Usman Khawaja increases Australia’s lead before the game is suddenly called due to rain

Australia maintained a comfortable lead thanks to Usman Khawaja

Australia held a solid hold on this match, and maybe the Ashes with it, on a day that started with the second Test being finely balanced. Usman Khawaja led a hard effort from the visitors’ top order in cloudy circumstances that made batting difficult until England folded during the morning session to an extensive number of wrong strokes, surrendering a lead of 91.

Australia had a 221-run lead by the time play was called, 27 overs ahead of schedule due to rain. Even for a side that started the Baseball era with a string of successful run chases, avoiding an early deficit of 2-0 appeared to be an overwhelming task.

Following yesterday’s thrilling final session, which saw three wickets go to hook shots and Nathan Lyon left the game and likely the series with a calf strain described as “significant,” England had resumed on 278 for 4. 

By losing their final six wickets for 47 and their final nine for 137 from a position of 188 for 1, they absolutely squandered the opportunity to put Australia’s bowling resources to the test. Even for this club, the batting strategy Harry Brook used to slice into the off side has undoubtedly gone too far.

For the second time in the game, Khawaja and David Warner battled through favorable bowling conditions, this time for an opening stand of 63. They needed early breakthroughs to respond, but they failed to do so this time. For the first time since 2018, when Khawaja and Aaron Finch also contributed to two half-century first-wicket partnerships in Dubai, it was Australia that did so.

England had a bad day that didn’t get any better. Ben Stokes had helped to moderate the frantic pace from the previous night, but he was bowled by Mitchell Starc on the second ball of the day, squared up, and his outside edge was caught by Cameron Green at gully, who had another excellent opportunity.

Before becoming the newest England hitter to be out to the short ball by backing away to the leg side and slicing into the covers, Brook, who had been dropped on 25, reached an unimpressive half-century from 63 balls after being dropped on 25. Although it was another donated wicket given the condition of the game and the fact that Australia was already into England’s long tail, it was the kind of hit that has brought him exciting runs.

Scott Boland, who was passed over at Edgbaston, lost the final selection call to Starc, who impressed with a period of 5-0-13-2. After claiming Joe Root the day before, he demonstrated his value as a wicket-taker.

There wasn’t much on offer from the bowlers until Jonny Bairstow played within himself and bunted Josh Hazlewood to mid-on. In Travis Head’s absence, who will be expected to take over the spin bowling, Ollie Robinson edged a charge against Travis Head, and Stuart Broad was caught sweeping.

The new ball put Warner and Khawaja to the test, breaking the bat frequently, especially Warner’s. It is common for games to end this way when one side has not taken advantage of earlier opportunities that have been offered. England did not bowl poorly and might have easily made early inroads.

Replays revealed James Anderson had a slight inside edge when they reviewed for a lbw versus Warner when he had five. When Khawaja pulled to Anderson at midwicket on run 19, he was awarded a life, but the opportunity slipped through the bowler’s fingers. Once more, missed opportunities damaged England.

Josh Tongue produced the game-changing catch when he caught Warner lbw from outside the wicket for the second time in the contest, continuing his positive comeback to the side. On 3, he believed he had also claimed Marnus Labuschagne, but the DRS revealed that he had been struck outside the line, adding that decision to the series of disputed calls made by umpire Ahsan Raza.

Broad believed that all of the Labuschagne-related cries were over when he finished full-length celebrappeals, but there was another flurry of shouts on either side of tea. In the final two balls of the afternoon session, when they were both out caught behind and then lbw, Stokes made the decision not to review either of them. 

However, after the break, when Labuschagne would have been out for lbw on 16, Stokes erred. Broad expressed his annoyance as England coach Brendon McCullum broke the bad news to him from the balcony.

James Anderson’s brief, wide delivery was cut by the anxious Labuschagne to the backward point, despite Anderson’s inability to generate much of a celebration. Labuschagne had been restless during the first portion of this match.

When Khawaja reached fifty, he had a wonderful off drive and had visions of adding being named to the honor roll to his list of career high points. It was challenging not to get the impression that you were witnessing one of the key disparities between the sides as he went over 700 deliveries faced for the series in just four innings.