England lose both openers between rain showers as Australia seize the initiative

England lost both openers under dark skies at Edgbaston as Australia seized the initiative on day three of a gripping first Ashes Test.

England lost Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley in consecutive overs in desperately difficult batting conditions in a mini afternoon session slotted awkwardly between two heavy rain showers.

That left the home side 28 for two, a fragile lead of 35 with everything still to play for.

The hosts had rallied impressively with the ball in the morning session, taking the last five Australian wickets for 75 runs to eke out the narrowest of seven-run leads.

Their openers then added another 26 after lunch in untroubled fashion, only for everything to change in dramatic circumstances after a 75-minute rain delay in the afternoon.

The teams came back out under thick black clouds at 3.30pm, with the floodlights cranked up and batting conditions suddenly the most precarious of the match.

Only 22 deliveries were possible before an almighty downpour, with England losing two wickets for just two runs as the Dukes ball came alive in fading light. Duckett (19) fenced at one that wobbled in the air and straightened up off the pitch from Pat Cummins, with Cameron Green pulling off the latest in a long line of outstanding catches in the gully.

Crawley (seven) then followed in the next over, Scott Boland capping an outstanding burst from the Birmingham End by finally to taking a thin nick after multiple close calls. There were half a dozen loud appeals in addition to that crucial double strike, with each batter seemingly clinging on in trying circumstances.

Joe Root and Ollie Pope, left, during an unsuccessful Australian review

Joe Root, right, and Ollie Pope during an unsuccessful Australian review (Mike Egerton/PA)

When the rain did come it was a sweet relief for Ollie Pope and Joe Root, surely sparing England further losses.

The day began with Australia on 311 for five, still 82 behind but seemingly well set with half their wickets in hand and two set batters at the crease. England needed early breakthroughs to nudge themselves back in front and James Anderson almost delivered one when he took Alex Carey’s inside edge with his fourth delivery of the morning.

Anderson had already started to celebrate as Jonny Bairstow tumbled low to his right but watched in dismay as the ball squirmed free from the wicketkeeper’s glove.

It was a painful start for Bairstow, who already had a missed stumping against Cameron Green and another dropped catch off Carey on his ledger, and his frustration was plain to see.

Anderson continued to cause the left-hander problems and got him after 20 minutes, forcing one through Carey’s defences from round the wicket and trimming the bails with precision.

Moeen Ali started up at the other end, fresh from receiving a fine from the ICC for using an unauthorised drying agent on his hands during Saturday’s play. If that was an unwanted present on the spinner’s 36th birthday, then things did not get a lot better as he worked through his spell.

A return to first-class cricket after almost two years in retirement has clearly caused some damage to the all-rounder’s spinning finger – hence use of spray which caught the match referee’s attention.

He got away with one loopy full toss but could not stop Cummins launching him for a couple of sixes as he struggled to get any purchase on the ball.

Ben Stokes began to set some highly unusual fields in a bid to knock Australia off their stride and it seemed to work when Robinson uprooted Khawaja’s off stump for 141.

With a ring of catchers stationed in front of square on both sides of the wicket, the centurion tried to manufacture a blow through the covers and ended up mis-reading a precision yorker.

The tail was knocked over with efficiency after that, Lyon pulling Robinson straight to deep square-leg, Boland backing away and popping Stuart Broad to silly point and Cummins holing out off another short ball.