Mark Wood’s heroics not enough as Ashes third Test hangs in balance

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England´s Mark Wood (2L) celebrates with teammates after bowling Australia´s Todd Murphy on day one of the third Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, northern England on July 6, 2023.—AFP
England´s Mark Wood (2L) celebrates with teammates after bowling Australia´s Todd Murphy on day one of the third Ashes cricket Test match between England and Australia at Headingley cricket ground in Leeds, northern England on July 6, 2023.—AFP 

An exhilarating first day at Headingley saw England’s Mark Wood shine with a remarkable five-wicket haul, yet the crucial third Ashes Test remains finely poised. 

Wood’s electric performance helped dismiss Australia for 263 runs, despite a sensational century from Mitchell Marsh. However, England ended the day on 68-3, trailing by 195 runs.

Taking advantage of winning the toss on a lively pitch, England’s bowlers reduced Australia to 85-4 before Marsh unleashed a blistering innings of 118 runs off just as many balls. He dominated a 155-run partnership with Travis Head, smashing 17 fours and four sixes. Although England’s missed chances, including drops of Marsh on 12 and Head on nine, hampered their efforts, they made a stunning comeback after Marsh fell in the final over before tea.

From a strong position of 240-4, Australia suffered a collapse, losing their last six wickets for just 23 runs. Wood, making his first appearance in the series, displayed his sheer pace and skill to claim impressive figures of 5-34. His bowling reached a staggering speed of 96.5 mph at one stage. In the evening, England faced a challenging 90-minute period and lost the wickets of Ben Duckett and Harry Brook to Pat Cummins before Marsh dismissed Zak Crawley.

At the close of play, England’s captain Joe Root remained unbeaten on 19, while Jonny Bairstow was yet to score. The home team aims to overcome their 2-0 series deficit, which would mark the first time in Ashes history that such a comeback has been achieved, and prevent Australia from clinching the urn at the earliest opportunity.

The atmosphere at Headingley lived up to the hype surrounding this Test, with the pre-match focus on the controversial dismissal of Jonny Bairstow at Lord’s. After a few boos during the Australian national anthem, Stuart Broad removed David Warner for the 16th time in his career with the fifth ball of the day. 

Wood’s lightning-fast opening spell further electrified the crowd, and once Steve Smith was caught behind for 22, courtesy of Broad, the famous Western Terrace erupted with Australia four wickets down.

During the afternoon session, Marsh silenced the England supporters with his dominant batting display, capitalising on missed opportunities. However, Wood’s superb performance brought the crowd back to life. His devastating spell of four wickets for five runs in 16 balls dismantled the Australian tail and reignited England’s hopes. Late on, Australia struck back, claiming three crucial wickets, leaving England to battle it out with determination.

While batting conditions tend to improve at Headingley as the Test progresses, there is a lingering feeling that England has let another dominant position slip due to missed chances. Wood’s extraordinary pace and impact on the game showcased what England had been missing in the previous Tests. His absence from the series until now due to injuries raises questions about how the series might have unfolded differently if he had been available.

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