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Zac Crawley century puts England in control of fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford

Zak Crawley’s 93-ball century has put England in command of the fourth Ashes Test, after the hosts put Australia to the sword in the middle session of day two.

England went to tea on Thursday at 2-239, having scored 178 runs in 25 overs for the session and reduced the first-innings margin to 78 after Australia’s 317.

And while Joe Root went to the break unbeaten on 44 from 35 balls, Crawley was England’s main man, going to the break unbeaten on 132 off 128 balls.

His offensive put Australia on the back foot and at times it appeared it was rattled, caught between different tactics as it went for 22 boundaries in the session.

Captain Pat Cummins dropped one catch and completely missed another, while wicketkeeper Alex Carey also put down an extremely tough chance off Crawley’s inside edge on 42.

Adding to the concern is that Australia’s best bowler in the innings, Mitchell Starc (2-50), appeared ginger after grabbing at his hamstring following one delivery.

While Starc found opener Ben Duckett’s edge early in the innings, for one, and snared makeshift No.3 Moeen Ali pulling for 54, Australia’s bowling has been the worst it has been all series.

They were too straight to Crawley, despite the Englishman having regularly been out nicking balls outside off stump throughout the Ashes.

Their short balls have also often not been short enough, allowing Crawley and Root to regularly pull and hook to the gaps in the legside field.

Notably, Travis Head was also called into the attack in the 23rd over after Australia made the call to leave out frontline spinner Todd Murphy for the match.

Crawley reverse-swept Head’s first ball for four, slog-swept the next one for six and later hit the spinner back into the cow-corner crowd to take his figures to 0-48 after six overs.

It came as Crawley scored 106 runs from 82 balls in the session. He was loose at times outside off stump but batted with the kind of intent that often landed the ball in gaps.

His century was the second fastest in all Tests played at Old Trafford, after Ian Botham’s 86-ball century at the ground in the 1981 Ashes.

England had vowed before the match to try to move it along quickly, with the hosts needing a win to keep alive the Ashes amid the rain forecast for the weekend.

That has been clear in the middle session, with Root scooping Mitch Marsh for six just before tea in the first sight of the ultra-aggressive shot since the first Test at Edgbaston.

Chris Woakes had earlier been England’s best with the ball, completing his first five-wicket haul against Australia when the tourists lost their last two wickets for 18 runs on Thursday morning.

Starc finished 36 not out, in what could still prove to be a key innings after he arrived at the crease with the score 7-255 late on day one.

-AAP

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