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Edgbaston Test:  Pat Cummins captain’s knock for Australia to win by 2 wickets against England

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With the leg side packed from fine leg to deep mid wicket, and only four runs to defend, England’s plan of attack was obvious for more than a couple of overs. Pat Cummins’ attempt to make room and play the short ball barrage along the vacant off side had proved ineffective for quite some time. He waited, and at times tried in vain. Eventually in the 93rd over of the innings, he pulled it off. Opened the face of the bat and steered Ollie Robinson’s short ball through the third man region for a boundary.

The visitors, who had waited patiently for the enforcers to err over five days, eventually crossed the line in the dying minutes of the fifth day, courtesy an unbeaten 54-run stand between the ninth-wicket pair of Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.

Australia won. A contest where the pendulum rarely ever swung in one direction. All along, England pushed and forced, but Australia just stood their ground patiently playing the waiting game.

Nothing epitomized that conflicted battle more than England vs Usman Khawaja, the Australian opener who batted on all five days. The left-handed opener played 518 balls in this Test – more than any other Australian batter in this century – for a combined score of 216. On a pitch where wickets were hard to buy and yet 36 fell across eventual 16 sessions of play, Khawaja was content to bide his time in. And England, on the contrary, threw everything they could. The bouncer ploy, the fairly successful reverse umbrella field and the orthodox tactics.

It wasn’t too different on the final day either after rain had washed away the first session of play. Once the play began, only 21 runs were scored in the first hour of play. England bowled in disciplined channels but there wasn’t much bounce or pace in the pitch to cause much trouble to the batters. Nearly 45 minutes into the play, England switched to the bouncer ploy. The field was set but nightwatcher Scott Boland fell to the bluff. Stuck back on his crease, he went driving at a full pitched delivery and edged to the ‘keeper, handing Stuart Broad his third wicket of the innings.

But Boland, for that matter, had done his job. Not only had he seen Australia through safely in the dying minutes of the penultimate day, but he’d also scored 20 in a 33-run alliance with Khawaja in critical phases of play during the chase.

Moeen Ali, still hurting from his bruised bowling finger, came on to bowl thereafter and was taken apart by Travis Head immediately. Two boundaries were scored off three balls before Moeen got rid of the dangerous southpaw – edging to slip. Cameron Green looked tentative at the start and was just as cautious as Khawaja was at the other end.

In Green’s company, Khawaja reached the half-century mark late in the second session as Australia went to Tea without any further loss. With ample time remaining despite the rain break, the plan seemed to tire out the English bowlers. The duo added 49 runs in nearly an hour and half’s time in the middle before a moment of indecisiveness led to Green chopping the ball back on to his stumps.

That was the first of the two blows for Australia after Tea. Khawaja’s long vigil also ended similarly when he was foxed by Ben Stokes’ slow cutter from around the wicket and ended up playing the ball on to his stumps.

Alex Carey and Pat Cummins were cautious early on but Root, who was filling in for Moeen, did well to keep them in check. Carey attempted to attack the spinner and even hit one back straight into his hands, but was dropped on 11. A similar shot nine runs later, however, brought about his downfall, with Root dismissing him for the third time in Tests. Cummins, however, carted the spinner for two sixes in an over right after the last drinks break to push him out of the attack.

With only Nos. 10 and 11 remaining to accompany Cummins, England went back to the pacers. They attacked the line of stumps, and even as it seemed like Cummins would fall over multiple times, he did well to clip the ball towards the legside off the middle stump. So did Lyon, who even brought out an on-the-up on-drive to find a boundary at a crucial time.

Cummins neatly shepherded Lyon through the last few runs when Robinson and Broad bent their backs to get some bounce out of the pitch. He finished with 44* runs, while Lyon remained unbeaten on 16 at the other end.

In the end, it all seemed perfectly timed: England’s bold declaration, the multiple rain-breaks, the contrasting styles of play. The opening contest of Ashes 2023, on borrowed time, went till the very end of the final day in Birmingham. On a lifeless Edgbaston track, England and Australia played out yet another thriller. But with the margin so fine in the end, did England’s bold first innings declaration really backfire?

Brief ScoresEngland 393/8 decl. (Joe Root 112*, Jonny Bairstow 78, Zak Crawley 61; Nathan Lyon 4-149, Josh Hazlewood 2-61) & 273 (Joe Root 46, Harry Brook 46; Pat Cummins 2-63, Nathan Lyon 2-80) lost to Australia 386 (Usman Khawaja 141, Alex Carey 66, Travis Head 50; Ollie Robinson 3-55, Stuart Broad 3-68) & 281/8 (Usman Khawaja 65, Pat Cummins 44; Stuart Broad 3-64, Ollie Robinson 2-43) by 2 wickets

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