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Steyn, Philander leave Sri Lanka in a mess



Sri Lanka 133 for 6 (Kusal Perera 37*, Steyn 2-24, Philander 2-32) trail South Africa 235 (de Kock 80, Bavuma 47, Vishwa 4-62) by 102 runs

South Africa’s fast bowlers tipped the balance back in their favour by picking up with three wickets inside the first hour and five by lunch. Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn and Duanne Olivier picked up a wicket apiece in the session, while Vernon Philander struck twice before Kusal Perera and Dhananjaya de Silva came together to add 43 for the sixth wicket. At the stroke of lunch, Dhananjaya fell to a cunningly-laid trap for the pull and Sri Lanka went to the interval at 133 for 6, still 102 runs adrift.

While Dhananjaya and Kusal Perera restored a little control in the second hour, the first had belonged almost entirely to the bowlers. Already faced with the daunting challenge of fronting up to South Africa’s quicks with the ball wobbling around, Sri Lanka made things harder for themselves.

Within the first thirty minutes of play, they had already declined to take a review that would have saved debutant Oshada Fernando when he was given out lbw to Steyn. Replays proved the ball would’ve missed leg stump. Having failed to use one when they could’ve been saved, they burnt one when Dimuth Karunaratne was given out and replays only served to confirm the umpire’s call.

Those two strikes early on ramped up the pressure on a brittle middle order, but the Kusals – Mendis and Perera – responded with some authoritative strokeplay. Kusal Mendis was off the mark with a fluid on drive, and even had the gumption to lift Steyn in the air over mid off, but was eventually undone by Philander’s persistent line in the channel outside off. Jabbing at a length delivery with hard hands, Mendis sent an edge low towards the slips, where Faf du Plessis stooped low to hold the catch – his 50th in Tests.

Olivier’s introduction quickly brought Niroshan Dickwella’s end, the left hander checking a pull at a short ball halfway through the shot to swirl a top edge out to Steyn at third man. But at the other end, Kusal Perera refused to allow the dismissals to slow his tempo. Having taken back to back boundaries off Philander, he crunched Rabada on the up through cover and then lifted the same bowler for six over deep square leg to race into the 20s.

Sri Lanka’s 100 came up shortly afterwards, and Dhananjaya followed Kusal Perera’s lead in taking the attack to the bowlers. He was a little fortunate to get away with a top-edged pull off Rabada that carried all the way over the fine leg boundary, but some iffy strokes were interspersed with confident ones.

Dhananjaya was into the 20s himself with a thick edge through gully that was immediately followed by an imperious pull off Rabada, but moments before lunch his propensity to get after the bowling brought his downfall.

With Olivier placed at fine leg, Dhananjaya aimed a wild swipe at a shortish delivery from Rabada. The trap was laid, and on the penultimate ball of the session, de Silva leapt right into it. While Perera and de Silva were together, Sri Lanka looked like at least achieving parity in the first innings, but the late strike has put South Africa ahead going into the second session of the day.

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Jofra Archer proves natural born thriller after visceral Steven Smith duel



So, Justin Langer, about that tactic of getting bowlers into their fourth spells, then… On the eve of his Test debut, in what had otherwise been another horizontally laidback press appearance, Jofra Archer had suddenly fired in a verbal bouncer that was every bit as out of the blue as the languidly launched missiles that exploded on the Lord’s Test.

Responding to Langer’s pre-match “curiosity” about how his body and mind would hold up in a format notorious for grinding down quick bowlers, Archer’s answer dripped with red-ball nous and Test-match readiness, not to mention a confidence that no ordinary Test debutant could have summoned at such will.

ALSO READ: Madness of Test cricket sets up compelling finish

“I’ve played a lot more red-ball than I have white-ball. I do think it’s my preferred format,” he said. “I’ve bowled 50 overs in one game already for Sussex and I’m usually the one bowling the most overs anyway. I think Justin Langer has another thing coming.”

And sure enough, Archer could hardly have predicted more accurately the day’s astonishing scenes had his thoughts been recycled from one of his four-year-old Tweets.

Archer was already 25 overs into his work for the innings, and armed with a ragged old ball that was four overs from completing its 80-over lifespan, when we finally discovered what a silken, effortless, natural-born quick bowler can achieve when he decides the time is ripe to bend that back, and go from effortless to effort-full.

Comparisons are odious when the action is as raw and visceral as Archer made it. The historian David Frith, who witnessed Frank Tyson in his pomp in 1954-55 as well as every great West Indian fast bowler from Wes Hall to Ian Bishop, rightly pointed out that Archer is his own man, with his own methods, and moreover he was bowling within his own context.

The pitch, the conditions, the emotions, the opponents – all of these differ from one great spell to the next, meaning that Harold Larwood at Adelaide in 1932-33, or Jeff Thomson at Brisbane in 1974-75, or Allan Donald at Trent Bridge, or Michael Holding at The Oval, can only really stand as testament to their own brilliance, bullet-points in Test cricket’s extraordinary history, or bullet-holes if you prefer.

But what we witnessed, in the context of the recent Ashes rivalry, was a passage of play as savage, compelling and potentially series-turning as that moment when Mitchell Johnson first slipped his handbrake at Brisbane in 2013-14. In a searing eight-over spell at the end of a 29-over innings, Archer reminded us that there’s a world of difference between run-of-the-mill quick bowling and furious, rip-snortingly rapid head-hunting.

“I’ve got massive admiration for Jofra,” said a mildly chastened Langer, who insisted that his point about Archer’s stamina had been misconstrued. “He’s an unbelievable athlete, an incredibly skillful bowler.

“To bowl 30 overs, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jofra Archer, or Pat Cummins, or Josh Hazlewood, or James Anderson, or [Kagiso] Rabada. It’s hard work. And that was my point before the game. His endurance was outstanding today, his skill and his pace. What an athlete, what a great player to have to promote Test cricket.”

“The catalyst for Archer’s onslaught was his return to the Pavilion End, the traditional hunting ground of the senior strike bowler”

All throughout his maiden Test innings, Archer had been lurking in Australia’s peripheral vision. Pacing, probing, sizing up the pitch, his opponents, and perhaps most of all, his command of a red Dukes ball, the like of which he has barely used in 11 months.

“I don’t think Jofra bowled as quick as he can out there,” said Stuart Broad at the close of day three.

I think it’s fair to say we have seen him do so now…

The catalyst for his onslaught was his return to the Pavilion End, the traditional hunting ground of the senior strike bowler, with its slope back down into the right-hander designed to create doubt in that channel outside off, the very channel in which Steven Smith has been so imperious throughout this series.

Within six balls, Archer had breached Australia’s first line of defence, as Tim Paine – watchful throughout his second-fiddle innings – was caught in two minds (and then at short leg) by the one that nipped back off the seam. And like every fast bowler that’s ever been born, the thrill of a wicket was all that Archer needed to tip his game into overdrive.

In Archer’s next full over with Smith in his sights, he began to purr through his gears – 93mph, 94mph, 94mph – as smooth through his acceleration as a Porsche on the Autobahn. And suddenly Smith found that his extra split-second was no longer there, that his peerless ability to sight the ball on the back foot and point to it mockingly as he left it on the front was redundant.

And then, the first morale-denting strike. A vicious lifter into the forearm, as Smith curled into a defensive ball straight from the hand, unsettled by the line and no longer able to compute the length as the ball chased him like a rogue bludger before leaving him shaking his left arm in agony.

For a time it seemed he might have to retire there and then, his grip compromised, his invincible aura torn, but to his immense credit he popped a couple of pills, accepted some tight binding and took his guard once more. But it was clear that the passive aggression with which he had dominated England for three innings was not coming back – at least not here, not now. This was fight-or-flight mode, and again to his credit, Smith chose the former.

Consecutive bouncers, consecutive hooks – like KP against Lee at The Oval in 2005, but without the soaring upshot, as the first skimmed out of Jonny Bairstow’s reach for four before the second plugged behind square for the single. And then, a scorcher, sizzling into the gloves at a scarcely believable 96.1mph … handbrake not so much slipped as torn clean out of its socket.

But the coup de grace was still to come. Another bouncer, another less-than-confident hook for four … and then the sucker punch. An exquisitely awful moment of pure sporting theatre, as Smith was slammed on the side of the neck by another ugly, incredible, spiteful snorter, and felled in the same instant.

The reaction around Lord’s was stunned bewilderment … much like Archer’s as well, who initially turned on his heel, his objective for the delivery achieved, before realising he needed to join the loose melee that had formed around the stricken Smith, who did at least – in removing his own helmet while spread-eagled on the deck – telegraph the fact that he had not been laid out cold.

An uncomfortable hush descended as the physios of both teams rushed out to attend to Smith, punctuated by a few boos from the witless few who still believe he deserves to be judged for his actions in Cape Town rather than his incredible feats both here and at Edgbaston.

And though he left the field without assistance, it was still a surprise to see him returning to the middle, to yawn into a succession of devil-may-care fours that inched him within touching distance of his third century in as many innings.

It wasn’t the same batsman who had left the crease some 45 minutes earlier, however. For starters he ended up being pinned lbw, offering no shot as Chris Woakes curled one back into off stump – the holy grail dismissal that England had begun to believe was a myth in this series.

“It took a serious spell of fast bowling from Jofra to get Steve out of his bubble, because so far in the series he has been incredible,” Woakes said. “I’m sure it was incredible to watch because it was incredible to be a part of it on the field and thankfully, having seen Steve on the balcony, it looks like he’s okay which is obviously good news.”

Smith’s return to the middle, Langer joked, had come about because he had protested he wouldn’t be able to get himself onto the honours board if he stayed sitting in the dressing-room. And though he failed in that objective, the drama had been so absolute that, for once in this series, his extraction from the crease counted for less than the fact that he had returned to it at all.

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Madness of Test cricket sets up compelling finish to Lord’s drama



Test cricket is a shambles, and it is utterly compelling.

There is no way on earth that a match that has lost five sessions to rain and hadn’t even reached the third innings until tea on the fourth day should be hurtling towards a position in which a positive result is now more likely than a draw.

But we’ve known all along that the sport moves to an alternative rhythm these days, and as a pulsating Saturday at Lord’s concluded with England’s most potent duo, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, overcoming their team’s anxieties to keep their powder dry for a final push, it was clear that the pace of the format is now more thrash metal than the Green Sleeves of old.

“This is why we love Test cricket so much,” said Justin Langer, Australia’s head coach, at the close. “Who would have thought it? We’re playing at Lord’s, we’ve lost a couple of days to rain, and it’s absolutely game on tomorrow.”

ALSO READ: ‘I can’t get on the honour board unless I’m batting’

Where’s your money now? Until Jofra Archer‘s extraordinary exploits, you’d have assumed that any fourth-innings target would have favoured the Aussies, simply because in Steven Smith they possess a batsman who can operate in a different dimension to his peers.

But now, all of a sudden, the parameters have shifted. Nobody in their right minds will expect England to still be batting by the end of this contest, which means Australia – with a battered and bruised Smith liable to be physically fit, if not quite in his pre-Archer mental zone – could be left with a tough dilemma in the denouement.

More early success from their battery of quicks, and better luck (particularly with lbws) from the ever-probing Nathan Lyon, and they could give themselves a couple of sessions in which to close out an Ashes-crushing 2-0 lead. But if England’s middle order find anything resembling their gung-ho former selves (let’s face it, dying wondering is hardly going to be their chosen tactic…) the door could yet be ajar to sneak an improbable series-squaring win.

“We probably went searching a little bit after getting off to a great start today,” said Langer. “It’s a tough wicket to bat on, which I don’t mind, and it’s going to be a great day’s Test cricket tomorrow. I guess the only issue is that there’s only one day left in it, so there’s lots of scenarios that can play out here. But it’s game on, I reckon.”

Either way, it promises to be one of the most absorbing final days of Ashes cricket since the 2005 Ashes – that year’s second Test also came down to a faintly memorable Sunday shoot-out – and then as now, there’s an 18-year itch that is asking to be scratched, for incredibly it’s been that long since Australia last won the Ashes on English soil, and no Ashes team since Don Bradman’s in 1936-37 has ever come back from being 2-0 down.

“When I envisaged Test and Ashes cricket as a child, this is what I envisaged it being like today,” said Chris Woakes, who finished the job that Archer had started by pinning Smith lbw for 92 shortly after the brave resumption of his innings.

“An intense game of Ashes cricket is quite draining but it’s been an amazing game to be part of, and it’s pretty much in the balance now. Of course I think we can win the game, but I think all three results are still possible to be honest.”

But one thing is for sure. Australia’s pack of quicks responded to Archer’s usurping of their mantle with a furious, if subtly different, mode of attack, and reconfirmed the fact that they’ve still got the weapons to defend their hitherto dominant position.

Pat Cummins was supreme from the outset – just as he had been with the bat in the midst of the Archer onslaught – skilfully exposing everything we already knew about England’s batting frailties to ensure that another fretful innings panned out in a near-identical fashion to the first: two early wickets in Jason Roy and the hapless Joe Root, two half-formed repair jobs from Joe Denly and Rory Burns, and two more against-type survival grinds from Stokes and Buttler, albeit with their places in the order rightfully switched this time round.

The fact that the damage was not more absolute by the close came down to a combination of Australia’s fallibility in the field, with David Warner dropping two clear-cut chances, and their ongoing failure to gauge Lyon’s angle into the left-handers, with Burns and Stokes both surviving leg-stump lbw appeals that would have been overturned on review.

“We missed a few in the first Test as well,” said Langer. “Obviously the whole world’s aware whenever it happens, so it’s frustrating, there’s no doubt about that. It can change the game, it can change a session, it can change a Test match, it can change a series, so we need to get better at it.”

It promises, too, to be a vital day for Root’s Test captaincy. A statistic doing the rounds before the match noted that, among men to have led England in 30 or more Tests, Root has the second-highest win percentage behind Mike Brearley. Unfortunately, he also has the second-lowest lose percentage behind David Gower – which is a testament to the ominous fact that his teams have managed just two draws out of 30.

And another stat that cannot be ignored is his flatlining career average. Never mind the subplot about his promotion to No.3, Root’s returns have been nosediving since the end of the 2017-18 Ashes, to the extent that he is now averaging 32.82 from his last 18 Tests, having not strayed from a 50-plus average in the preceding four-year period.

On a day when Smith required the fast-bowling spell of the series to remind onlookers of his mortality, the stark reality of Root’s first Test golden duck confirmed how far from those Fab Four standards he is now straying. Like Alastair Cook before him, he needs his team to rally round and ensure that the series doesn’t end before he can make a telling impact.

Langer, however, believes his team is ready and waiting to take their chances on the final day, for he’s under no illusion that plenty will be flying around.

“There’s always going to be tension in Test cricket, and with tension comes mistakes. I’m sure there’ll be six more opportunities tomorrow, and if that does happen, and we’ve got a chance to have a run-chase, we’ll stay nice and calm, on a very fast outfield, with great value for your shots. And it’s hopefully going to be a great run-chase if we can take those six wickets.”

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‘I can’t get on the honour board unless I’m batting’



Australia’s coach Justin Langer has revealed how Steven Smith came to be batting again in the Lord’s Test, less than an hour after he had retired hurt with a sickening blow to the back of the neck from a scorching bouncer delivered by Jofra Archer, protesting that he needed to be given the chance to make a century at the home of cricket.

On 80 when he was hit by Archer and left prostrate on the ground, Smith took time to regather himself and was initially withdrawn by the team doctor Richard Saw for precautionary concussion testing. There was widespread surprise when Smith re-emerged at the fall of Peter Siddle’s wicket, and what followed was a skittish innings ended when he shouldered arms to a straight ball from Chris Woakes. But Langer insisted that Smith had passed all the tests required and also headed off multiple reassurances from the coach and others that he was okay to bat.

ALSO READ: Steven Smith blow brings cricket to a standstill

“Because he was hit in the neck and not in the helmet or in the head maybe that had a bit of an impact, it was like getting a soft tissue injury,” Langer said. “He got hit on the arm as well and then hit on the neck. But as soon as he got up in the medical room, it was like ‘nah I’m going okay’, then he had the concussion testing and the doctor came through and said ‘he’s passed all that and he’s pretty good’. By the time he walked back in the dressing room he just couldn’t wait to get back out there again.

“I was saying ‘mate are you sure you’re okay’, these are like my sons right, so you’re never going to put them in harm’s way, even though you’re always in harm’s way with Test cricket. But he’s going ‘mate, I’ve got to get out there, I can’t get on the honour board unless I’m out batting’. That’s what he says, that’s what he thinks. He was determined. All he was worried about was that he wasn’t going to be able to play his forward defence because it was hurting with his top hand grip.

“We can look into it, but honestly he wouldn’t have gone out there unless we thought [he was okay]. We asked him over and over. I asked him privately, I asked him behind closed doors two or three times, I asked him in front of the group, he just goes ‘all good, all good coach, I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go’. What else do you do? The medicos cleared him, he wanted to get out there, we were looking after him, and he said ‘honestly I’m ready to go, my arm’s a bit sore’. That’s why he went out there.”

The Australian team was visibly shaken by the episode, with its parallels to the death of Phillip Hughes when hit in a similar part of the neck at the SCG in November 2014. “You never like seeing your players get hit like that, no doubt about that,” Langer said. “It was obviously some pretty rough memories of a blow like that, so there’s no fun in it.”

With that in mind, Langer reckoned that Smith would have to rethink his reluctance to wear a stem guard on the back of his helmet, of the kind widely introduced in the wake of Hughes’ death. The blow he suffered from Archer at Lord’s may well have been softened or at least partly deflected by the extra protection, which is optional rather than mandatory under the game’s regulations.

“Very good question,” Langer said when asked whether he thought the guards should be mandatory. “I didn’t realise, it might be my error but I didn’t realise they weren’t mandatory until today. I think Steve wrote in his book he just doesn’t like or feel comfortable [with a stem guard]. He’s got all these idiosyncrasies everyone’s talking about – he doesn’t like having shoelaces he can see, doesn’t like his shoes being dirty, so it’s the same, it just doesn’t feel right.

“I’m sure after today it’ll get talked about again, I know they came in after the tragedy of Hughesy. So I’m sure it’ll get talked about, and he might rethink it now after seeing what happened today, but you’d have to ask him that. At the moment the players have a choice, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they become mandatory in the future.”

As for how the blow and Archer’s brutish spell might influence Smith and the remainder of the series, Langer admitted that it had to have some effect on the former captain’s mentality, but was equally adamant that Smith would find a way to deliver his own riposte later in the series. Smith was cleared of any fracture for the earlier blow to the arm, and will undergo subsequent concussion testing before play on the final day.

“I can only go from experience. When you get hit, it’s always in the back of your mind, no doubt. Any batsman who tells you it’s not is a liar,” Langer said. “But he is also the sort of person who will do everything from now until the next time he bats, whether mentally or visualising or practising, to be right. He loves batting, we saw that masterclass the other day – no one is going to stop him batting, so he’ll practice it, work it out, and hopefully he’ll get back into it.”

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