The third day of the all-important Ashes Test at Old Trafford, especially from Australia’s point of view, produced intriguing cricket. And, Australia did well enough to keep their hopes of making a comeback in the series alive for another day. Things looked to be slipping out of their hands when Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell occupied the crease for over a couple of hours, and seemed to be taking England towards safety. However, late strikes swung the momentum back in the visitors’ favour as England ended the day at 294 for 7, still trailing by 233 runs.
Both England and Australia had their heroes for the day. The hosts had Kevin Pietersen smashing yet another century while skipper Alastair Cook and Ian Bell compiled half-centuries. It were the Australians pacers though who made the significant impact as far as the Test was concerned. Ryan Harris found a way through Bell’s (60) stubborn defence to break a 115-run stance that threatened to nullify Australia’s impressive batting performance. It was a moment of inspiration from Harris as he got the ball to do enough to beat Bell’s technique, which seemed liked a wall until then. Till that moment, Bell and Pietersen had looked untroubled.
Bell’s dismissal gave Australia the much-needed opening, and they broke through soon enough. Left-arm pacer Mitchell Starc wasn’t consistent with his line and length, but he delivered when needed. Jonny Bairstow and Pietersen had helped England recover to an extent even while not looking comfortable at the crease. After struggling his way to 22, Bairstow gave a catch to Watson off Starc’s bowling, flirting at an away-going delivery. His best strike was yet to come though. England’s big hope Pietersen was trapped in front for 113; Starc getting the ball to reverse, and though replays suggested a faint nick, it wasn’t big enough for KP to realise the same.
Earlier in the day as well, it was Starc to gave Australia the upper hand. England skipper Cook was looking set for a big score when he was caught down the leg side by a full-length diving Brad Haddin. Of course, the dismissal must be credited more to Haddin than Starc, but it once again brought to the fore Starc partnership-breaking ability. Cook’s dismissal for 62 left England reeling at 110 for 4. This was after Harris got a fidgety Jonathan Trott to edge one to Michael Clarke at slip for a 32-ball 5.
The twin loss of wickets was succeeded by the wonderful partnership will Bell and Pietersen. The best part of their alliance was that they never looked bogged down. The duo was particularly impressive against spinner Nathan Lyon, who was taken for 77 runs in 26 over and went wicketless. The wicket had something to offer for the spinner, but Bell and Pietersen just did not allow him to settle. Pietersen was lucky to survive on 62 when he could have been trapped lbw by Watson but Clarke refused to review. Pietersen went to make full use of the chance, but it was his dismissal, ironically, lbw when there was a faint nick, that brought Australia right back into the series.
--By A Cricket Analyst