England v Australia, 3rd Investec Test, Old Trafford, 3rd day August 3, 2013

Bowlers ready for some heavy lifting

Michael Clarke may have a tricky decision to make over the follow-on but, after an impressive day and with the Ashes at stake, the attack must continue to front up

Halfway through the third day at Old Trafford it was hard to know what looked in worse shape, Jeff Thomson in the crowd or Australia's chances of an Ashes comeback. The TV camera panned into a supporters' tour group and found Thommo, cap askew, hair dishevelled, eyes half closed. Terry Kiser looked perkier in Weekend at Bernie's. But suddenly, Thomson sprung to life; apparently his phone had gone off. Sometimes, all it takes is a trigger.

For the struggling Australians in the middle, that spark came when Ryan Harris nipped the ball back in between bat and pad to clip the top of Ian Bell's off stump. Fast bowlers dream of such dismissals. Australia had found their catalyst. Of course, it is not fair to suggest they had been poor throughout the day, just that Bell and Kevin Pietersen were in sublime touch. And at 2-0 down, Australia couldn't afford their partnership to go from healthy to hefty.

By the close of play, Mitchell Starc had shrugged off his wayward lines to deliver a searching spell of reverse swing that accounted for Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow. It meant that, viewed in isolation, it had actually been a pretty good day for the Australians. A pretty good day might not be enough after the awful ones at Lord's, but it has given them hope.

Their main concern is the workload of the fast men. Australia captains are loath to inflict follow-ons on their bowlers but Michael Clarke will have a difficult choice to make should Australia claim the last three England wickets for less than 34 runs. Never in his Test captaincy career has Clarke made the opposition bat again, though it's not a question he's often been asked.

The only time he had the chance was against India in Adelaide in January 2012, in the last Test of a series that Australia had dominated. Nothing but a clean sweep was at risk if they failed to win. In any case, India were such a rabble that he could afford to let his bowlers rest, knowing that victory was all but inevitable anyway.

At Old Trafford, Australia's life in an Ashes series is at stake. Clarke has no choice but to work his bowlers into the ground over the next two days, whether during a follow-on or after a quick second innings that sets England a chase. Australia have not enforced the follow-on since the Wellington Test of early 2010, when Harris was in the baggy green for the first time. If they do so again at Old Trafford, he may not wear the cap again for a while, given his history of breaking down.

Harris looked spent as he walked off Old Trafford on Saturday. Never has he bowled more overs in a Test than the 44.1 he sent down in the previous match at Lord's, but he might have to match that at Old Trafford. Peter Siddle was still hitting good speeds and finding bounce and carry late in the day and appears fitter than ever. Australia have used 22 players in their eight Tests this year; Siddle is the only man not to have missed one.

Still, even he can be prone to overwork - he sat out of the Perth Test against South Africa last summer after sending down 63.5 overs in Adelaide. There was a three-day break between Perth and Adelaide; there is a three-day break between Old Trafford and Chester-le-Street. But that becomes irrelevant if Australia fail to win in Manchester.

Siddle was arguably Australia's best bowler on the third day at Old Trafford, although he didn't take a wicket. He altered his angles on the crease, moved the ball in the air and off the seam almost imperceptibly and was unlucky not to add to his two strikes from the second afternoon. Nathan Lyon deserved some sort of reward as well, for despite being attacked by Pietersen and Bell, he found drift, loop, turn and bounce.

In fact, the Australians did some fine things throughout the day, from Brad Haddin's athletic, diving take to get rid of Alastair Cook to Starc's late spell of reverse swing. They had given themselves a chance; a small one, perhaps, but a chance all the same.

For now, the series remains alive, the Ashes in play. But the next two days will determine if the rest of this tour becomes one long Weekend at Bernie's.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2013, 8:32 GMT

    I really think Clarke made a mistake taking Starc off late in the day, we all know he sometimes just starts getting right out of nowhere and takes a clutch of wickets, this was one of those times and Pup, for mine, cut it a bit short. I was also a bit disappointed that he didn't persist with Lyon, put a man back on the fence and give it a go, it's not like Aus didn't have the runs to play with, Smith too should have gotten a decent spell.

    Aus won't enforce the follow on and nor should they. Watto needs to get out there and hit his quick fifty, give us a lead of 300 and then go again. We need to dangle the carrot here a bit me thinks!

  • Firdaus on August 4, 2013, 6:30 GMT

    This is looking increasingly tricky. I think Australia did bowl really well (and always did look in the game), it's just that KP and Bell batted brilliantly. Still, nice to see the bowlers continuing to fight and they were rewarded with three wickets in the final session. But Australia desperately needs to be able to enforce that follow on. Otherwise, they have to bat for at least 1.5 or two sessions, leaving themselves only 4 sessions to bowl out England (with a forecast of rain). Whether they win or draw this, though (I don't see England going for a win here), it's going to be a big confidence booster for them that they could play well enough to dominate all 5 days of the game.

  • Simon on August 4, 2013, 3:55 GMT

    It is a pretty desperate situation. All the modern conventional thinking says Australia should bat again for about a session and a half to give the bowlers a rest, and have a crack at the openers half an hour before tea, pretty much regardless of the target. BUT there is weather in the air, and this match MUST be won, because otherwise there is really no tomorrow. So Australia can afford to think about Chester-le-Street at all. I think they must enforce the follow-on if the opportunity arises (for the record, I doubt it will), and if we can't bowl England out again, so be it. We will have done everything we can, and we should be learning from England's example: even when they are being outplayed, it happens slowly. They have given themselves the very best of chances to avoid defeat: one of the many perks of being 2-0 up. Can't help thinking how much more exciting this current match and state would be had we prevailed at Trent Bridge and the series was 1-1, but... flights of fancy.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2013, 3:34 GMT

    But haddin catch of Alastair Cook to Starc bowling was the days catch also. Siddle moved the ball in the air and off the seam.,was awesome. lyon get found drift, loop, turn and bounce was good also. Ryan Harris nipped the ball back in between bat and pad to clip the top of Ian Bell's off stump.it was drem ball of a bowler.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2013, 2:17 GMT

    Australia should drop Watson, lyon and harris(injury problems) next test match. warner should open the batting Faulkner should bat at no 7. agar at no 8 and bird to replace harris.

  • rob on August 4, 2013, 1:55 GMT

    It all hinges on the first session. If England bat the session out, I doubt there'll be enough time left to get them out again. .. it would take something sensational to blast that batting line-up out in 4 sessions or so. .. I'm not saying it's not possible, just that's it's the least likely outcome imo.

    Realistically a draw is the best bet. .. The pitch is still good, the weather is supposed to be unfavourable, England have another series at their fingertips and won't give in easily. .. all in all it's a very tough task in front of us to keep this series alive.

    Our blokes HAVE bowled well, but I fear what Swann could do to us given the opportunity to bowl last. No follow on for me IF it's an option. .. Bat like banshee's and give England a tantalising 300 or so to chase. .. it may be risky but it's the only way out that I can see. .. not that England HAS to to chase anything mind you. A draw would be fine for them, but dangle a possible victory in front of them, who knows

  • parjanya on August 4, 2013, 1:44 GMT

    The quicker they get the remaining 3 wickets,the more time the aussies give themselves for having a bash in their second innings,and the more rest for their bowlers.Having to go flat out in the 2nd inns will require lots of runs, attacking captaincy and lion hearted bowling performances.At least 4 sessions will be required to bowl england out and here, strategy will play the most imp part.Lyon will have to do the lion's share of the bowling on what should be a real turner on the last day. Umpires and weather permitting, we should have a cracker of a last day.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2013, 0:40 GMT

    If australia bat again, they must open with warner and watson, and depending on the situation maybe starc or haddin go in at 3. Ideally we bowl england in the first session, and instruct out batsman to go out and have a hit. We make 200 or so runs in the second session and half of the third, then declare to give the bowlers an hour at the english before stumps.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2013, 0:02 GMT

    I can see the looming workload being too much for Australia's fragile attack. Let's imagine they bowl England out and enforce the follow on. It is likely that England would then bat for the majority of the remaining 5+ sessions. Not only is it likley that the match would be a draw, Australia would have no bowlers left for the next test. Ryan Harris will not be loose until midday tomorrow, and the thought of bowling another 25 overs per head will not wash, I can imagine that Smith and Lyon will get the bulk of the workload tomorrow and that could quickly turn into score parity within 2 sessions.