Rory Burns celebrated a maiden Test century as he defied Australia’s bowlers for an entire day to hand England the advantage on day two of the Ashes at Edgbaston.
Burns rebuffed the tourists for six and a half hours and faced 282 balls for his unbeaten 125, an old-fashioned opener’s innings boasting the flinty resolve England have been crying out for since Sir Alastair Cook’s retirement almost a year ago.
Australia allowed him one obvious reprieve, failing to refer an lbw shout that would have ended his stay at 21, but nothing should detract from the deep reserves character he leaned on to see his side to 267 for four – just 17 behind.
Two cheap dismissals against Ireland last week had lowered Burns’ average to 22.28 in seven matches, raising fresh questions over his credentials, but on his biggest stage yet the 28-year-old proved his mettle.
The left-hander does not have a pretty technique but then again neither does Steve Smith, whose brilliant 144 rescued Australia 24 hours earlier, and the pair have been easily the standout performers on a surface that has confounded more fluent strikers.
Burns’ idiosyncrasies have not prevented him racking up more than 8,000 first-class runs and at the 15th attempt he showed he could bring his best game to the highest level.
Stands of 132 alongside Joe Root (57) and 73 with Ben Stokes (38no) left England in a strong position to press for a decisive first-innings lead.
England resumed on 10 without loss having safely negotiated two tense overs on the first evening, but Australia quickly removed Jason Roy.
Less than three weeks ago Roy hurled in the throw that secured the country’s historic World Cup win, a campaign that relied heavily on his dominant top-order performances. Yet his future as a Test opener, a role he has barely attempted at county level, is unclear.
This was just his second attempt, his knock of 72 against Ireland coming at number three, but he was ill at ease against James Pattinson, twice foreshadowing his own demise with outside edges that did not go to hand.
The first flew between third slip and gully for four, his only runs of the day, and the second hit the turf just in front of the cordon. It was third time lucky for Pattinson though, with Smith holding a low catch at second slip.
Burns had a point of his own to prove and received an early sharpener when he ducked into a Pat Cummins bouncer that rattled his helmet. Unfazed he settled into his work, gritting his teeth and adding 36 in the morning session.
There were five boundaries, four times using Cummins’ pace against him, but the most important job was chewing up the minutes and taking the hardness of the ball.
He had one notable let-off from Nathan Lyon, who spun one into the pads only to see a sound appeal waved away. Captain Tim Paine had the best seat in the house behind the stumps but decided not to refer a ball that would have knocked over leg.
Root, back at number three for this series at his own request, had an even luckier moment on nine. He was given out caught behind to a glorious delivery from Pattinson, with a woody noise seemingly sealing his fate. Root was convinced he had not made contact and when he called for DRS replays revealed the true story – the off stump had been grazed at 88mph without dislodging the bail.
The lunch break proved a turning point for the skipper, who scraped together 11 from 57 balls before the interval then helped himself to 46 from the same number afterwards.
Burns had his moments in the afternoon, picking up a sequence of boundaries off thick edges towards third man, but his 110-ball fifty underpinned the first hundred stand of the match.
Australia were just about out of ideas when Peter Siddle plucked a wicket from nowhere, halting his follow through to take a one-handed return catch from Root’s straight drive.
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OUT OF LUCK
England demolish Ireland for 38 to deny them maiden Test victory
Having taken one for 99 in the session the tourists persuaded the umpires the ball had lost shape, securing a replacement that immediately began offering more swing. Buoyed by the change Pattinson and Cummins both struck, Joe Denly lbw for 18 and Jos Buttler nicking off for five.
That left England 194 for four but Burns was now deep in a psychological battle. A crisp drive past mid-off had taken him into the 90s but he was scoreless from his next 18 balls and it took him just under an hour to finally reach his landmark.
He ended a nervy wait on 99 by dabbing to mid-on and dashing through for a single, hurried up by Pattinson’s direct hit. The third umpire was asked to check the run-out but Burns knew he was safe, celebrating in heartfelt fashion.
Stokes proved a handy foil in the closing stages but the occasion belonged to Burns, who fended off the last ball of the day just as he had the first.