At The Oval, Australia’s tortoises held a slim lead over England’s hares after the first innings thanks to Steven Smith. After England thumped 283 in 54.4 overs on day one, Australia’s response was entirely different in pace.
After exactly 99 overs of their innings, they managed to gain ground, in large part because to the efforts of their captain, Pat Cummins. With Australia still 98 runs adrift, Cummins finished at 185 for 7, but they shared partnerships for 54 with Smith and then 49 with Todd Murphy to make 36.
Moeen Ali, who had a groin injury while batting on the first day, spent the majority of the second day in the dressing room, but the other three England seamers all bowled at least 20 overs. Stuart Broad was the best of the attack, but Chris Woakes finished with a 3-for-61 total.
With 13 runs off the bat in the first hour of play, Australia struggled for much of the morning session. However, when Smith came to the crease after Marnus Labuschagne was beautifully taken by Joe Root at slip, the game’s momentum altered.
He broke Don Bradman’s record for the most runs scored by an overseas batter at The Oval with a pair of early boundaries through mid-off off James Anderson, and he kept Australia’s innings together after lunch when five wickets fell at the other end.
Usman Khawaja and Travis Head were removed by Broad in his first two overs after the break, and neither Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey, nor Mitchell Starc reached 20 as England felt the chance of a sizable advantage.
But Australia started to reduce the lead as Smith overcame a close call from TV umpire Nitin Menon on a run-out opportunity and Cummins reversed a lbw ruling. Murphy played his shots from No. Before sending a single off his pads to the long leg to give them the lead, 10, hooking Mark Wood for his first, second, and third professional sixes.
Woakes had just lbw’d Murphy when Cummins swiped Joe Root down the pitch, but Ben Stokes had already taken a quick catch on the boundary at long-on. It resulted in a first-inning lead of only 12 runs, turning the fifth Test into a one-inning shootout.
Prior to lunch, Australia added 54 runs in 26 overs as the first session dragged on. Khawaja and Labuschagne chose a staunch defense because of the gloomy and hazy conditions, which favored England’s seamers. Labuschagne was especially obstinate, waiting nearly 90 minutes to add seven runs to his overnight total.
To get rid of him, it took a flash of individual brilliance. Halfway down the pitch, Mark Wood slammed one in, drawing an outside edge that went into the space between Jonny Bairstow and Root at first slip. Bairstow dropped the ball for Root, who, despite acting slowly, dove low to his left and grabbed it with one hand.
Khawaja survived the lunch hour unharmed but was out for 47 after five balls. Broad caught him on the knee roll, and his assessment was positive. By deviating from England’s customary short-ball strategy to Travis Head, Broad inflamed the crowd in typical fashion. He went full outside off stump and turned away in celebration after securing his outside edge.
Marsh launched himself for a booming straight six after determining that the only way to disrupt Broad’s rhythm was to assault. His departure, however, came through a more hesitant shot—an inside edge against his own stumps as he nudged Anderson, who appeared happy to have finally ended a 35.2-over wicket drought with another wicket.
Root was the only available option for England’s spin after Moeen was injured. Carey crushed him for a straight six before chipping Stokes at short cover with the very next ball he saw, a slow, loopy, wide offbreak. Australia appeared to be in serious trouble when Starc top-edged Wood to long leg.
When pushing a ball into the leg side and taking on George Ealham, a replacement fielder whose father, Mark, played for England in the 1990s, Smith appeared to have run himself out at 42. Before Bairstow pulled the bails off with Smith diving at full stretch, Ealham charged in from deep midwicket and hurled at the stumps.
or so it seems at first. The audience booed as Menon’s ‘not out’ verdict flashed up on the big screen because he was not sure that the shorter portion of the first bail that was dislodged had left the top of the stumps by the time that Smith’s bat had passed the popping crease. Smith exhaled a sigh of relief before pummeling Broad into the ground until he reached 50.
Joel Wilson had Cummins out for lbw when England received the new ball, but the review was successful, and a couple of inside-edged boundaries gave Australia their first 50-run partnership of the innings. When Smith attempted to whip Woakes across square leg, Harry Brook brought him up from the sideline; Bairstow retreated and sat down next to his leading edge.
After Murphy swiped Wood away over a long leg and England went short to him, they gave up on that strategy. Australia then gained a narrow lead thanks to a flick from Anderson. He scored 34 crucial runs before Woakes leg-before-trapped him, but his biggest contribution to this game will come on Saturday as he tries to stop England from putting up a substantial fourth-innings target.