Men's Ashes 2021-22
History repeats with Smith's follow-on call
Four years on from an eerily similar follow-on situation in Adelaide, Steve Smith again backed his batters to do the job under lights and was rewarded for doing so
Andrew Ramsey at Adelaide Oval
18 December 2021, 11:57 PM AEST
On his previous Adelaide Oval appearance as Australia Test captain, Steve Smith courted controversy with his decision not to enforce the follow-on with England languishing 215 runs adrift at the completion of first innings.
Four years later, and reinstated to the role on an interim basis after full-time captain Pat Cummins made an unfortunate restaurant choice, Smith found himself in an almost identical position and made the same call.
And it seems likely to pass with barely a murmur, unless England forge an even more remarkable fightback than they managed in 2017 before ultimately losing that Test by 120 runs.
The reason for the kerfuffle among commentators and critics last time was that – having failed to send England back to the crease after they were bowled out with 26 overs remaining on day three – Australia slumped to 4-50 (including Smith's wicket) and suddenly in danger of forfeiting the unlosable.
The criticism compounded a day later with England 4-176 in pursuit of their unlikely victory target of 353, with their best batter (Joe Root) still at the crease and Smith having dropped a catch and called wrong on a couple of DRS reviews.
Even though it all ended happily for Smith and his team, with Root dismissed without adding to his overnight score and England's final six wickets falling at similar speed to which they've tumbled throughout this series, there was a pointed post-mortem into the process underpinning the then-captain's call.
"Steven has obviously made the decision that he felt the guys had bowled enough," incumbent bowling coach David Saker said at the time, confirming the bowling group of Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon weren't consulted in the end decision.
"In hindsight, we didn't get an opportunity to bowl with the new ball under lights — that was our chance.
"Maybe we got it wrong. At the end of the Test match we will review that."
If that review happened, and protocols surrounding who gets consulted should the same scenario arises, then they have been lost in the mists of time.
Unsure Australia will enforce the follow on if they bowl England out. Might be a slight temptation with the lights on however I suspect that they will look to give their bowlers a rest and look to bowl last with an opportunity to bowl at England under lights tomorrow.#Ashes2021— Jason Gillespie 🌱 (@dizzy259) December 18, 2021
When England's final wicket fell at Adelaide Oval tonight with a minimum of 16 overs to be bowled on the third day, Smith had no hesitation in signalling for the heavy roller as his top-three batters David Warner, Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne bolted for the dressing room.
If the oversight of 2017 was to be addressed and the bowling group – of which Starc and Lyon are the only members to be part of this current Vodafone Test – was to be canvassed, then the veteran pair were not privy to any such discussion.
"I'm not the captain," Starc said, sporting a broad smile at day's end which Australia ended in far better shape at 1-45 (and 282 runs ahead) than was the case four years ago.
"I wasn't part of any thought process.
"It seemed like Smithy was pretty happy with the way he wanted to go tonight.
"I don't know if there was some chat in the break or off-field, but there was not too much of a chat between us out there.
"He was pretty set in his ways and we weren't going to fight him on that."
Lyon offered a more cryptic take on what protocols were put in place prior to Australia returning to the crease, adding he and Starc had engaged in their own strategising although he was not prepared to divulge that detail until the Test has reached its conclusion.
"There’s always thought that goes into making those decisions and there’s a bit of that (wanting to make England bowl again)," Lyon told cricket.com.au at day's end after he and Starc shared seven wickets between them.
"Test cricket is a long game.
"Me and Starcy have this thought process about why we didn’t (enforce the follow-on) and I want to see it work before I tell the whole world about what the process is.
"I’m more than happy to talk to you after this game about it – if it works.
"There’s a couple of little tactical things that we want to see … there’s a little bit more to it."
Starc admitted conversations had taken place on-field before England's innings folded, but they centred on whether Australia would take the second new-ball which became available after 80 overs with their rivals' last pair Stuart Broad and James Anderson at the wicket.
They agreed they would dispense with the old ball even though it had netted them 7-70 from the final 35 overs of its match life, and then required 25 deliveries – most of them targeting the England pair's upper bodies – to claim the final scalp.
That probably required more energy from opening combination Starc and Jhye Richardson than had been initially thought, so that might have been a factor in Smith's decision to bat again.
But as Starc revealed, the thinking was more likely swayed by the knowledge Australia's fate would be squarely in their own hands if they controlled the rate and volume of runs scored in their second innings, the overall lead they felt was sufficient and the timing of any declaration if needed.
Which will surely come in time to allow the refreshed fast bowlers a crack with another new ball under lights on Sunday, if Australia's batters get through the first couple of sessions by which time the advantage should be well beyond 400.
"In terms of where it sits now, we hold all the cards on when we want to bowl, how big a lead we want to have," Starc said.
"Obviously the night sessions are a big one, certainly we see it as a big striking session, if you like, with the new ball and the conditions.
"We've got a few options on the table now, and it would have been a shorter (night) session in the second innings if we'd sent them back in."
As for whether those protocols alluded to four years ago will be implemented before the next Ashes day-night Test which is scheduled for Hobart's Blundstone Arena from January 14, Starc observed that Cummins will doubtless be back in his leadership role by then.
"We've got a bowling captain now," he grinned.
"We'll have to talk to him."
Vodafone Men's Ashes
Australia: Pat Cummins (c), Steve Smith (vc), Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, 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: December 16-20, Adelaide Oval
Third Test: December 26-30, MCG
Fourth Test: January 5-9, SCG
Fifth Test: January 14-18, Blundstone Arena