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Ben Stokes clean bowled David Warner with a no-ball to sum up a morning of desperate frustration for England’s bowlers on day two of the first Ashes Test.
Having been rolled over for just 147 on Wednesday, the tourists needed to get stuck into Australia’s top order and made a strong start when Ollie Robinson knocked over Marcus Harris cheaply.
But they were unable to follow up on that breakthrough as Warner (46 not out) and Marnus Labuschagne (52no) carried their side to a dominant lunch total of 113 for one.
The closest England came to a second wicket was when Stokes forced his fourth delivery through Warner’s defences on 17, clipping his off stump via the front pad, but his conspicuously muted celebrations suggested he already feared what was about to come. Sure enough, replays showed he had overstepped and the left-handed opener was called back to resume his innings.
Further analysis showed that each of Stokes’ previous deliveries should also have been no-balls, with criticism of the umpiring team for failing to notice the trend until the moment it really mattered.
After hanging in during an even contest, both batters cut loose in the final half-hour of an elongated session with a brutal attack on spinner Jack Leach yielding three sixes and 31 runs from a bruising three-over stint.
England had been unable to replicate Australia’s dream start to day one, when Mitchell Starc cleaned up Rory Burns with the first ball of the series, but Harris fared only slightly better before being dismissed for three. With Robinson making an impressive start to his Ashes career, the left-hander nudged half-forward in the sixth over and nicked low to Dawid Malan at third slip.
It briefly looked like more could follow, with Mark Wood cranking it up to 94mph in his first over and causing Warner some clear discomfort. Stokes, returning here after a five-month hiatus, saw Warner edge his second ball edged agonisingly wide of Malan and then made a mess of his stumps in what seemed a moment of triumph.
But that turned to despair as his footwork error became clear. Ball did beat bat occasionally thereafter, with Chris Woakes improving in his second spell, but boundary balls also crept in as Labuschagne settled nicely and Warner began to grow into his innings.
Australia reached 50 in the 22nd over and when Stokes tried to force the issue – Warner dragging one past his stumps and Labuschagne almost turning a pull to the man at short fine-leg – he came up just short.
The tone changed dramatically in the run-up to lunch as the hosts moved through the gears and feasted on Leach. They attacked him from the first moment, using their feet and aiming over the infield with impunity. Twice Warner cleared the ropes, with Labuschagne repeating the trick.
It was a calculated act of bullying that could leave scars the Somerset man finds hard to salve, but everything was falling into place for Australia as Labuschagne cut Woakes for four to reach a fine half-century just before lunch.