Head leads Australia counter after England start fast
An accomplished century from Travis Head wrested back control for Australia on an entertaining first day of the fifth and final Ashes Test, which was ultimately curtailed by rain.
It must have felt like three steps forward, 224 back for England as Australia slumped to 3 for 12 inside the first 10 overs then recovered to 6 for 236 by the time Cameron Green fell shortly before steady drizzle halted play in the third session of the day-night fixture in Hobart.
After a particularly fruitless day for Mark Wood, he employed short-ball tactics to finally prise out a dangerous-looking Green and offer some hope for the tourists. Green had played an excellent innings, unfurling some breath-taking cover drives en route to his 74, but it was Head – with whom he shared a 121-stand for the fifth wicket – who stole the show.
Returning to the side after his Covid-enforced absence in Sydney, Head scored his second century of the series – this one off just 112 balls – before falling to the very next delivery, chipping Chris Woakes to Ollie Robinson at mid-on to fall for 101.
Head screamed “No!” as the ball looped up off the bat for a soft dismissal to give England a much-needed breakthrough shortly before the tea break and, had he managed to stick around, Australia’s claims to have won the day would have been reinforced. As it happened, the hosts finished the day in a far better position than had seemed likely in the first 90 minutes or so.
With England having won the toss on a green pitch providing movement off the seam early, Robinson returned after missing the drawn fourth Test at the SCG and cashed in. He had David Warner out for a 22-ball duck with a delivery that was just back of a length and just outside off to find a decent edge, taken by Zak Crawley at second slip.
He could have had Marnus Labuschagne out a short time later, but Crawley spilled the chance diving across Joe Root from second slip. But Robinson struck again to dismiss Steven Smith for a rare Ashes duck, taken this time by Crawley to bookend the dismissal of Usman Khawaja, caught in the slips by Root off Stuart Broad for 6.
But then Head and Labuschagne restored order for Australia as Wood came on for a brief but expensive spell, conceding 11 runs off one of this three overs and 15 off another. Head was particularly aggressive, moving from 4 off five deliveries at the drinks break to 26 off 20. Labuschagne chimed in with a belligerent clip off Woakes over midwicket for a one-bounce four to move into the 40s.
The pair put on 71 runs together before Labuschagne fell in comical fashion, tangled up by a full, straight Broad delivery round his legs and toppling face-first to the ground as the ball clattered into his stumps to be out for 44. That made it 4 for 83 for Australia and provided endless amusing memes, even for the hosts, who also saw the funny side if the smiles and giggles from the dressing room was anything to go by.
Labuschagne’s dismissal spurred Head to press on with their counterattack. He was already travelling at a good clip and brought up his fifty from 53 balls, punishing a Woakes short ball outside leg stump with a deft flick to the fine leg boundary. Two balls later, Head pummelled Woakes wide of mid-off for another four.
With the Bellerive Oval pitch known to flatten out quite quickly, England’s bowlers were always going to have to nail their lines and lengths after a relatively brief period of assistance. Instead, they struggled.
Wood and Woakes conceded 112 runs in 20 overs between them up to the tea break for just one wicket – that of Head, who had looked slightly nervous on 99 when he lofted the ball over a leaping Woakes’ outstretched hand to safe ground just in front of Robinson two balls before bringing up his century on the next ball, working into the off side for two.
Compounding the tourists’ decision to rest swing-bowling maestro James Anderson, Root was forced to bowl 10 overs in the first two sessions on a green top when Robinson had to leave the field with stiffness in his lower back. Robinson bowled just one over in the middle session in which Australia scored 130 runs for the loss of one wicket from 28 overs and he remained out of the attack.
Green was fantastic, making it back-to-back fifties after matching his score in the second innings in Sydney. But when he fell, it came down to Alex Carey and Mitchell Starc to dig in before what started as faint drizzle set in. (ESPNcricinfo)