A burst of breakneck speed from Mark Wood breathed life into England’s Ashes campaign as the third Test got off to a feisty start at Headingley.
Four days on from the stumping controversy that dogged the previous match at Lord’s, Wood bamboozled Australia with express pace that topped 96 miles per hour and claimed five for 34 in the tourists’ 263 all out.
A one-man show from comeback kid Mitch Marsh was responsible for the majority of those runs, but his breathtaking run-a-ball 118 would not have been possible had Joe Root not put him down at slip with just 12 to his name.
That was one of four drops for an England side whose collection of missed chances is starting to become a worrying theme of the summer.
It's full and straight and far too quick for Usman Khawaja 🌪️
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 6, 2023
Root, with 19 not out, has the chance to make amends with the bat on day two with England 68 for three in response.
With him at the crease is Jonny Bairstow, the man at the centre of last Sunday’s flashpoint dismissal and one who always brings his best when there is a score to settle.
Australia’s struggles either side of Marsh’s fireworks – four for 91 in the morning session and a collapse of six for 23 as Wood mopped up – went down well with a raucous crowd, who booed and barracked the opposition with gusto all day.
The two players involved in Bairstow’s controversial dismissal copped the worst of the anger but both held their nerve, Pat Cummins dismissing Ben Duckett and Harry Brook and Alex Carey pulling off a fine leaping catch.
But the moment belonged to Wood, making his first Test appearance since December and held back for the first two matches due to worries over his fitness, as he recorded his best ever performance on home soil.
Usman Khawaja bowled
Mitchell Starc bowled
Pat Cummins lbw
Alex Carey caught
Todd Murphy bowled
At 2-0 down with three to play, Stokes won the toss and surprised nobody by taking the bold option of putting the opposition in.
The boos that rained down on Australia’s openers were just as predictable, as was the identity of those involved in the first wicket: batter David Warner, bowler Stuart Broad.
It took Broad just five deliveries to bag his old sparring partner for the 16th time in Tests, wafting a loose drive to second slip.
The intensity stepped up several notches when Wood made his belated introduction to the series, with his loosener clocking in at 91mph – already England’s fastest ball of the series.
He continued hitting the gas in a vicious opening salvo that was lacking only a wicket. He provided it at the end of his fourth over, scattering the stumps of Usman Khawaja with a full, fast, swinging delivery that was designed to do damage.
So fast, Pat Cummins didn't even play a shot 🌪️
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 6, 2023
The CricViz database ranked the spell, which saw just one scoring shot, as the second fastest in England since ball-tracking records began in 2006, narrowly failing to dislodge himself from top spot.
England owned the session after picking up Australia’s engine room cheaply – Chris Woakes marking his own return after 18 months by nicking off Marnus Labuschagne and Broad nipping one into Steve Smith’s inside edge to spoil the batter’s 100th Test appearance.
But there were a couple of warnings about England’s sloppiness, Bairstow grassing a tough chance off Smith and a considerably simpler one off Travis Head.
A lunch score of 91 for four was still good, but 98 for five would have been even better.
That should have been the score when Woakes drew Marsh’s edge, but Root inexplicably fumbled a gimme. Nobody has more Test catches for England than him and rarely has he missed a simpler one.
It proved a painful error, with Marsh unloading a remarkable hundred in his first Test innings for almost four years. For two hours he dominated the game, driving with rare power and pouncing on anything remotely short.
Nobody was immune, Wood shocked to see a 93mph bouncer hooked for six and Moeen Ali’s off-spin treated with disdain.
The blows kept on coming and, with a back spasm bringing an early end to Ollie Robinson’s day, England faltered in the face of the onslaught.
After motoring past his third career hundred he was primed to do even more damage, only to be stopped in his tracks in the last over before tea thanks to an inside edge off Woakes that ricocheted into his thigh pad.
Woakes circled back for Head, caught at slip by Root two balls after he dropped an almost identical chance, before Wood blew away the tail.
The Durham quick flicked Mitchell Starc’s bails with a masterful inswinger served up at pace then followed up two balls later with a yorker that was too quick and too good for Cummins.
Wood finished the job, Carey caught in the deep immediately after being rattled on the helmet by a lifter and Todd Murphy dragging down his stumps.
Australia did not allow themselves to lie down, Cummins hunting down outside edges from the Kirkstall Lane End as Duckett and the new number three Brook obliged.
Marsh’s dream day continued when Zak Crawley lapsed after a bright 33, slashing when he might have left, before the Yorkshire pair of Root and Bairstow played for stumps.