England 9 for 491 (Cook 244*, Root 61, Broad 56, Hazlewood 3-95) lead Australia 327 by 164 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
It was difficult to know what was the most satisfying sight for England fans on the third day at the MCG. Was it Alastair Cook straight-driving a boundary to bring up his double-century? Was it Stuart Broad backing away and swiping yet another bouncer to the square leg fence to raise his fifty? Was it Australia’s players shaking Cook’s hand at the end of a second consecutive day’s play, once again not out? In the end, it was probably nothing more than the sight of the scoreboard, which showed England holding a 164-run lead.
If this was England’s day, it was more specifically Cook’s day. If a Cook’s tour is parlance for a quick trip around many venues, it neatly summed up his Ashes campaign until now: Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, never more than a couple of hours at the crease at once. He entered this Test having failed to reach fifty from any of his past 10 innings, the longest such drought of his career. Questions were being asked about his place in the team.
But you don’t play 149 consecutive Tests and score 11,000 runs without a healthy dose of resilience. Cook took a conscious decision to be more proactive in this innings, to play a more positive brand of cricket. The end result was 27 boundaries, an unbeaten 244, more than 10 hours at the crease and 409 balls faced, the longest innings by any visiting batsman in a Test in Australia since Cook himself accumulated an unbeaten 235 at the Gabba in 2010.
More correctly, that was the end result for now. Because at stumps, England were still batting, on 9 for 491, with James Anderson yet to score. Cook and England had batted through the day, building the kind of first-innings advantage that leaves Australia’s dreams of a clean-sweep all but over. If England achieve nothing else in this series, denying Australia a 5-0 scoreline would be an outstanding recovery.
There were all sorts of fascinating figures from this day’s play. Cook’s innings was the highest score by any visiting batsman in a Test at the MCG, beating Viv Richards’ 208 from 1984. Cook began this innings in ninth place on the list of all-time Test run scorers and will finish it in sixth, having passed Mahela Jayawardene late on the second day, then Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and finally Brian Lara with a cover-drive for four from the penultimate delivery of day three.
He compiled a 100-run partnership with Broad, remarkably just the second time they had batted together in 113 Tests featuring both men. But perhaps the most telling figure was Cook’s control rate – despite spending such a long time at the crease, Cook was in control of his strokes 91% of the time. Australia had one chance to dismiss him on day three, when he flicked Pat Cummins to square leg on 153 and Smith spilled a difficult catch, but it was a very rare mistake.
His double-century, the fifth of his career, came up with an impeccably timed boundary driven straight back past the bowler Jackson Bird along the ground, from his 360th delivery in his 563rd minute. His partner at the time, Broad, was jumping for joy at the non-striker’s end as soon as he saw the ball leave Cook’s bat.
Broad, for his part, played an invaluable role by scoring 56, the first time an England No.10 had made a half-century since Chris Lewis in 1991. In one of the least surprising tactical decisions of all time, Australia’s fast men peppered Broad with bouncers, but he found ways to evade, survive, and then swing and score from the short stuff. He struck eight fours and one six, and brought up his fifty by backing away and swivelling a hook for four off yet another bouncer.
Broad was eventually out when he slashed Cummins high towards third man, where Usman Khawaja made good ground to take a catch low to the ground while diving. Replays were needed to see whether Khawaja had collected the ball cleanly, and although the ball bobbed out of his hands and became invisible under his body as he dived, the soft signal of out from the on-field umpires was enough to ensure Broad was sent on his way.
The morning had started with Cook at the crease alongside Joe Root, who had 49. Root had no trouble registering his third fifty of the series, but on 61 he threw his innings away with a top-edged pull off Cummins that pinpointed Lyon at deep square leg. It continued Root’s frustrating habit of getting out after reaching a half-century; his career conversion rate of fifties to hundreds is 27%, roughly half that of his counterpart Smith.
Still, the Root-Cook partnership had been worth 138 and had delivered England to a position from which they could push for a first-innings lead. Dawid Malan then fell in strange circumstances when on 14 he was adjudged lbw to Hazlewood and decided against using a review, although replays confirmed a thick inside edge. It made Malan the second England batsman this innings to be lbw off his inside edge, after James Vince also failed to review on the second day.
Lyon, who is virtually assured of finishing 2017 as the year’s leading Test wicket taker, removed Jonny Bairstow, caught behind for 22, and Moeen Ali, whose disappointing tour continued when he was well caught by Shaun Marsh at short cover trying to clear the infield for 20 off 14 balls. Chris Woakes combined with Cook for a 59-run stand that ended when Woakes gloved one through to the wicketkeeper off Cummins for 26, and Tom Curran followed soon afterwards, caught behind off Josh Hazlewood for 4.
But all the while Cook remained. At one point, Smith even resorted to an eccentric-looking field containing three catching covers that resembled a displaced slip cordon in a futile attempt to force an error from Cook. It worked about as well as the short-pitched barrage to Broad. It was yet another sight to please England fans, a sign of Australia’s desperation. But Cook was not to be moved. By stumps, he had a strong chance of becoming the first England batsman in 20 years to carry his bat in a Test innings. It would be well deserved.