain’s bat and speared directly into Bancroft’s hands.
Root slapped his bat in frustration as he turned to leave the field, his team on the precipice at 4-85 shortly before lunch, such was his exasperation at surrendering his wicket after a hard-fought 97-minute stay.
Within half an hour of the resumption, they were in free-fall.
Buttler’s off stump was shaved by an impeccable delivery from Cummins in the first over after the adjournment, and then England’s final hope of salvage disappeared when Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes fell to consecutive balls.
Bairstow wasn’t convinced if the delivery that looped to third slip had struck the wrist band of his batting glove or bare flesh – if it was the latter, he would have survived – but the third umpire confirmed it had clipped the elastic.
Stokes’ removal was far more straightforward, as he pushed at another delivery from Lyon that leaped from the pitch and was safely snared by Paine moving neatly to his left to deliver the spinner his milestone moment.
It was only some belligerent defiance from allrounder Chris Woakes that enabled England to push safely past 100, his 37 being the team’s highest score albeit delivered by their number nine batter.
But Moeen Ali’s inevitable removal by Lyon – for a remarkable ninth time in the past 11 Ashes innings, raising queries as to whether the England spinner will retain his place for the next Test – hastened the end.
Stuart Broad was unable to replicate the resistance he showed in the first innings when he batted for almost two hours, his contribution lasting a solitary delivery from Lyon which he edged to second slip.
Lyon was unable to gild his already lustrous day with a hat-trick, but by that stage the outcome was a formality.
A certain symmetry was then achieved when injured seamer Anderson went to the wicket to play out the Test’s final act, a game in which he had played only a walk-on part since the opening morning when he re-injured his calf.
Whether he is sufficiently fit to play any further part in the series is but one of the questions England must ponder before the second Test at Lord’s in just over a week.
Contrastingly, Australia’s conundrum seems to be which unlucky players will miss out.