England were soundly defeated again by Australia by 64 runs. The numbers suggest a carbon copy of that routine first encounter at Southampton, but they are misleading. For perhaps the first time during this Ashes summer there was additional spice given to proceedings by the controversial dismissal of Ben Stokes, who has a habit of finding odd ways of getting out. England were 141 for three in their 25th over in pursuit of 310 for victory when Stokes was given out for obstructing the field.
Boos echoed around Lord’s when the decision of the third umpire, Joel Wilson, was relayed to the middle. Stokes left the field shaking his head furiously. He had driven the ball back firmly to the bowler, Mitchell Starc, and his momentum had taken him out of his crease. Starc picked up the ball and threw at the stumps, as he was perfectly entitled to do. Stokes, scrambling backwards, instinctively – or was it wilfully? – stuck out his hand, which made contact with the ball.
Starc appealed – half-heartedly by modern standards. The on-field umpires, who had a fine view of the incident, nonetheless asked for help, whereupon Wilson up in the pavilion obviously decided that Stokes’s reaction had been wilful – it had to be to justify his decision. An obvious flaw in the process is that the only replays viewed by the third umpire were in slow motion, which distorts the action. This was a freak incident and it felt like the wrong decision.
Perhaps Australia should have withdrawn their appeal – Eoin Morgan said that he would have done so in Steve Smith’s shoes. More obviously, Wilson, with the benefit of a real-time replay, might have decreed not out. The umpires out in the middle probably had a better idea whether Stokes’s intervention was “wilful” or not.
Thereafter, the England run-chase petered out rather as it did in the first match. There had been another cameo from Jason Roy; James Taylor, shunning any of those darts down the wicket, again promised a major innings. Yet despite a spirited effort from Morgan, the last man out for 85 from 87 balls, England, no doubt stunned by what they perceived as the injustice of the Stokes dismissal, fell away tamely.
Jos Buttler, himself dismissed in controversial circumstances at Edgbaston last year when he was run out backing up against Sri Lanka, was a horribly meek lbw victim to Glenn Maxwell without scoring and the rest of a handsome tail on paper could offer very little to their captain.
Morgan rarely betrays his emotions but was there a touch of anger in the sixes he swatted off Mitchell Marsh as he sought to reignite the run-chase alongside Liam Plunkett. This pair added a defiant 55 from 22 balls but the fireworks could not last.
The Australian innings started with a bang but did not end with a whimper. David Warner was hit on the thumb by the first ball he received from Steven Finn and after examination by the physio he was not seen again. It was later confirmed that his thumb was fractured, an injury that takes more than four weeks to heal. So Warner will be flying home on Monday after a successful, yet surprisingly anonymous tour of England. Aaron Finch is in the country and fit again and therefore his likely replacement.
Warner had been the recipient of a rare venomous delivery in the first hour of the innings when there was encouragement for the bowlers under a grim, grey sky. There was some swing for Chris Woakes but it tended to be early swing rather than the devious late variety that Jimmy Anderson can produce. Finn occasionally beat the bat but was more inconsistent. He certainly beat the bat of Joe Burns in his fifth over and the stumps were shattered.
There followed a measured 99-run partnership between Steve Smith and George Bailey. There were not many extravagances from them. Theirs was almost an old-fashioned approach to batting in the knowledge that there was plenty of firepower down below. Bailey was not greatly tested by the pacemen even though he has looked suspect against them in his brief Test career.
Smith had Woakes looking aghast as he whipped off-stump deliveries through midwicket. Both fell to spin. Bailey was bowled by Moeen Ali’s second delivery, which spun past his inside edge. Soon after Smith sliced a drive to backward point off Adil Rashid. Perhaps these successes enticed Morgan to put too much faith in his spinners. He asked Moeen to bowl late in the innings and, as we know, he never shirks a challenge. However, this proved a misguided decision; those cute, counter-intuitive hunches do not always work.
Moeen bowled perfectly well but in his last three overs he was hit for five sixes, one of which endangered those sitting comfortably in the upper tier of the pavilion. One thing that Messrs Maxwell, Marsh and Watson have in common is the capacity to hit off-breaks an awfully long way.
And that is what they did.
On another day the magnitude of those sixes might have been the lingering memory of the day. Instead, this contest will be remembered for another chapter in the diverting life and times of Ben Stokes. He kept his cool rather well after his dismissal. That ridiculous cameraman who encroaches on to the field to film departing batsmen remained unscathed. It was also unusual to see and hear the victorious Australian side being booed by MCC members as they returned to the pavilion.