Cricket: Stokes treble sees England close in on Ashes victory

Nov 30, -0001

LONDON: Ben Stokes's stunning three-wicket burst moved England closer to regaining the Ashes with a possible two-day win in the fourth Test against Australia at Trent Bridge on Friday.

Australia were well-placed at 113 without loss when Stokes had Chris Rogers (52) well caught in the slips by Joe Root.

It was the start of a personal return for the Durham seam-bowling all-rounder of three wickets for four runs in 13 balls with David Warner and Shaun Marsh also falling.

And when first-innings bowling star Stuart Broad had Steven Smith (five) caught by Stokes at point, Australia were 136 for four.

Australia were 138 for four at tea on Friday's second day, still 193 runs shy of making England bat again.

Michael Clarke (nought not out) and Adam Voges (two not out), both desperately struggling for runs this series, were the undefeated batsmen.

With 38 overs left in the day's play, England, who won last week's third Test at Edgbaston by eight wickets inside three days, had hope of an even quicker victory in Nottingham.   

Broad's Test-best eight for 15 on Thursday had seen Australia dismissed for just 60 in 111 balls -- the shortest-ever completed first innings of any Test match.

That innings also saw left-handed openers Rogers and Warner both fall for ducks, with England catching everything that came their way.

But on Friday, England captain Alastair Cook dropped a regulation first slip catch when Warner had made 10 as Broad again attacked the left-handers from around the wicket.

Ian Bell then floored a far more difficult slip chance when Warner had made 42 and Joe Root then held a brilliant chance in the cordon when Rogers was on 47, only for the batsman to be reprieved when replays confirmed Mark Wood had bowled a no-ball.

It promised to be a session of complete frustration for England as Rogers and Warner added 113 in 24 overs compared to the 18.3 needed to wrap up Australia's first innings. 

But while Australia had dropped lively all-rounder Mitchell Marsh for this match, England counterpart Stokes proved the value of such a player, particularly on a day when the frontline bowlers were not taking wickets.

After Rogers fell, Warner contributed to his own downfall on 64 when a top-edged pull off Stokes looped gently to Broad at mid-on.

Warner faced just 74 balls for his runs, including nine fours and two sixes but his disgust at the shot that got him out was evidence that crease-occupation was the priority for Australia in their desperate plight.

Specialist batsman Shaun Marsh, brought in to replace younger brother Mitchell, saw his miserable return to Test cricket continue when he followed his first-innings duck by edging Stokes to Root in the slips for two as Australia's 130 for two became 136 for three.

Australia were soon 136 for four when star batsman Steven Smith, careless of Australia's situation, loosely drove Broad straight to Stokes at point and was out for five.

Earlier, England extended their overnight 274 for four to 391 for nine declared -- a huge first-innings lead of 331 -- before Cook called a halt.

Root extended his first day 124 to 130 before he was caught behind off Mitchell Starc, having batted for nearly five hours and faced 176 balls, including 19 fours and a six.

Left-arm fast bowler Starc took a Test-best six for 111 but that promised to be scant consolation for Australia.  - AFP

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