Match Report:


England avoid whitewash after tense final hour draw

Staring down the barrel of a 4-0 series deficit, a determined England saw off Australia’s bowlers in nail-biting fashion on day five in Sydney

For the second time in as many SCG Test matches, Australia weren't able to forge a final day victory although they came as close as possible to that goal without collecting the prize after England clung desperately to secure the bravest of draws.

In scenes suitably contrary given the current state of things, it was England's most successful pair of bowlers – James Anderson and Stuart Broad – who proved the last-gasp heroes with the bat by defying Australia's most successful batter of recent times, Steve Smith, who threatened to win the game with the ball.

With three overs of the mandatory 15 minimum left to bowl, and time ticking towards 6.30pm under the heavy cloud that has stalked the new year Test, the failing light dictated Australia could no longer deploy fast bowlers and Steve Smith was called upon to finish the game in tandem with Nathan Lyon.

It proved an inspired, if enforced choice as Smith ripped a leg break into the footmarks from around the wicket that found the edge of left-hander Jack Leach's bat and was pouched at slip by David Warner, one of eight catchers crowding the England tailender.

It was Smith's first Test wicket in more than five years and he celebrated accordingly as Australia felt destiny was theirs.

It also left Broad and Anderson to see off the final 12 deliveries which they achieved with surprisingly few nervous moments as England finished 9-270 having entered the gripping final hour seven wickets down.

And, perhaps more symbolically, the tourists have erased the prospect of a 5-0 Vodafone Ashes whitewash with the series – which Australia leads 3-0 – to wind up in Hobart next week.

It was a brave fight for a team with little more than pride to play for, as England became just the third visiting outfit in 140 years of Tests at the SCG to survive more than 600 balls in the fourth innings to save a match.

The others were South Africa in 1963-64 and India last summer, a fact which won't be lost on Australia who still carry clear recollections of that previous match that paved the way for a stinging series defeat in Brisbane a week later.

It will also raise further queries as to whether the home team waited too long to begin their bowling assault on a battered England.

Captain Pat Cummins had come under scrutiny for the timing of Australia's declaration late on day four which left his bowlers just five overs at England prior to stumps, which the opposition openers negotiated without loss.

But delaying the closure to ensure the availability of a second new ball coincided roughly with the start of day five's final hour proved as unerring as the skipper's review of the first of two lbw decisions he earned in the course of a single over with that shiny, new Kookaburra.

Cummins’ hooping inswingers light up SCG

The decision to challenge umpire Paul Reiffel's call of not out when Jos Buttler played around a vicious inswinger showed the ball would have hit middle stump, and Reiffel was in no such doubt when Mark Wood was struck flush on the front foot by an even nastier delivery two balls later.

That left first innings century maker Jonny Bairstow, batting with a busted thumb, and 2019 Headingley's bespectacled co-hero Jack Leach to survive the final hour and a minimum of 15 overs.

While this evening's theatre didn't match the compelling climax at Leeds because only one team could hope to win, there were occasional reminders of that most memorable day such as Australia's brace of missed opportunities in the field and a wasted review against Leach with a dozen overs remaining.

However, it was the acceptance of a looping bat-pad chance offered by Bairstow at just after 6pm local time that cracked the game open and saw Boland nurse the remarkable figures of 3-24 from almost 23 overs as victory hung within Australia's grasp.

But as the clouds closed in and the minutes ticked by, England's obdurate tail ensured they were unable to grab it.

At the close of the penultimate day, England batting coach Graham Thorpe had noted his team would need "two, three or four players to stand up and bat for a long time" if they were to avoid their fourth defeat in as many starts in this Ashes series.

And so it was that opener Zak Crawley (77), captain Joe Root (24), wounded allrounder Ben Stokes (60) and injured first innings century maker Jonny Bairstow (41) all hung in for more than two hours to see England post a moral victory, if not an actual win.

The contributions of Stokes – demonstrably in pain from a side strain throughout his 123-ball stay that ended in even greater anguish when he edged Nathan Lyon to slip – and Bairstow whose damaged right thumb might reveal a fracture, cannot be overstated.

And as was the case against India last year, Australia let precious opportunities against both slip through their fingers with Stokes dropped at bat-pad off Cummins on 16 before he pushed on to his second half-century of the Test.

Bairstow then survived a run out chance on 3 when keeper Alex Carey failed to gather a low throw, and was granted another life on 28 and with barely an hour remaining in the day when Steve Smith couldn't cling to a hot catch near his right ankle off Mitchell Starc.

As the second new ball became available, and with Australia five wickets from victory and England more than an hour from safe harbour, those events assumed even greater significance.

Australia's slow march to victory, which dual century maker Usman Khawaja foreshadowed on Saturday evening would be a "grind" that was likely to consume most of day five, was fully halted for an hour due to rain that began falling during the lunch break.

When play resumed at 2.10pm Sydney time, the number of overs available for the hosts to claim the remaining seven England wickets – the victory target remained a fanciful 266 runs away – had been reduced by seven to a minimum of 56.

Given that was more than double the number of deliveries needed to knock over England on what proved the final day at the MCG, Australia's anxiety levels likely remained in check as the SCG ground staff mopped up for the umpteenth time.

But as Stokes and Root soaked up a dozen of those for the addition of 34 runs after the break, the prospect of a second final day of fruitless toil at the SCG in as many summers began to loom ever larger.

Root eventually fell in what has become his customary manner, caught behind the wicket from Boland's naggingly relentless off-stump battle plan with the Test newcomer now boasting the wicket of the recently deposed world number one batter three times in as many innings.

Three in a row! Boland nicks off Root again

And during that period of dominance, Boland has sent down 27 deliveries at the England skipper without his quarry scoring a solitary run.

For the first time on this tour, Root was granted the comparative luxury of coming to the crease against a ball more than 25 overs worn but, conversely, left without a half-century to his name for the first Test of a draining campaign.

Not only has Boland come from the clouds to become Australia's third-highest wicket-taker of this Vodafone series with 14, he has snared them at such a frugal rate his name seems destined to remain prominent in the game's history ledgers long after he's called it quits.

In addition to his place atop the Test averages for bowlers who have snared 10 wickets or more, Boland's 3-30 today at a miserly cost of 1.25 runs per over is the most parsimonious spell by an Australia quick since Glenn McGrath's 2-29 off 25 overs (1.16 per over) against West Indies at Hobart in 2005.

England had begun the final day betraying a suggestion they might have a crack at the distant victory target of 388 as Khawaja had indicated, thanks largely to the enterprise shown by Crawley.

The 23-year-old began this morning where he had left off Saturday evening by driving full deliveries through the off-side with authority, pulling short balls with even greater vehemence and regularly clipping neatly off his pads to contribute 40 of England's first 50 runs.

But having reached 77 (from 100 balls faced) he was outfoxed by a younger rival when 22-year-old Cameron Green slipped in a yorker that landed on the right-hander's front foot and was upheld as lbw despite Crawley's plaintive review, with a deserved hundred gone begging.

Excluding Sir Alastair Cook, who managed five in his long and lustrous career, the only other England opener to have scored a Test century in Australia in almost two decades is Sir Andrew Strauss whose 110 came at the Gabba in 2010.

Crawley might have fallen 23 runs short of an inevitable knighthood, but has a chance to ensure he's recognised in Her Majesty's 96th round of birthday honours later in the year in the final Test at Hobart from next Friday.

It's an opportunity unlikely to be presented to his opening partner Haseeb Hameed whose forgettable foray into Ashes cricket yielded another single-figure score today which reduced his series average to 10 from eight innings (highest score 27).

That return places him alongside batters the calibre of card-carrying tailenders James Anderson, Steve Harmison and Courtney Walsh in completing at least eight knocks in a series in Australia and finishing with an average of 10 or less.

The last recognised top-order player to achieve that low benchmark was former England legend Denis Compton whose 1950-51 Ashes campaign yielded 53 runs from eight innings (average 7.57) although he was playing on a busted right knee, a legacy of his earlier football career with Arsenal.

Hameed's frustration would have been compounded by knowing he was offered a rare reprieve - dropped on nine, three balls before his demise for that same score – but was unable to redeem the gift.

The lapse was one of two Australia suffered in today's opening session, adding to the handful they failed to grasp for various reasons in England's first innings, and came when Carey was unable to hang on to a one-handed attempt off Cummins.

It was similar to the chance that went begging off Starc's bowling in the first innings when Hameed edged low to Carey's right and the ball struck low on the palm of his hand near the wrist, prompting analysts to scrutinise the new gloveman's difficulty in pushing off his left leg.

However, both those dropped catches cost his team a combined total of four runs and, with 18 catches in his first four Tests, Carey is headed only by another South Australia representative Kevin Wright for the most dismissals (22) at the same stage of a nascent Australia Test career.

The other miss came when Marcus Harris missed a sharp but eminently catchable chance at bat-pad from Cummins' bowling but, given it came directly off the blade of Stokes's bat when the all-rounder was on 16 just prior to lunch, it proved an altogether more costly drop.

Vodafone Men's Ashes


Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner

England: Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood


First Test: Australia won by nine wickets

Second Test: Australia won by 275 runs

Third Test: Australia won by an innings and 14 runs

Fourth Test: Match drawn

Fifth Test: January 14-18, Blundstone Arena