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- Australian international cricketer
At the second break the tourists looked desperately weary, sapped by the South Australian heat, deflated by a lethargic middle session and facing the possibility of a declaration that would see them batting under pressure in the unpredictable ‘twilight’ period.
Three wickets for 81 in the afternoon’s play had given England some reason for optimism earlier in the day, but a stand of 91 involving the frustratingly familiar face of Steve Smith and newcomer Alex Carey sucked their air out of Joe Root’s men.
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) December 17, 2021
Record wicket-taker James Anderson struck twice late on, denying Smith a 12th Ashes century when he fell lbw for 93 and getting Carey for 51 with one that slowed up off the surface. But after 140 overs of stern work in the field, the celebrations were decidedly muted.
England’s attack toiled away as their rivals racked up 221 for two on Thursday, but finally landed a few blows of their own in the opening session, despite battling stifling 37 degree heat.
They could not stop Marnus Labuschagne reaching his hundred first, resuming on 95 after cashing in on two dreadful drops by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler and getting over the line with a controlled thick edge off Anderson.
That was his sixth Test ton, his third under lights and very probably his most fortunate. But despite the scrappy nature of the innings, his six-and-a-half hour stay could well prove a decisive contribution.
England, and Buttler, finally thought they had Labuschagne for 102 when he nicked Ollie Robinson’s first delivery of the afternoon and he was already well on his way to the pavilion when England’s worst nightmares were realised.
Just as Ben Stokes had done against David Warner at a key moment in the first Test, Robinson had produced a costly no-ball, paying the price for sloppy footwork as Labuschagne was called back to the middle.
Robinson could have been rattled – particularly when he failed to take a half-chance off Stuart Broad at square leg – but instead he rallied to see off Labuschagne just a few minutes, and one run, later.
This time the seamer’s boot was in the right place and Labuschagne’s bat was not, offering no shot at one that shaped in and thumped his front pad. Robinson reacted with both joy and relief and continued to ask questions of Smith and Travis Head in a six-over spell that cost him just seven runs.
Smith moved to a half-century when a flat-batted overhead smash whizzed off the edge and over Buttler’s head but England picked up two more to reach the interval on a welcome high.
Head, player of the match for his 152 in Brisbane, was a little too ambitious this time dashing to 18 before over-reaching against Root’s off-spin and yorking himself.
Cameron Green lasted only five balls, Stokes briefly abandoning his barrage of bumpers for a more direct threat. Pitching one full and finding a scrap of seam movement, he beat Green’s tentative push and took out his off stump.
England needed more of the same after 40 minutes of resting up but it was Australia who came out with renewed vigour. Carey provided Smith with a fluent foil and the latter began to assert himself, heaving Chris Woakes for a steepling six over long leg.
A couple of edges died in front of the cordon before the wheels began to come off. Substitute fielder Zak Crawley produced a wayward shy to gift and ovethrow before Rory Burns upped the anti, missing the stumps and Woakes’ stiff backing up attempt to turn a Smith single into a five.
Anderson spared England the sight of yet another Smith century, opening his account with a wicket-to-wicket lbw with the final ball of his 26th over and then cutting Carey off in full flow via a chip to cover.