Alastair Cook believes Australia remain ‘heavy favourites’ to win this winter’s Ashes opener, despite Joe Root and Dawid Malan giving England fans a glimmer of hope with a spirited partnership of 159 on day three at the Gabba.
England appeared down and out after a Travis Head-inspired Australia moved from 343-7 to 425 all out in response to the tourists’ limp first innings effort of 147 in Brisbane.
Rory Burns’ miserable start to the series continued as he was caught behind off the bowling of Pat Cummins for just 13 before fellow opener Haseeb Hameed was removed by Mitchell Starc for 27.
However, Root bounced back from a duck in England’s first innings to produce a true captain’s performance with the bat, ending the day on 86 to close in on a possible maiden century Down Under.
Malan, meanwhile, will begin day four unbeaten on 80, with the visiting side finishing on 220-2, 58 behind the hosts at close of play.
‘I think the Gabba wicket has changed over time. A lot of those stats where the wicket cracked… when I played in 2006/07 there were big cracks in the wicket. It’s not going to deteriorate quite as much as that,’ ex-England captain Cook told BT Sport.
‘Australia, I would say, are heavy favourites still because two wickets, still behind, it can change so quickly. Ollie Robinson at nine, England have got quite a long tail.
‘However, if England get into the red and then Pat Cummins has that thing. When do they start taking fielders out to protect the boundary? When do they start looking at the runs ahead and England getting to a lead of 50-60?
‘Six wickets left, they’ll start putting the sweepers out and runs become slightly easier so it will be fascinating cricket tomorrow and if we could get a good start it would be fantastic.’
Cook hopes Cook and Malan are able to rediscover their ‘rhythm’ quickly ahead of what will likely be a tricky morning session on day four.
‘In this game there have been wickets at the start of every session so, for whatever reason, getting back in has been very hard, whether it’s been after a drinks break or at the start of a day or after lunch,’ he added.
‘So these two will enjoy this moment, they batted beautifully. Some of the shots were fantastic.
‘If these two do the hard bit, get in tomorrow morning… finding that rhythm is never easy when you’re 80 odd not out with the thought of a century which will be playing on their minds because it’s such a big thing in an Ashes Test match, it’s so exciting.’
Steve Harmison agreed with Cook that match is still firmly in Australia’s favour, but heaped praise on Root and Malan for their courageous effort on day three.
‘They did [experience one or two anxious moments] but I think there was a lot of good judgement in there as well,’ the former England fast bowler said.
‘There were times when the commentators were saying they were playing and missing, but they weren’t really playing and missing.
‘Malan played very, very well against Nathan Lyon, he didn’t go out and played down the line of the ball and let the ball turn. If a ball turned he didn’t chase it so that’s good judgement. That’s not luck, that’s batsmanship.
‘When you go back to what we’ve got tomorrow morning, it’s still in Australia’s favour because they’ve gone ten overs, tired bowlers, and then they’ve got a little bit of a boost because they’ve got the new ball.
‘So if England get over that first ten overs then they will have to regroup and go again because they’ve got to go against the new ball.’
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