Choice of game
England went into day five of a pulsating Lord's Ashes Test, leading by 104 runs with six wickets in hand, and all results still possible.
Although Ben Stokes played an invaluable role in this game, carving his name into the Lord's honours board for a third time, Jofra Archer was the player who thrilled us all. He showed no signs of nervousness that tends to be expected from Test debutants. Not since Kevin Pietersen 14 years ago has an England Test debutant seemed so comfortable and self-assured on the biggest stage.
There is something primal and inexplicably thrilling about watching an express pace bowler amble up to the crease and then release the ball at 90-plus mph. A large part of Archer's mystique comes from his deceptively short run-up, which seems more suited to that of a military-medium pacer. Despite being the youngest member of this England line-up, Archer was the man Joe Root turned to when England needed a breakthrough. In contrast with England's other bowlers, the majority of Archer's deliveries were accompanied by animated exclamations or groans of disbelief as balls whistled past the edge of the bat. The crowd seemed aware they were watching an exciting young pacer in action.
Archer thrilled with the ball and Marnus Labuschagne resisted ably with the bat, but Ben Stokes' century proved to be the significant difference between the two sides. Beginning the day cautiously and running hard between the wickets, he ensured that minimal risks were taken yet the total was kept ticking along. Post lunch, once the lead had extended to near-200 but the game was threatening to meander to a stale draw, Stokes rode his luck and cut loose, smacking Nathan Lyon for consecutive sixes before smoking Peter Siddle through the covers. The sudden acceleration swung the momentum England's way, and created a tantalising sense of belief in the crowd, which Archer's opening spell only served to heighten.
Face-off I enjoyed
Archer seemed determined to take on Australia single-handedly. He struck Labuschagne, and there was a brief period where Cummins (who had bounced Archer earlier in the Test) had six fielders in catching positions behind him, and three crouched around the bat beside him. Proper Test cricket.
Joe Denly catching Tim Paine at full stretch, parallel to the ground, while the ball had almost passed him. The crowd erupted with pure, unadulterated elation. It released an afternoon's frustration, and sparked a frantic and nerve-wracking final seven overs.
Shot of the day
Stokes displayed his array of expansive stroke-play as he approached his century, blasting Lyon and Siddle around Lord's. However, the shot that left a lasting impact on the memory was a checked on-drive off Hazlewood, while he was still in the 30s. It sent both non-striker and umpire scurrying to evade it, and was an indicator of the form he is in.
One thing I would have changed
Widespread boos met the announcement at the start of the day that Cricket Australia had substituted Steven Smith for the remainder of the match. While completely understandable, one suspects Australia may have had more of a go at chasing down their fourth-innings target if Smith was anchoring the batting line-up. Having said that, as like-for-like substitutes go, Labuschagne certainly exceeded expectations, with a gutsy, stroke-filled half-century that crushed the English crowd's hopes of an Australian collapse.
The atmosphere was easily the most animated that I have experienced at Lord's, yet the high-quality cricket by either side was appreciated with admirable sportsmanship.
Although the momentum oscillated between both teams during this Test, Archer dampened Smith's aura of invincibility on Saturday, and may have single-handedly altered the outcome of this Ashes. What had seemed to be inevitably becoming a record-breaking series for Smith, has morphed into another potentially thrilling Ashes series.
England dominated day five, and any chances of an Australian victory were extinguished by Jos Buttler and Stokes' partnership. If not for two turning points today, one controllable (Jason Roy dropping a regulation catch at slip, which would have opened up an end and left England with six wickets to get off 20 overs), and the other uncontrollable (losing a crucial ten overs to rain this morning), England might have been celebrating another famous Ashes victory.
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