Late carnage gives England a sniff

04 December 2017

Australia lose four quick wickets under lights to give tourists faint hope of comeback victory

Magellan Ashes 2017-18, Second Test


A spirited final hour from England's bowlers, perhaps born of optimism that arrived when Australia captain Steve Smith opted not to force them back to the batting crease, has dramatically rewritten a second Magellan Ashes Test that Australia looked to hold safely in their keeping.

Despite holding a first innings lead of 215 which would have allowed him to ask England to follow-on, Smith opted instead to rest his bowlers and push the advantage further beyond his rivals' reach by risking to bat in the cool of night under the glare of floodlights.

A move which was heatedly debated when England’s bowlers dominated with the new ball and ripped through Australia’s top-order – including the invaluable wicket of Smith for six – to have the home team wobbling at 4-53 and their grip on the Test significantly loosened by stumps.

Having gifted Australia a surplus through another unconvincing, uncommitted batting effort, England formed a tight huddle in which they received a stern address from captain Joe Root before they took to their hosts with the ball.

Australia lose four quick wickets under lights

If Root beseeched his quicks to find a more challenging length than they had delivered on day one after he gave them first use of the pitch, then the message was well heeded and with immediate effect.

In conditions that he would have been pre-ordered if internet shopping extended its vast reach that far, James Anderson showed why he is his country's greatest-ever wicket-taker and why the Adelaide Test was regarded as England’s best hope of victory with some masterful seam bowling.

Anderson looked a different bowler to the one who had battled for rhythm and penetration on a grey and damp first day, and it took him just eight deliveries to catch the edge of opener Cameron Bancroft’s bat with an exquisite late outswinger.

He and long-time new-ball partner Stuart Broad then executed the strategy England had hoped to implement on Saturday, pinning Australia's batters on the crease, regularly whizzing the ball past the bat and strangling the runs to put a team so ascendant over the previous five sessions under siege.

After an hour of arm wrestling through which an almost becalmed David Warner and Usman Khawaja battled purely for survival, Anderson's dismissal of Khawaja with another delivery that squared him up and beat the outside edge unleashed 10 overs of mayhem.

Khawaja's pull stroke earns him Shot Of The Day

Warner edged to slip in the next over from Chris Woakes, who had found an additional surge of speed as England seized momentum, and when Smith was adjudged lbw to Anderson two deliveries later the Barmy Army roared like no time previously in this campaign.

Smith's speculative review of umpire Aleem Dar's decision showed the ball had pitched outside leg stump by the width of a single row of stitching and was therefore deemed not out, but the animated relief of Australia fans was short-lived when Smith fell to Woakes three overs later.

This time the call of umpire Chris Gaffaney upheld by a similarly slim margin in England's favour, the ball shown to be shaving Smith’s off bail. Australia were so unsettled to be 4-50 that Nathan Lyon was sent to face the onslaught as nightwatchman to safeguard first innings century maker Shaun Marsh.

Aussies' stalling tactics rile eager England

While Australia can take some comfort from the reality that their score effectively stands at 4-268 and if they can bat through a session and half tomorrow they get to attack England in similar conditions to those that yielded Monday night's carnage, the tourists headed for their midnight curfew at least nursing some hope.

A glimmer that seemed decidedly distant a few hours earlier.

The template for England as the third day began under the heavy, low cloud that has come to characterise this match was both simple and self-evident – to bat as their rivals had done and post a total as near as practical to parity.

Of course, the single salient difference for the tourists was that their defiance had to be fashioned against the altogether more potent Australia attack, and it became clear within an hour-and-a-half that England’s top-order were simply not up to it.

Dinner wrap: Tail wags but Australians are flying

There was no more graphic example of the yawning gap between the teams' batting acumen than the dismissal of England's No.3 James Vince just eight deliveries into the day.

Vince was England's top scorer with 83 on the opening day of the series and he remains the only England batter to have pushed on past 55 in what is already a worryingly skinny return from a specialist batting group.

But the similarity of his failures in the second innings at the Gabba and today in Adelaide – both times undone by the bounce and speed of deliveries from Josh Hazlewood that found the edge and were snared behind the wicket – suggests a deficiency in his game has already been exposed.

And if Vince devotes some additional practice time to addressing that flaw in the week between the end of this Test and the start of the next in Perth, there's a fair chance his skipper Root will be working in a net alongside him.

Watch all 10 England wickets to fall

For Root, England's best batter on recent form and the player they so desperately need to find some form, has also fallen prey three times to Australia's obvious strategy of attacking him with full-length bowling at pace.

On both occasions in Brisbane it resulted in the captain being pinned lbw, and today he aimed a hefty cover drive just 10 deliveries into his innings and the resultant edge flew comfortably to third slip.

Root's removal left England staring into the abyss at 3-50 and the responsibility - that had hung so heavily upon Alastair Cook as captain that he ultimately handed the leadership to Root – for preventing an abject disaster was piled squarely upon the former skipper.

Even in the challenging nine-over spell under floodlights on Sunday night, Cook had looked to be in markedly better touch than at Brisbane (where he posted a pair of single-figure scores) courtesy of more authoritative footwork and a preparedness to leave alone more balls than he played.

A strategy that worked so well for Australia’s batters in Brisbane and over the weekend.

Lyon bags four more to continue dream 2017

But having negotiated Australia’s pace trident for the best part of two hours, Cook was demonstrably disappointed to succumb to Lyon's spin when he pushed hard, out in front of his front pad, and limply edged a catch to slip.

Cook's despair was built upon the realisation that Steve Smith had employed a second slip fielder the ball prior to the wicket falling thereby signalling Australia’s mode of attack, and compounded by the hours of work the left-hander had put into combatting spin in the days leading into the Test.

When Dawid Malan followed Cook back to the England rooms nine overs later, the one batsman in his team's top half who received a delivery he could do little to overcome, the Australians found themselves eyeing a lead of around 300.

Tea wrap: Root, Cook depart as England stumble

But as has become something of a pattern for England in the past year or so, the resilience among their Test batting was found to reside in the bottom half, which more than doubled a total that hung perilously close to embarrassing at 5-102.

Moeen Ali (25), Jonny Bairstow (21), Chris Woakes (36) and Craig Overton (41 not out on debut) all weathered the bowling long enough to send a message to their more accomplished batters that they had reneged on their duties.

And it required a couple of inspirational acts to prise the most obdurate of them from their posts.

Moeen's undoing was effectively a half chance that arose when he pushed too hard at a delivery from Lyon that seemed to hold in the surface, and was only converted into a wicket by the athleticism of the bowler who launched himself across the pitch and plucked the catch neatly in his outstretched left hand.

WHAT A CATCH! Lyon reels in a hanger in Adelaide

Half-an-hour later, Bairstow departed in hauntingly similar circumstances, having mistimed a defensive punch that flew back at Mitchell Starc in his follow-through, the reflexive thrust of the bowler's right hand to parry the ball only surpassed in dexterity by the calmness with which he snatched it from mid-air as it hung behind him.

Woakes completed a trifecta of caught-and-bowled dismissals when his attempted pull shot against Starc looped lamely from whence it came, and it was only a spirited knock from Overton - who copped a brutal working over from the Australia quicks - that carried his team beyond 200.

In the brief history of day-night Test cricket at Adelaide Oval, England's score of 227 in isolation did not appear uncompetitive given the average first innings tally of teams batting against the pink ball is 267.

Lyon v Starc: Whose catch was better?

However, when that number is cast against Australia's current lead and the brittleness that England’s batting has betrayed since landing in Perth a month ago, it seemed little other than inadequate.

Until the pink ball worked its night-time trickery, and England conjured themselves back into the Ashes contest.

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