Starc joins the party as Aussies tighten Ashes grip

Australia are eight wickets away from retaining the Ashes after a wild day four at Old Trafford in which Steve Smith toyed with England before Pat Cummins ripped them open.

England resumed their innings five wickets down, but were nearly skittled by lunch after Mitchell Starc (3-80) found his zone. The home team finally fell for 300, conceding a 197-run first innings lead, before Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad ripped through the shaky Australian top order.

Smith, however, proved he's a man playing in a different stratosphere with a remarkable 81 to stabilise Australia's innings and set England an unlikely target of 383.

That target looked a world away when Cummins removed Rory Burns and Joe Root in consecutive balls to reduce England to 0-2 in the first over - before they recovered to finish the day 2-18.

England require a further 365 to secure an unlikely victory, or more likely 98 overs to survive to send the series to a decider at the Oval.

 

 

Here's what you missed on a helter-skelter rollercoaster of a day.

 

MITCHELL STARC ARRIVES

Mitchell Starc left more than a few critics with egg on their faces on Saturday, taking the new ball ahead of Pat Cummins after being lambasted for his wicketless showing on Friday.

Branded as loose and wayward, Starc was on the money to send England's overnight batsmen - Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes - packing.

Firstly, he destroyed Bairstow's stumps with a full, fast and swinging delivery before luring Stokes into a false shot through pace and length - with a catch flying to Steve Smith at second slip.

In the space of 11 deliveries he blew apart England's middle-order resistance and reminded everyone what he brings to the Australian team, before finishing with 3-80.

 

AUSSIE TOP ORDER IN ALL SORTS

It's becoming something of a broken record, but Australia's openers again got their team off to a nightmare start.

David Warner fell for a duck to Stuart Broad - for the sixth time this series, zeroing in on the record of seven with another Test to play. It's fast becoming one of the great bunny showdowns in Test history.

When Marcus Harris followed soon after having scored just six, Australia were 2-16 and off to a horror start which has become their trademark this series.

 

WARNER HITS ROCK BOTTOM

In his worst ever series, David Warner hit rock bottom on Saturday when he registered his first pair in Test cricket.

Warner's Test comeback has been an abject disaster, and he became the first Australian opener in 25 years to record a pair. The last to do it? Mark Taylor against Pakistan in Karachi, 1994.

 

Jofra Archer and Matthew Wade had several frank exchanges of views.
Jofra Archer and Matthew Wade had several frank exchanges of views.

 

WADE V ARCHER

Matthew Wade had plenty to stay during Jofra Archer's short stay at the crease - out for a single after almost giving his wicket away with a needlessly sedate amble down the pitch for that run.

There was certainly no love lost between the Hobart Hurricanes teammates, with Wade immediately chirping away from bat pad when Archer arrived at the crease.

Wade implored paceman Josh Hazlewood to hit Archer in the head, told the Barbados-born star to watch his comments in the media and generally yapped away enough to prompt Kevin Pietersen to beg him to 'SHUT UP' on Twitter.

 

WADE V ARCHER 2: TENSIONS RISE

Wade and Archer resumed hostilities when Australia came out to bat, the English bowler standing in the batsman's way as he attempted a single - before the two came fast to face (or, rather, face-to-chest given their respective heights) as he turned for a second.

Archer fired a few verbals back, as he was well within his rights to do, as things started to heat up in the middle.

England had plenty to say early in Australia's innings, with Stuart Broad waving goodbye when Marnus Labuschagne fell cheaply.

 

SMITH TOYS WITH ENGLAND

He's been the best batsman all series, but Saturday was when Steve Smith truly took the mickey out of his opponents.

With everyone else struggling for survival Smith went into video game mode, toying with the bowlers as he - again - dug Australia out of a hole.

Hitting reverse sweeps, tennis-style defensive swats and the odd classical late cut, Smith proved himself to be truly otherworldly.

When he finally fell for 81 - lofting Jack Leach into the outfield where he was caught by Ben Stokes - it came as a shock, both to Smith and to everyone else at Old Trafford.

 

ENGLAND'S TIME-WASTER REVIEW BACKFIRES

With time ticking away on Saturday night and Australia eyeing a declaration, England opted for the most unusual of reviews on a caught behind off Tim Paine - with daylight between bat and ball.

It looked every bit a time-wasting measure, but it backfired on the home side as Paine approached umpire Marais Erasmus to point out that the ball had cleared his head and should've been a wide.

Erasmus had a second look at the big screen and agreed, signalling wide and taking Australia's score forward.

 

WINVIZ'S WILD FLUCTUATIONS

When Travis Head was dismissed and Australia fell to 4-44, England had their tails up.

But according to WinViz - the CricViz algorithm which determines the likelihood of a match result - Australia's chances of victory improved by 4 per cent.

While on first viewing it might be taken as a poor reflection of Head's potential contribution, the truth lies in the details. And the Head dismissal increased the likelihood of Australia being bowled out, reducing the chances of there being a draw.

 

 

REVIEW MADNESS HURTS AGAIN

It was Groundhog Day for Tim Paine and the Australians as, again, costly reviews came back to bite them.

Australia's two reviews were frivolously thrown away on speculative LBW - firstly on one hitting Joe Root outside the line, and later as Jos Buttler failed to offer a shot … to a delivery that was going over the stumps.

 

Tim Paine is really, really bad at using DRS. Really bad.
Tim Paine is really, really bad at using DRS. Really bad.

 

Paine has now been successful just six times from 26 DRS attempts this series - and it ultimately cost them 10 runs, when Mitchell Starc had Jack Leach trapped plumb in front with England still trailing by 208.

Replays showed it would've crashed into leg stump.

"In the old days you take the good with the bad, but now because you don't have any reviews left that decision seems ten times worse," Glenn McGrath said in commentary.

"Australia still haven't got their review system right. I thought this match (after the Headingley nightmare) they wouldn't even use one … but they've burnt two again. What can you do?"

 

LEACH BRINGS BACK THE WALL

Leach's support crew was loving the tailender's dogged efforts against the Australian attack - with bespectacled fans sporting bald caps in the crowd.

And again Australia found the No. 11 hard to remove.

He finished four not out batting with Jos Buttler, having faced nine balls with England adding 18 seemingly valuable runs for the last wicket.

It's not so long ago that he hit a bizarre 92 while nightwatchman against Ireland. Just what does he have to do to move up the order?

 

STARC FOLLOWS PUNTER'S ADVICE

Starc's performance wouldn't have surprised former Australian skipper Ricky Ponting, who on Friday defended the explosive left-armer after one particularly expensive over - saying those expecting control and patience were barking up the wrong tree.

"I would like to see Australia use him the other way," Ponting said in commentary.

"(Josh) Hazlewood, (Pat) Cummins and Nathan Lyon can be the patient bowlers for you. They are more line bowlers.

"Someone like Mitchell Starc, for me, is someone who has to be let go. You tell him to run in and bowl fast.

"He bowls a couple of bad balls that go for boundaries, don't worry about it because you know there's a wicket ball just around the corner."

 

BROAD WITH BEST WIDE SINCE HARMY

Stuart Broad has had a magnificent series but he came up with one of the most comical blunders of the series with the best wide seen in an Ashes Test since Steve Harmison's howler with the first ball of the 2006 series in Australia.

Harmison's went to Andrew Flintoff at second slip, while Broad - who was spooked by Smith moving around the crease - sent it so wide down the legside that it would have been given wide even to a left-hander.

Needless to say keeper Jonny Bairstow had no chance of trapping it as it raced to the boundary, piercing the two fielders who were placed out there to stop Smith from getting hook-happy.

To his credit, Broad saw the funny side of it - asking umpire Marais Erasmus 'you sure that was a wide?".