Astonishing Crawley century stuns Australia

Fourth LV= Insurance Ashes Test, Emirates Old Trafford (day two of five):
Australia 317 (Labuschagne 51, Marsh 51; Woakes 5-62)
England 384-4 (Crawley 189, Root 84, Moeen 54)
England lead by 67 runs

Zak Crawley’s astonishing 189 stunned Australia and kept England on course for an Ashes comeback on an exhilarating second day of the fourth Test at Old Trafford.

Crawley cracked the highest score by an England batter in a home Ashes Test for 26 years to give the hosts the perfect chance of levelling the series at 2-2.

In a 182-ball stay, he crunched 21 fours and three sixes to help England to 384-4, a lead of 67.

Crawley shared a stand of 121 with Moeen Ali, who was superb in making 54 at number three, then a riotous double-century partnership with Joe Root, the former captain unlucky to fall for 84.

Though Crawley and Root were both bowled by deliveries that kept low, Harry Brook and Ben Stokes laid a platform to attack on Friday morning with an unbroken stand of 33.

On a perfect day for the home side, James Anderson removed Pat Cummins with the first ball of the morning and Chris Woakes completed his maiden five-wicket haul in an Ashes Test to dismiss Australia for 317.

With the series on the line and bad weather closing in at the weekend, England not only wanted to build a lead, but do so swiftly enough to leave time to force a result.

They did so in a fashion that was barely believable and now have a golden opportunity to level the series at 2-2 and set up a delicious Ashes decider at The Oval.

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England ambush rattled Aussies

Even the most optimistic England fan could not have predicted this. Their day-one performance with the ball, reducing Australia to 299-8, created the prospect of one good batting innings levelling the series. There was also the danger of one collapse surrendering any chance of lifting the urn.

What transpired was England’s best day of the summer – a celebration of everything good about the cricket they have played under Stokes and Brendon McCullum, lapped up by the Old Trafford Party Stand.

If Australia were yet to be fully Bazballed, they have now, steamrollered by Crawley and co in trail of destruction that scattered fielders, frazzled minds and did horrific damage to bowling figures. Off-spinner Todd Murphy, the notable absentee from the Australia XI, would have been relieved to be running drinks rather than bowling.

To compound an awful day for the tourists, fast bowler Mitchell Starc struggled with a hamstring injury then hurt his left shoulder diving in the field.

Anderson had Cummins caught at cover while Woakes needed two goes at having number 11 Josh Hazlewood caught in the slips – the first was a no-ball. It proved to be the only blight on England’s day.

With heavy rain forecast for Saturday and Sunday, England knew they had to score quickly. They did so with controlled aggression, glorious strokeplay and urgent running. The hosts could feel in a position to have Australia batting again before lunch on Friday.

Any tilt at victory will have to come with the weather looming and on a pitch starting to show some signs of sharp variable bounce.

But England have engineered a huge opening. They have never returned from 2-0 down to win an Ashes series. The comeback is on.

Zak attack

Despite his modest record, England have always believed Kent’s Crawley is a match-winner. This innings, an Ashes knock for the ages, was spectacular vindication.

England were nervy in the spell to lunch. Ben Duckett edged Starc behind for one and Crawley had to overturn being given out lbw to Cameron Green on 20.

But Crawley and makeshift number-three Moeen intelligently built their century partnership and Crawley exploded into life after the break.

With flamboyant whips, handsome drives and some mighty slog sweeps, Crawley eviscerated the Australian bowling. He moved from 50 to 100 in 26 balls, a 93-ball ton England’s fourth-fastest in Ashes cricket.

Crawley crashed 106 runs from 82 balls in the session between lunch and tea. A stand of 206 with Root was racked up in only 186 deliveries. The Australians rifled through plan and after plan, their fielding became ragged and bowlers weary.

Just as Crawley looked primed for a double ton, Green got one to keep low and he played on, leaving to rapturous applause from a crowd who had witnessed one of the all-time great hundreds.

Root and Moeen head supporting cast

This was a superb effort from Moeen, who came out of retirement for this series and finds himself as the only frontline spinner in the match and filling an important gap in the England order.

He batted with composure and displayed the odd touch of style. The standing ovation for reaching his first Test half-century in four years recognised Moeen’s selfless service this summer. He was unlucky that a full-blooded pull off Starc was sharply taken by Usman Khawaja.

Root arrived with the score at 130-2 and the game in the balance, but was instantly at his impish, imperious best.

He dealt with Australia’s short-ball plan by expertly executing hooks and pulls. His intent to score brought 40 off his first 30 balls – Root’s fastest ever start to a Test innings. He played his trademark reverse-scoops off Mitchell Marsh and Cummins.

Root deserved a century of his own, only to be bowled by a scuttler from Hazlewood – keeping even lower than the one that got Crawley.

The way in which Brook and Stokes calmly played for the morning is ominous for the Australians. The sight of ‘nighthawk’ Stuart Broad padded up late in the day was a sign of England’s intent.

‘A special day’ – reaction

England opener Zak Crawley, speaking to Test Match Special: “I rode my luck at times and played some really good parts in the innings and there were other parts where I was really streaky but I’m happy with how I have played. It was a special day.

“I just keep backing my game and I’ve done that well this series where I just keep trying to play the way I play. That’s the only way that is going to work for me.”

Australia assistant coach Daniel Vettori: “It was obviously a taxing session because Crawley was so dominant and played so well from the onset. We had some clear plans but he was too good.”

Former England captain Michael Vaughan: “England play a certain brand that completely suits Crawley. That innings has put England on the front foot and this moment will be spoken about for a long period of time, particularly if England go on to win the Ashes.”

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