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Ian Ward

Cricket Presenter & Columnist

Australia’s first-innings lead of 278 is down to just 58 after a brilliant third-wicket partnership between Joe Root (86no) and Dawid Malan (80no) saw England close day three on 220-2 in Brisbane

Last Updated: 10/12/21 11:37am

Dawid Malan and Joe Root produced an unbroken 159-run partnership for the third wicket on day three

Dawid Malan and Joe Root produced an unbroken 159-run partnership for the third wicket on day three

After a brilliant English fightback on day three of the first Ashes Test, Ian Ward reflects on the character shown by Joe Root’s side at The Gabba…

You can only imagine what Chris Silverwood and Joe Root were thinking after two days and they must have been desperate for England to have shown the fight that was evident today, not just for inside the dressing room but also for the supporters.

After that first ball on day one it quickly all went downhill for England and things had the potential to get quite ugly, so it was a performance the captain needed, the coach needed and the supporters needed and they delivered.

To come back and show the character that they did, particularly with that third-wicket partnership, is obviously great for the Test match but it has wider connotations for the whole series. The partnership was impressive and also important for both the team and for Root himself.

Rob Key says Joe Root can cement his legacy as one of the sport's greatest ever batsmen if he continues to perform well in The Ashes against Australia

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Rob Key says Joe Root can cement his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest ever batsmen if he continues to perform well in The Ashes against Australia

Rob Key says Joe Root can cement his legacy as one of the sport’s greatest ever batsmen if he continues to perform well in The Ashes against Australia

Root was under an enormous amount of pressure, as he’s England’s main batsman, he’s the form batsman coming in and he’s the captain of a side where many of them haven’t played in Australia before.

Everyone is looking at him to be tactically spot on and score the runs that we all know he is capable of. There’s a lot on Root’s plate and, especially after not scoring in the first innings, you can only imagine the pressure he must have felt walking out with England two down relatively early.

Joe Root has overtaken Michael Vaughan's record for most runs scored by an England batter in a calendar year

Joe Root has overtaken Michael Vaughan’s record for most runs scored by an England batter in a calendar year

He seems to be in a very good place to compartmentalise captaincy, the pressures that come with it, and his batting. Root the batsman is arguably more important than his captaincy really, as he’s that important in terms of scoring runs.

Root said previously that he feels in a better place to be able to put everything aside and concentrate on scoring runs, which is exactly what we saw on day three as he was excellent.

Dawid Malan is a very good player of the bouncing ball and performed well in these conditions, even though it didn’t work a couple of times when he tried to take on the short ball, so it goes without saying that partnership was vital for the match.

Dawid Malan says England need another big partnership in the first Ashes Test before they can think about the possibility of victory

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Dawid Malan says England need another big partnership in the first Ashes Test before they can think about the possibility of victory

Dawid Malan says England need another big partnership in the first Ashes Test before they can think about the possibility of victory

Australia looked tired and there were a few strange decisions later in the day. There’s a bigger picture here, as not only was day three so important for this Test match but there’s so many things hanging on the series going forward.

Josh Hazlewood only bowled eight overs and Travis Head afterwards intimated that was partly tactical, but I can’t believe you would hold him back for the second new ball. Why would Hazlewood not be unleashed on Root? I just don’t understand it.

The one thing England can try and drive home is to bat for as long as possible, which puts more miles in the legs of new captain Pat Cummins. Can Cummins play all five matches? That’s a big ask just as a bowler, even if the wants to, especially if you keep going back for third, fourth and fifth spells.

I’m not saying the momentum has swung in England’s favour, although the pendulum has certainly come back more to neutral after what happened on day three. I would still stay Australia are in the stronger seat, but that new ball is going to be pivotal.

Rob Key says England have got themselves back into the game with their impressive performance on day three, but believes Australia are still favourites to win the first Ashes Test

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Rob Key says England have got themselves back into the game with their impressive performance on day three, but believes Australia are still favourites to win the first Ashes Test

Rob Key says England have got themselves back into the game with their impressive performance on day three, but believes Australia are still favourites to win the first Ashes Test

The new ball will be available early on day four and it seems like the new ball is very tricky on this pitch, as it always is in Australia with the Kookaburra over the first 20 overs or so. You would probably still rather be in the Australian dressing room if you had the choice as they still have a lead, even if it has now been cut to under 60. They will be thinking they can knock over two or three in the morning session and be strong favourites.

Having said that, England will be thinking that they can get another 300, which is entirely possible with Root’s form. Malan’s still there and Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler can push the peddle if they get in, so it’s nicely poised with two days to go.

Batting highs and lows

That was one heck of a knock from Travis Head. He has been a revelation and Sussex fans must be wondering where that version had been for them, as it was the Head that many of us had heard about but perhaps not seen. He’s a sensational ball-striker, takes risks and produced an excellent Ashes 100 that was good to watch.

Dawid Malan says England need another big partnership in the first Ashes Test before they can think about the possibility of victory

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Dawid Malan says England need another big partnership in the first Ashes Test before they can think about the possibility of victory

Dawid Malan says England need another big partnership in the first Ashes Test before they can think about the possibility of victory

There’s always going to be pressure and there’s always going to be talk about England’s top order, because there have been question marks around it for a significant amount of time. We had Dom Sibley come and score hundreds before ultimately being left out and we know what Zak Crawley is capable of after his 267 against Pakistan, so there’s always debate about the openers.

It was an excellent review from Rory Burns to avoid the pair! His record isn’t bad and when you do write him off, he seems to come back fighting. I know he’s had a few ducks this year, but you don’t score Test match hundreds if you can’t play.

Opening the batting in Australia – against a new ball – is very difficult, so I’d give Burns a little bit of time. It’s a difficult place for Burns to be in, where you’re under the pump against Australia. I know what that feels like, it can be horrible, but I think he definitely has got the character to come through this period.



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