Saturday, 22 January, 2022
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Root and Malan lead England fightback in first Ashes Test

Joe Root and Dawid Malan put on a defiant unbeaten partnership of 159 to give England hope of salvaging a draw in the opening Ashes Test at the Gabba on Friday.

A rejuvenated England were 220-2 at the close of play, with skipper Root on 86 and Malan 80, only 58 runs behind Australia.

After England lost both openers in the session before tea, Root and Malan looked increasingly comfortable on the third-day Gabba pitch as they steadily wore down the Australian attack.

Root's classy 86 not out is one short of his highest score in Australia and took him past 1,500 runs in a calendar year, the most ever by an Englishman, surpassing Michael Vaughan's 1,481 in 2002.

Leading by example, the skipper barely offered a chance in his innings, stroking 10 boundaries including a sublime reverse sweep off spinner Nathan Lyon.

After England's dismal start to the Ashes, when they were bowled out for just 147 in their first innings, it was just what they needed.

"For him to carry on the form he had in our summer and the early English winter is fantastic and it's great signs for us as a team that Joe's playing well out here, and is leading from the front," Malan said.

Lyon, still searching for his 400th Test wicket, never looked like breaking through.

The South African-born Malan scored his only Test century on the last tour of Australia and although not as comfortable as his captain, he also looked in control.

He did struggle with fatigue towards the close, however, and went down with cramp.

- 'It's meant to be hard' -

Earlier, Travis Head scored a superb 152 to put Australia in what seemed a commanding position after their first innings.

Australia were finally dismissed for 425 on Friday, 30 minutes before lunch, a handsome lead of 278.

England then survived a tricky period and went to lunch 23 for no wicket.

Rory Burns, who was out first ball of the series on Wednesday when clean-bowled by Mitchell Starc, was lucky to survive the dreaded pair when he was adjudged leg-before wicket on Starc's sixth ball of the first over of the day.

But after reviewing the decision, replays showed the ball was just missing the top of middle stump, and a relieved Burns survived.

But he didn't last long after lunch and gloved a ball to wicketkeeper Alex Carey off Australian captain Pat Cummins.

Haseeb Hameed looked in great touch and eased to 27, but he tried to glance a wide ball from Starc, only to get a faint touch to Carey.

Malan knows that plenty more work lies ahead despite England's improved showing.

"To come here today and do what we did after a day and half of hard fielding is fantastic, but that's only half the job." he said.

"We need another 250-300 runs tomorrow to put ourselves in a good position."

Australian batsman Marnus Labuschagne said that the hosts needed to hold their nerve.

"Test cricket is a grind, it's meant to be hard otherwise it wouldn't mean so much," he said.

"For us it's a day at the office. We'll review our plans and how we bowled today, and come up with some ideas and get those last eight wickets."

- Superb Head -

Head, controversially selected for the Test ahead of Usman Khawaja, played a magnificent hand.

After blasting the third-fastest century in Ashes history in the final session on Thursday, Head carried on where he left off on Friday morning, flashing at anything wide and attacking English spinner Jack Leach anew.

Head played and missed a number of times, but was rewarded for his stroke play, his 152 coming from only 148 balls including four massive sixes and 14 boundaries.

Head brought up his 150 with a pullshot through square leg off Leach, whose Test future must surely be in doubt after going for 102 runs in his 13 overs.

England didn't help their cause with three dropped catches in the session.

Chris Woakes put down a caught-and-bowled chance, wicketkeeper Jos Buttler couldn't handle a tough caught behind off Mark Wood and Hameed grassed a chance in the deep, also off Wood's bowling.

Wood was rewarded for his consistent high pace, taking 3-85, including the wicket of Head, while Ollie Robinson was the most dangerous of the English bowlers with 3-58.