England face ultimate test of Bazball revolution as rain threatens Stokes’ parade after stunning first day

THE ultimate test for England’s explosive Bazball revolution will arrive at Old Trafford today. 

After Chris Woakes ripped out four Aussie batsmen on another compelling, nip-and-tuck, cat-and-mouse, neck-and-neck day, now is the time for some real death-or-glory cricket.

England and Ben Stokes face a test of their Bazball revolutionRichard Pelham / The Sun

Chris Woakes took four wickets on the first day of the fourth Ashes TestRichard Pelham / The Sun

Ben Stokes’ side must score big and score quick against the world’s most fearsome fast-bowling attack to stand any chance of keeping this Ashes series alive. 

There are dark clouds hanging over England’s hopes in this must-win Fourth Test, because the weather forecast suggests a wash-out on Saturday and plenty of rain on Friday and Sunday too. 

So England’s ultra-aggressive approach to batting will have to be cranked up several notches if they are to conjure a series-levelling victory in what is likely to be a severely truncated match. 

If you have a ticket today for the temporary seating in Old Trafford’s towering ‘party stand’ – a rickety-looking version of Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall – you are certain to be entertained.

But you may need altitude-sickness pills and a crash helmet because England’s batsmen will be looking to pepper spectators in a ferocious flurry of six-hitting.    

It was that gloomy prediction from the Met Office which persuaded Stokes to insert the Aussies after winning a fourth consecutive toss, as it gave his side a better chance of a swift victory. 

England enjoyed some champagne moments on day one – a stunning catch from the embattled Jonny Bairstow, a 600th Test wicket for the extraordinary Stuart Broad and another crucial intervention from the permanently under-rated Woakes.  

But it was a day of toil on a good pitch, under a beating sun and against a packed Australian batting line-up. 


It was Bairstow who ignited the crowd with a brilliant low grab to his right to dismiss Aussie dangerman Mitchell Marsh – who had hammered a run-a-ball century at Headingley and had just raced past 50 here. 

The flame-haired wicketkeeper has been under severe scrutiny for some iron-gloved dropped catches during this series but here was his redemption, as he took all three of the chances presented to him. 

Bairstow roared long and hard, with triumphant relief, as he was mobbed by delirious team-mates, with Australia reduced to 255-7. 

It was Bairstow who hammered four lightning-fast centuries last summer to detonate the Bazball era – and how England could do with another such effort today. 

Earlier in that same over, Woakes had returned to the attack and immediately trapped Cameron Green leg-before. 

After taking Marsh’s edge, he appeared to have swung the opening day in England’s direction.

PAEngland enjoyed a stunning first day at Old Trafford[/caption]

But in keeping with every day of every match in this series, each time one side seemed to forge an advantage, their opponents immediately staged a fight-back. 

Alex ‘Pariah’ Carey, the villain who controversially stumped Bairstow at Lord’s, shared an irritating partnership with Mitchell Starc before the Aussies reached stumps at 299-8.

The day had begun with a bunny biting back. David Warner, Stuart Broad’s personal pet, cracked his tormentor through the covers for four from the first ball and made a rapid 32 before Woakes forced a nibble through to Bairstow.

Before that, Broad had claimed his 599th Test wicket by trapping Usman Khawaja leg-before and England were off to a decent start. 

Sunshine had stopped play, glinting off some seats behind the bowler’s arm and forcing Broad into a spell of emergency stewarding to sort out the problem.

GettyEngland’s joy could be disrupted by rain this week[/caption]

Steve Smith, who had secured the retention of the Ashes with a double-hundred here four years ago, started in confident fashion, with a boundary off his first ball and a six cracked over Moeen Ali’s head.

But soon after lunch, Mark Wood – who had been bowling many of his 92mph thunderbolts too short – pitched one up and ensnared Smith plumb leg-before, via a DRS review.  

Wood soon cracked Travis Head on the body and then the grille of his helmet, with two brutal bouncers.  

But Head was into full flow before Moeen Ali trapped Marnus Labuschagne, courtesy of another review.  

Moeen bowled cunningly well at times, enjoying a little turn, and making Australia’s decision to go without a front-line spinner look questionable. 

Straight after tea, Broad’s landmark arrived when Head, just short of a half-century, hooked him to a tumbling Joe Root at fine leg.

APEngland trail Australia 2-1 in the Ashes[/caption]

Marsh launched a counter-attack, thumping a string of boundaries off Broad and Moeen. 

But then came Woakes, who swiftly accounted for Green and Marsh, before he ended Carey’s resistance with the second new ball, the pantomime villain caught in two minds and pouched by Bairstow off an inside edge.   

There are a total of 879 caps in this England line-up, making them the most experienced team in the history of Test cricket.

Yet they will need to bat with the fearlessness of youth if they are to defeat the world champions as well as Manchester’s infamously grey heavens.

It promises to be some day.

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