It was difficult to know what was the most satisfying sight for England fans on the third day at the MCG. Was it Alastair Cook straight-driving a boundary to bring up his double-century? Was it Stuart Broad backing away and swiping yet another bouncer to the square leg fence to raise his fifty? Was it Australia’s players shaking Cook’s hand at the end of a second consecutive day’s play, once again not out? In the end, it was probably nothing more than the sight of the scoreboard, which showed England holding a 164-run lead.
If this was England’s day, it was more specifically Cook’s day. If a Cook’s tour is parlance for a quick trip around many venues, it neatly summed up his Ashes campaign until now: Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, never more than a couple of hours at the crease at once. He entered this Test having failed to reach fifty from any of his past 10 innings, the longest such drought of his career. Questions were being asked about his place in the team.
But you don’t play 149 consecutive Tests and score 11,000 runs without a healthy dose of resilience. Cook took a conscious decision to be more proactive in this innings, to play a more positive brand of cricket. The end result was 27 boundaries, an unbeaten 244, more than 10 hours at the crease and 409 balls faced, the longest innings by any visiting batsman in a Test in Australia since Cook himself accumulated an unbeaten 235 at the Gabba in 2010.
More correctly, that was the end result for now. Because at stumps, England were still batting, on 9 for 491, with James Anderson yet to score. Cook and England had batted through the day, building the kind of first-innings advantage that leaves Australia’s dreams of a clean-sweep all but over. If England achieve nothing else in this series, denying Australia a 5-0 scoreline would be an outstanding recovery.
Summarized scores: England 9 for 491 (Cook 244*, Root 61, Broad 56, Hazlewood 3-95) lead Australia 327 by 164 runs