Marnus Labuschagne produced one of his finest knocks in Test cricket and Australia still has a heartbeat after a water-soaked day in Manchester.
England was allowed just 30 overs of play overnight on Day 4 as a result of rain and were left fuming as the certainty of victory began to look increasingly shaky the longer Labuschagne stayed at the crease.
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With more rain forecast for Day 5 at Old Trafford it is all set up for a thrilling finish as Australia desperately tries to hold on to stumps with just five wickets remaining while trailing by 61 runs, reaching 5/214 at stumps.
Australia’s No. 3 batsman twice hit Joe Root down the ground for six before bringing up just his second overseas Test century and his first anywhere in seven months.
Labuschagne had endured a torrid tour until this match, failing to post a half century in the first three Ashes Tests before scores of 51 and 111 in Manchester.
However, his day has, only in a miserly way, been somewhat tainted by its conclusion where he was booed from the field by English fans.
It was a surprisingly lethal spell of spin bowling from Root than eventually undid Labuschagne as he attempted to cut a ball that bounced more than he was expecting and nicked it to Jonny Bairstow behind the wicket.
Root, Bairstow and every fielder close to the bat erupted with celebrations and they appeared genuinely shocked when the on-field umpire ignored their appeals.
Captain Ben Stokes did not hesitate to use one of his reviews to send the decision up to the DRS — and replays showed Labuschagne had got plenty of wood on the ball as it climbed past him.
There were loud boos when the DRS replays were shown on the big screen at the ground and the boos rang out again as Labuschagne walked off.
Fans on Twitter have been quick to suggest Labuschagne was fully aware he had got bat on the ball and have linked his decision not to walk with the notorious 2013 Ashes series where English quick Stuart Broad failed to walk after clubbing a ball to Michael Clarke at slip.
It resulted in Broad becoming public enemy No. 1 in Australia — and famously resulted in The Courier-Mail refusing to mention his name during the next Ashes Test on home soil.
Now English fans want to see Labuschagne judged by similar standards.
BBC cricket commentator Rob Stanton wrote on Twitter: “How has Labuschagne not walked there. Poor”.
English rugby league commentator Rob Oldfield posted: “They’ll never walk unless umpire raises the finger…. same old Aussies”.
Cricket writer Dave Tickner suggested Labuschagne’s kick was more significant than Broad’s.
“I’d already ordered a large batch of Marnus Labuschagne is a s*** bloke shirts, so that’s just a bonus tbh”.
In the end it didn’t matter
It was a fine catch by Bairstow, who is enjoying a sensational match, and gave England its first breakthrough of a frustrating day.
Labuschagne will still be frustrated with himself, despite his classy innings, after he appeared to begin to lose concentration after reaching triple figures.
He was accused by English cricket great Mark Butcher of “getting loose” against Root and paid the ultimate price.
The end of the 103-run partnership with Mitchell Marsh for Australia’s fifth wicket brought Cameron Green to the crease. He survived an England review for a catch at first slip to be three not out at the tea break — which was also the end of the day’s play.
England dominated the first three days in Manchester, piling up 592 in their first innings, with opener Zak Crawley making 189 and Jonny Bairstow a dashing 99 not out.
More rain is forecast for Sunday’s final day at Old Trafford and a draw would mean Australia, as the holders, retained the Ashes regardless of the result in the fifth and final Test at the Oval next week.
Labuschagne after the day’s play dismissed suggestions the world Test champions could push for a victory and did not attempt to sidestep suggestions his team is playing for a draw.
“I think we’re just going to let it play out, get bowled out when we do. I don’t think we’re going to give England a sniff…that’s exactly what they’d like,” he said.
— with AFP
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