Ashes 2013: Shattered captain Alastair Cook sets inviting field for Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon

England made life tougher for Australia than it had for the majority of this Ashes series – but nowhere near as tough as it should have.

At the start of the day it was timidity that shackled the visitors, as Brad Haddin and Nathan Lyon were given an unduly easy ride in shaving 40 valuable runs off the deficit. At the end of the day, it was a lack of resolve from its batsmen that led to the advantage being squandered.

Alastair Cook is already officially a beaten captain in the series, and he led like one as his team sought that final wicket as Australia began day three at 9-164, trailing by 91. While Haddin has excelled with the bat in this series Cook overreacted in starting with six outfielders to the wicketkeeper, so desperate was he to prevent boundaries. It was as if he had become so accustomed to being behind he was unable to shed his harm-minimisation mindset.

Lyon is a long way from a stereotypical bunny but, as with most tailenders, is susceptible to nicking against high-quality bowling. Jimmy Anderson discovered exactly that in his second over of the day when the edge he elicited from Lyon’s bat sailed through a third-slip position that was inexplicably left vacant. Anderson was not blameless in Australia surviving for 40 minutes  on Saturday – he too often bowled short – but he deserved better from his captain.

Even with the second new ball Cook persisted with his army of boundary-riders; there were seven as Stuart Broad got his first opportunity. The approach was futile as Australia still reached the boundary five times, including three from the bat of Lyon.

The only part of day three England had cause to be proud of was the hour before lunch, when Cook showed more initiative with the bat than he had with his field placements to take his team to 0-54 at the break. The left-hander raced – by his standards – to his half-century from 60 balls, fuelled by deft strokeplay either side of the wicket. It was a lone hand early, though, as his partner Michael Carberry was so preoccupied with survival he contributed only six runs in England’s first 21 overs.

England’s downfall was, yet again, triggered by Mitch Johnson. It was he who trapped Cook leg-before on 51, which meant Carberry or Joe Root had to spearhead England’s attempt to set Australia a hefty victory target. Neither was able to, with both victims within a disastrous six-ball period that dragged England from 1-86 to 3-87.

Carberry’s departure had nothing to do with recklessness as he was trapped leg-before by a delivery that was predicted to hit the outside of his leg-stump.

That Root was trying to score a quick single to mid-off was not in itself a problem. The flaw was that he took his chances against Johnson, who is not only a good fielder but was also able to comfortably collect in his favoured left hand, and produce a direct hit that beat Root’s desperate dive. Given Johnson had already dazzled throughout the series when bowling, batting and catching it was hardly surprising he extended that record to throwing.

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