Battling England picked up two quick wickets late in the evening session to leave the fourth Test evening poised after a frustrating rain-filled first day at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The hosts’ batters got starts before getting out in tricky overcast conditions on a stop-start day after Pat Cummins won the toss and decided to bat despite the inclement weather around the SCG. Australia finished the day 126/3 after just 46.5 overs of play.
England are without coach Chris Silverwood for this game after he tested positive for Covid-19, with a number of his coaching staff also isolating.
Both sides made one change after England’s miserable collapse at the MCG handed the Aussies the urn after just 12 days of cricket. Stuart Broad replaced England’s leading wicket taker Ollie Robinson, who has a shoulder injury, whilst Usman Khawaga returned for his first Test in over two years as Aussies’ leading run scorer Travis Head missed out due to Covid.
Broad was described as a “caged animal” in the build-up by stand-in coach Graham Thorpe and he bowled beautifully without reward early on. The 35-year-old, who got David Warner out seven times during the 2019 Ashes in England, removed the left-hander once again as he lured the opener into a loose drive for 30.
Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschange frustrated the visiting bowlers with a dogged 60-run stand. England got the ball changed in the 30th over after it rolled into a puddle on the boundary edge and the change sparked an upturn in fortune for them.
James Anderson and Mark Wood removed them in quick succession as England were rewarded for their disciplined display late in the day. Veteran Anderson caught Harris on the crease with a ball angled across the left hander as he edged to Joe Root at slip for 38.
And realising the day was firmly in the balance with Steve Smith joining Labuschange, the No.1 ranked Test batter, at the crease, captain Root unleashed the raw pace of Wood. Labuschange punched the first ball of Wood’s spell through cover for four before feathering a quick back of a length delivery into the welcoming gloves of Jos Buttler — in a carbon copy of his dismissal in the last Test.
England may have found something which unsettles the quirky Labuschange. Only twice since replacing Smith as a concussion substitute during the Lord’s Test in 2019 has the number three been dismissed for less than 47 in the first innings. And, you guessed it, both coming in the last two Tests to Wood.
Smith, who averages over 62 in Ashes cricket, is the key to Australia’s innings as he has been against England on so many occasions before. Removing him early would expose Cameron Green and Alex Carey, who have both struggled for runs this series, to the fresh trio of Anderson, Broad and Wood.
At the close of play, Wood reflected: “Getting those wickets at the end certainly helped. At one stage we weren’t getting much movement. We were pleased at the end, it was tough at times.”
England are playing for pride as Justin Langer’s side boast an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series. More rain is forecast on days two and four which could potentially help Root’s charges avoid a painful 5-0 whitewash