Just when Ashes are all but over, English bowlers finally arrive

It took just one ball to change everything.

While Jimmy Anderson was the hero who at least delayed the writing of England’s latest Ashes obituaries, it was Mark Wood who provided the spark that threatened to ignite a lopsided series.

The fastest bowler in either team challenging the newly-crowned No.1 batter in the world made the prospect of Wood bowling to Marcus Labuschagne the heavyweight contest of this Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.

Wood floored his opponent in the opening round as Labuschagne nicked off to England captain Joe Root for one. Root hasn’t had much to cheer about on tour after heavy defeats in the first two Tests, but he was overjoyed with this moment.

It set the scene for a spirited England bowling performance which made Australia struggle to 276, a first-innings lead of 82 thanks to a career-saving 76 from Marcus Harris and some enterprising tail-end batting.

The biggest lie of the scoreboard was Wood’s figures of 2-71 doing no justice to the impact he had after being rested for the second Test in Adelaide.

Mark Wood and Joe Root celebrate the wicket of Marnus Labuschagne.Credit:Chris Hopkins

The ball that dismissed Labuschagne lifted and left him, which prompted a fend from one of the best leavers in the game.

If it had been the average speed of England’s other seamers in the low 130km/h range he would have had time to pull the bat away, but with Wood operating closer to 150km/h there was no time as instinct took over.

It raises the big what if question had Jofra Archer and Ollie Stone, who operate at 145km/h, been fit to tour.

As England’s ageless master seam and swing bowler at 39, the grass on a new age MCG wicket allowed Anderson to prise out the Australians, claiming 4-33 from 23 largely excellent overs.

When he nipped a ball back into Steve Smith, bowling him for just 16 off an inside edge, Australia were 4-110 and Root’s joy was unrestrained.

After the second Test in Adelaide an understandably frustrated Root criticised the prolific veterans for not bowling full enough in the helpful conditions.

Root had a point, but the bowling is the least of England’s concerns behind their flaky batting.

“With ball in hand, we didn’t bowl the right lengths,” he said. “We needed to bowl fuller. As soon as we did in the second innings, we created chances.

“That’s frustrating. We did it four years ago and didn’t learn from it. We have to be better.”

Needless to say neither the prolific Anderson nor Stuart Broad weren’t particularly chuffed with their captain’s assessment.

Anderson said the “whole group” had to be better at assessing the situation during a game, not just the bowlers.

“We can’t just go after the game ‘we should have bowled fuller’,” he said.

“If we are bowling too short at lunch we need information back saying we need to push our lengths up.”

Broad defended their lengths midway through the Test in his Mail on Sunday column, saying: “Although there was an argument that we could have bowled fuller because the ball did so little, our economy rates would have gone through the roof.”

While Broad is a spectator for this Test, Root and Anderson were all smiles, until England batted again and Root was forced to survive a hat-trick ball.

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