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Sliding doors Test for Root and Smith

Captains have both experienced pivotal moments and reversals of fortunes in absorbing Adelaide encounter

For the best part of three days of the first week of an unseasonal start to southern summer, the only heat to be found in Adelaide was that directed at England captain Joe Root and his gamble to bowl first upon winning the coin toss in the second Ashes Magellan Test.

But in the passing of barely 24 hours, fortune's wheel has spun so unpredictably a half-turn that now the searchlight has fallen on Root's captaincy counterpart Steve Smith and the pair whose cricket lives have been so distantly intertwined now fuse on what looms as a pivotal fifth day at Adelaide Oval.

Day wrap: Second Test poised for dramatic finale

Root, the Yorkshire lad who completed a five-month stint as a teenage apprentice in Adelaide club cricket, can conceivably lead his team to the sort of win that forges legend as well as rewrites history if he can help them score a further 178 runs on Wednesday.

Smith, born of an English mother and who could have played for England until he renounced his right to dual citizenship in the way that our politicians don't after a time playing league cricket in county Kent, is staring at his own hefty slice of unwanted history.

Having seen his team dominate this Test to the extent that some credentialled commentators were daring to whisper the ‘whitewash' word, he now stands a genuine risk of becoming the second skipper in more than 140 years of Tests to lose a match after choosing not to enforce the follow-on.

Bolstering Root's sense of destiny is the reality that he remains unbeaten at the wicket on 67 and the mainstay of his team's chances of reaching the victory target of 354 which means, as his team's best batter, he embodies England's hopes.

Compounding Smith's obvious frustration at having effectively gifted his Ashes foes their only realistic chance of clawing back into a contest upon which Australia held the whip hand until their Monday night batting collapse, was the profligate use of the DRS system that he oversaw today.

Aussies waste two reviews in three balls

Which leaves Australia with no option available to query any line-ball calls or dispute the possible abject howlers from a couple of umpires who have been shown to be fallible by the number of DRS successful challenges lodged, before Smith and his men redressed that imbalance this evening.

The manner in which the on-field review protocols – traditionally the discretion of a committee comprised of captain, keeper and bowler – went awry was one of several issues that Australia's Bupa Support Team assistant coach David Saker conceded the team has got wrong in the past two days.

With retrospect's invariable clarity, the decision not to enforce the follow-on and send England – then 215 runs in arrears and, according to their star seam bowler James Anderson, feeling like the game was slipping from them – back to the crease was identified another potential clanger.

"In hindsight it probably is (a regret)," Saker conceded at the end of the fourth day that sees England 4-176 after Australia was bowled out for 138 in their second innings that began under lights on Monday.

"We probably didn't think it (the ball) was going to move around like it did.

We're still reasonably confident: Saker

"There's obviously different reasons why you go out and have a bat, and one is to give your own bowlers a rest but it's also to give the opposition bowlers more time to go out there and bowl because it's a five-game series and that can sometimes affect them.

"But I'm not sure about the conversation they were having out in the middle.

"There was messages going to and from the dressing room about the possibility (of enforcing the follow-on) but Steven obviously made the decision that he thought the bowlers had bowled enough and that will do.

"In hindsight, we didn't get an opportunity to bowl with the new ball under lights, but that was our chance so maybe we got it wrong.

"At the end of the Test match we'll review that, but if we come out of this winning - which I think we will - we can say it was justified in some way."

Cummins sets Adelaide alight with late wicket

Having endured days of scornful opinion for his decision to bowl first under heavy cloud last Saturday – a call that ex-Australia captain Mark Taylor believes should still be judged an error even if England win the Test to level the Ashes series – Root must be feeling a tinge of vindication.

Although it has now been replaced by the weight of expectation that presses upon his own batting acumen.

But perhaps of greater significance is the impact a Root-inspired win could have on his touring party, his captaincy and even his legacy.

In much the same manner that the peerless Australia team of the turn of this century eulogises their 'come from nowhere' last-day Ashes win at Adelaide 11 years ago as the crowning glory of their stellar careers.

Certainly, the England players will remind Smith and his team of such a remarkable turnaround at every opportunity for the remainder of their collective playing days in much the same way that 'Amazing Adelaide' has tormented a generation of England cricketers in the way daylight impacts the vampire fraternity.

"To be honest, we are delighted to be in this position, to have any sort of chance of winning the game, which we didn't think we would have after the first couple of days," Anderson told reporters at day's end.

"I think it would be huge for us, both in terms of what it would do for our confidence as a team and obviously we'd be all square again in the series.

"I think it would potentially also have an effect on them (Australia), for a team to be in such a commanding position and to then lose that.

"It's very rare that a team declares and then loses the game, so if we can get a result tomorrow it would be huge for a number of reasons."

We wanted to show our character: Anderson

As former Australia captain Steve Waugh counselled prior to the series, Smith's inability to mask his inner frustration can be interpreted as a sign that he's losing patience with his on-field colleagues and control when making decisions.

It's a theme that former Test seamer Damien Fleming revisited in Optus Sport's ‘Stumps' program post-play when he compared Smith to the outwardly unflappable Taylor.

"You look at 'Tubby' (Taylor), he could be having the worst day of his life and you wouldn't have known," Fleming said.

"Smithy is more an emotional sort of guy, more body language.

"He needs to be checking himself or using (vice-captain) David Warner or his experienced players around him just to say ‘what am I projecting for the rest of the team?'."

But Saker, who was part of England's coaching structure when Root made his Test debut in India five years ago, does not believe the sudden swing in the respective fortunes of the Ashes captains (and their teams) will have a detrimental impact on Smith.

Even though he concedes that some of the calls he has made, or been a central party to, will doubtless cause some angst for a leader who struggles for a sound night's sleep even amid the most serene of circumstances.

"He's a very determined guy, so he'll think about things tonight and he'll make sure that when we turn up we're right to play," Saker said of Australia's captain.

"He's obviously frustrated with what's happened but I don't think he's really ruing the (follow-on) decision.

"Once the decision's made I hope he doesn't think about it too much, and he hasn't talked about that in the rooms.

"He's just talking about how we're going to produce those six wickets that we have to get, so I think he'll be positive tomorrow and the whole dressing room will be positive that we're in a better position than they are."

2017-18 International Fixtures

Magellan Ashes Series

Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.

England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.

First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard

Second Test Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Tickets

Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets

Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets

Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets

Gillette ODI Series v England

First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets

Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets

Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets

Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets

Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets

Prime Minister's XI

PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets

Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series

First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets

Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets

Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets

Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14

Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16

Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18

Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21