Hackneyed though the phrase is, this truly was a day to forget for Joe Root and Co. As they dragged themselves off the Gabba amid scenes of general delirium, the colour had literally and metaphorically drained off their faces by a Travis Head century that had pushed them so far behind in the game that they were but a tiny speck in the hosts' rear-view. For the record, Australia stretched their lead to 196 with Head and two other wickets still available.
Head's maiden Ashes century, his third in Test cricket, was achieved off 85 balls. It followed a more serene imposition of reality - a 156-run stand for the second wicket between David Warner (94) and Marnus Labuschagne (74) and a sudden collapse. His 112* off 95 was a counter-attack borne out of a period of brief England renaissance that saw the visitors claim 4 for 29 either side of the Tea interval to spark thoughts of a comeback that had seemed unlikely since the day began.
For until then the order was mightily maintained. When Australia's openers had come out, so had the sun. The curdled cream of England's batting line-up looked on enviously while taking their positions in the field. There was, though, still the patented Gabba bounce and seam movement to work with.
Robinson struck an early blow by dismissing Marcus Harris using angle across the left-hander to wreak havoc and forcing the opener to nick a ball from off-stump for a sharp catch at third slip from Dawid Malan. Hope, however, faded quickly enough when Warner was reprieved for the first of three times by Ben Stokes' foot fault. The inswinger had breached the opener's defence and hit the off-stump via the thigh pad. It was a portent of the things to come.
Warner, then on 17, began growing into his innings. His partner, Labuschagne too did the same after earning a mini-reprieve himself when a genuine edge off Chris Woakes fell just short of Joe Root at first slip, who'd stationed himself a bit too deep.
A wicket denied, Stokes produced a loose second spell, giving away 15 from two overs and forced Root's hands into bringing on the lone spinner, Jack Leach into the attack. The pressure valve was suddenly released with both batters bloody-mindedly intent on not letting the left-arm spinner settle. After giving away just 1 run from his first over, Leach was taken for 30 from his next two with Warner hitting him over his head for a pair of sixes. Labuschagne added one of his own and got to his half-century before the Lunch break.
Warner got to his 50 early in the second session but not before earning a second reprieve when Rory Burns put down a straightforward catch at second slip. Robinson was the unlucky bowler. Warner offered another chance when on 60 when he overbalanced after flicking a ball and slipped, losing possession of his bat. But forward short leg fielder Haseeb Hameed couldn't hit the stumps from close range.
At the other end, Labuschagne was at his fluent best on home soil before he was dismissed against the run of play to Leach, who after being launched over his head for another six bowled a rank half-tracker but was mysteriously cut straight to point. It paved the way for England's comeback as Mark Wood returned for another of his short bursts to dismiss Steve Smith before Robinson took two in two straight after Tea. Warner was deceived by a slower one to fall six short of his century while Cameron Green shouldered arms to an inswinger and lost his off-stump.
Australia were ahead by only 48 then and here was a chance for a famous England fightback. But Head, reinstated at No.5 ahead of this Test, was in no mood to relinquish his side's control. In the company of debutant Alex Carey, he led a thrilling counter-attack, the pair adding 41 runs as Root struggled to rotate his bowlers with Leach (11-0-95-1) copping punishment and Stokes carrying a niggle. The all-rounder volunteered to bowl with a shortened run-up but was dispatched for three fours in an over and the pressure England had built dissipated.
Head sparkled with a series of drives as a beaming sun taunted the visitors for their inability to survive long enough to benefit these conditions. Wood kept coming back for bursts without much success while Robinson himself could manage just one over in his next spell before returning to the dressing room to tend to his aching body. That meant Root had to bring himself on in a bid to get to the second new ball as quickly as he could. Quick on the uptake, Head kept the scoring rate, adding 70 with Pat Cummins off just 69 balls, with the captain scoring 12 off 27 in that stand. In all, Head hit 13 fours and two sixes and got his second fifty off just 34 balls before letting out a guttural roar as meek England faded away behind the noisemaker of the day.
Brief scores:Australia 343/7 (Travis Head 112*, David Warner 94, Marnus Labuschagne 74; Ollie Robinson 3-48) lead England 147 by 196 runs.
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