Birmingham: The third Ashes Test at Edgbaston has hurtled headlong towards a fast finish, in just two days. On a slightly challenging wicket but not an unplayable one by any stretch of the imagination, the modern batsmen and their carefree attitude towards batsmanship has ensured not all five days will be required to settle this contest. In fact, even the flatter wickets of Lord's and Cardiff couldn't make the Test enter the fifth day.
Even as Test matches unfold over hours and sessions and days, there are brief passages of time that determine the outcome of the contest. Such was the case on Day Two in Birmingham. Resuming play after a day where England's batsmen and bowlers completely outplayed them, Australia needed inspiration from somewhere to claw their way back in to the Test.
Mitchell Starc was wayward and ineffective and the supposed "next McGrath" Josh Hazlewood was going at more than five runs an over without any control on his length or line. Australia were bailed out a bit towards the end of Day 1 through some luck and some poor choice of shots as Nathan Lyon chipped in with two wickets.
Michael Clarke desperately needed early wickets and that's exactly what Mitchell Johnson provided him. With hostility reminiscent of his performances in 2013-14 Ashes in Australia, Johnson ripped out Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes in his first over of the day with fast, accurate short deliveries. But that's how far his energy and skill could drag Australia as the other seamers were woefully poor and allowed England to pile on the lead. Despite that, England reached Lunch on Day 2 only 85 runs ahead.
The first 45 minutes on resumption of play turned the tide firmly in England's favor. Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad went hell for leather and added 60 runs in 11.1 overs, and in all 87 runs for the eighth wicket, in just 19.3 overs. The pitch at Edgbaston had plenty to offer for the bowlers and yet England motored along at more than 4 runs an over.
Some of the credit should go to the enterprising way Joe Root, Ian Bell, Ali and Broad played but the blame should really be with the Australian seamers who never could settle on the discipline that was required.
The fact that there were three half centuries in the England innings with none of the batsmen exceeding 63 showed that there was enough on the wicket to keep hopes up that a wicket was never too far away. Even though the last three England wickets fell foe 4 runs, the lead had swollen to 145 runs, more than what Australia could muster in their first go.
Another mini-passage of play that almost guaranteed that England would go to Trent Bridge 2-1 up in the series was on resumption of play after the Tea break. Steven Finn, on his comeback, ripped through the Aussie middle order (again) removing Clarke and Adam Voges in consecutive deliveries, and cleaned up Mitchell Marsh three overs later.
Even as Finn was causing the damage – like Johnson did earlier in the day – he received support from the other end which wasn't the case for Johnson. Jimmy Anderson, Broad and Stokes kept the lid on the scoring and allowed the scoreboard pressure and the vast amount of time still left in the match to take their toll.
Australian batsmen duly obliged and England had a stranglehold on the result. Australia would only hope that they could learn from the batting (and to some extent bowling) debacle and look ahead to squaring the series at Nottingham.