Cricket-Cummins the hero as Australia edge England in Ashes thriller

BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Australia captain Pat Cummins sealed a remarkable two-wicket victory for his side over England in a thrilling climax to a gripping five-day battle in the opening Ashes test on Tuesday.

The visitors, set a 281 victory target, began a rain-delayed day on 107 for three but their chances looked to be slipping away when they were reduced to 227-8.

But Cummins, in partnership with Nathan Lyon, launched a fightback and secured victory with an unbeaten 44.

In suffocating tension and with every ball like a mini-drama, Cummins struck the final boundary thanks to a fumble by Harry Brook to give his side a 1-0 lead in the series.

Unflappable Australia opening batsman Usman Khawaja had earlier kept his team on course for victory with a gritty innings to edge the visitors towards the target.

But in a barn-storming match full of momentum shifts, the pendulum swung England’s way when Khawaja was bowled by England skipper Ben Stokes for 65.

When Joe Root held a caught and bowled chance to remove Alex Carey, England seemed to be close to victory. But Cummins refused to buckle, hitting Root’s off-spin for two sixes in one over as England delayed taking the new ball.

Australia’s ninth-wicket partnership was worth 55 runs from 72 balls with Lyon chipping in with 16.

“I honestly felt pretty good when I came to the wicket because the pitch didn’t have any demons in it,” Cummins said.

“Both teams spoke a lot about playing your own style. And that’s the beauty of this series. Two contrasting styles, playing to our strengths and that made for great entertainment.”

England’s ‘Bazball’ style, full of funky field placings, inventive strokes and Twenty20-like scoring rates, had seen them in the driving seat for much of the match.

But captain Stokes’ decision to declare the first innings on 393-8 on a frenetic first day, returned to haunt him with such a small margin dividing the teams at the end.


Not that he regretted anything as he promised Australia can expect plenty more curve balls thrown their way in the four remaining matches in the series, beginning at Lord’s next week.

“It was a rollercoaster with ups and downs and a game we will never forget,” he said. “We stuck to our guns on how we would operate and carried on from the last series we played.

“We are going to continue to keep coming at Australia.”

Australia pulled off the second-highest successful victory chase at Edgbaston and avenged their heart-breaking loss to England on the same ground in a 2005 epic when they fell three short of chasing down 282.

After a long rain delay, Khawaja kept his side on track with a determined half century.

Night-watchman Scott Bolan, who came to the crease on Monday after a magical spell of seam bowling by Broad removed Marnus Labuschagne and Australia talisman Steve Smith, was the first to fall, edging Broad to keeper Jonny Bairstow for a useful 20.

England had Australia in a straight-jacket with Khawaja and Travis Head unable to score.

Yet Head cut loose when off-spinner Moeen Ali, nursing a cut finger, joined the attack, but after scoring 16 he edged a superb Moeen ball to Root at first slip.

But with Khawaja, named man of the match after scoring a magnificent first innings century and batting on all five days, joined by Cameron Green, Australia moved to 183-5 at the interval, requiring 98 more for victory.

England needed wickets and got one when Green, who made 28, chopped an Ollie Robinson ball into his stumps.

And with the runs drying up again and the pressure mounting, Stokes brought himself into the attack despite his knee issues and finally removed Khawaja for 65, the opener playing on to a pretty ordinary delivery.

Root, whose incredible shot-making lit up Monday’s action, twice failed to hold sharp catches off his own bowling, once from Cummins and once from Alex Carey.

But when Carey drove another one straight down the pitch, Root did manage to cling on to leave Australia 74 runs short with only two wickets remaining.

As Australia edged within range, Stokes almost removed Lyon with an acrobatic catch at square leg, but the ball slipped agonisingly from his grasp.

England began to look desperate and gave the new ball to Broad but this time not even he could muster some magic.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge, Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)