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Analysis

Mitchell Starc, Cameron Green and Nathan Lyon step up with devastating effect

Despite the wickets missing with Cummins and Hazlewood, it would be a shock if Australia don't take 10 more in this game

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
18-Dec-2021
Mitchell Starc prepares to bowl  •  Getty Images

Mitchell Starc prepares to bowl  •  Getty Images

There are 386 Test wickets taken at an average of 23.68 missing from Australia's attack for this Test. For the first session of the third day it was just possible to wonder whether it might allow England a way back into the match as Joe Root and Dawid Malan remained unbroken.
What happened after that, however, will have enabled Pat Cummins to watch contently back at his home in Sydney following the private jet escape he was allowed to make on Saturday morning amid the Covid close-contact drama.
The combined figures of Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser - 1 for 111 off 30 overs - were a reminder of the absence of Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, but Steven Smith used his resources excellently. The majority of the middle session was a masterclass of Test bowling on what, largely, remained a good wicket for batting as Root and Malan had shown. The 30 overs brought 57 for 4, and the tally was only that high because Richardson leaked a few in the final couple of overs.
Most of the overs were delivered by Mitchell Starc, Cameron Green and Nathan Lyon, with each outstanding. Green set the ball rolling by removing Root for the second time in the series - it will be a handy record to keep going - and Starc produced a superb spell of 7-2-12-2. All the while Lyon wheeled away from the Cathedral End for a spell that would eventually read 19-10-30-3 when the second new ball was taken. England decided they didn't need a specialist spinner for this Test.
"We didn't quite bowl the way we wanted in the first session, let it slip a little and probably searched a little for wickets," Starc said. "But the way we all came out, Nath and I probably took it on a little bit ourselves, being the two experienced ones in the attack, not to say the others aren't hugely talented and did a great job, but we've played a few Test matches.
"I thought [Nathan] was fantastic, especially in that second session where he bowled the whole session. For us quicks to bowl in partnership with him knowing that he was going to do a fantastic job was pretty key to how well we went."
Each of the three performances deserve closer scrutiny. The runs have yet to flow for Green in this series - it is one of few little wins for England - but the bowling has been what a captain dreams off from a fourth seamer. At the Gabba he removed Root in the crucial period before the second new ball and here he broke a stubborn partnership that had lifted England's spirits.
There was a similarity in the dismissals with Root again fiddling outside off at a good-length delivery, this time sending a catch to the lone slip rather than the keeper. But there had been a build-up this time of the type a seasoned quick would have been pleased with: the first ball of the over was a brute that climbed to beat Root's edge, two balls later he played a loose drive to point and the next delivery was the fateful snick.
"He's obviously a fantastic talent for a young fella," Starc said. "We saw that last summer, how valuable he can be to our attack when you've got someone who is nearly seven foot and bowls some pretty decent clicks. He's come into his own again this summer. An allrounder of that ability and getting key wickets it's a huge plus to our attack. We'll see him evolve over the next few years…once he found that rhythm today he bowled some real high-quality stuff and almost set us on our way after the first session."
Starc, with an even more senior role in the absence of his regular sidekicks, replaced Green after a five-over post-dinner spell and struck in his first over when Malan's strength became a weakness as he edged a cut to slip. For his next wicket, Starc completely worked over Jos Buttler with the angle across the right hander, luring him into false drives before drawing the edge. Patterns are emerging for England.
"We saw at the Gabba with it [the angle] going across him," Starc said. "For me it was just trying to bowl a good length, not let him get away, and still pepper that line away from him."
The pressure that Lyon was able to apply throughout the session was a key part of the stranglehold Australia maintained. It took Ben Stokes 24 balls to get off the mark and he was 3 off 32 before finding the boundary. By then he had lost Ollie Pope whose difficulties against offspin continued although there was a degree of misfortune when a firm clip was held by Marnus Labuschagne at short leg. However, two balls previously he had been reprieved by the DRS when the ball came off his forearm to short leg.
Lyon continued to enhance his pink-ball record in the night session when he worked over Chris Woakes and Ollie Robinson with classical offspin. "They left the field open on the offside, inside edge back on the stumps. This is offspin of the highest class," Ricky Ponting said on Seven.
It was always unlikely that Smith would take the follow-on option, however tempting it would have been under lights against England's fragile top order. These Test matches are basically all back-to-back so he can rest the bowlers and in turn put more miles in England's. Meanwhile, having Lyon also gives him a clear final-innings route to victory.
There are a lot of wickets absent from what would be Australia's usual Test attack, but it would be a huge surprise if they don't find a way of taking 10 more in this game.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo