Root keeps England alive in record chase

Cricket


England 227 and 4 for 176 (Root 67*) need another 181 runs to beat Australia 8 for 442 dec and 138 (Anderson 5-43)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Momentum is a curious, intangible beast, impossible to measure but easy to see. There are players who claim that it doesn’t exist, yet what else but momentum can explain the fact that England are even remotely back in this Test match? England, who were thrashed by 10 wickets in Brisbane. England, who here sent Australia in, saw them bat into six sessions and declare at 8 for 442. England, who batted so poorly that they gave Australia the chance to enforce the follow-on.

And therein lies the crux of this momentum shift. Steven Smith did not make England bat again, preferring to give his bowlers a rest. In doing so, he made his own men bat under lights on the third evening, when England’s bowlers hooped the ball around and gained confidence. On the fourth day, Australia were knocked over for 138, and James Anderson claimed the first five-wicket haul he had ever managed in 15 Tests in Australia. The previously anosmic England had the trace of a sniff.

By stumps, England had doggedly worked their way to 4 for 176, with their captain Joe Root the key man, unbeaten on 67, alongside Chris Woakes on 5. The momentum had threatened to swing back to Australia late in the evening when Pat Cummins rattled the top of Dawid Malan’s off stump, and might have done so had Woakes not jammed down on a sizzling Cummins yorker from the penultimate ball of the day.

In the end, England went to stumps needing a further 178 runs with six wickets in hand. Yet if Australia’s position was much the stronger, England might have felt that they won the day, for they ended it with more chance of victory than when they had started. In the final session it was the Australians who looked nervy, Smith losing both of his side’s reviews in the space of three balls as he sought a fourth wicket.

Objectively, this made little sense. To win, England would need to rewrite history. Never before have England chased down a target as high as the 354 they were set here. For nearly 90 years, their record chase has been 332, achieved by a team that boasted Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe and Wally Hammond in their top four. To triumph at Adelaide Oval would not only break England’s record, it would be one of the top 10 chases in all of Test history.

Australia’s mood was not helped by an incident in the fourth over, when Josh Hazlewood rapped Alastair Cook on the pads from around the wicket. The lbw appeal was turned down by umpire Chris Gaffaney, presumably feeling the ball was sliding down leg. Neither Hazlewood nor wicketkeeper Tim Paine seemed desperate to convince Smith to review, and Australia left it alone. Ball-tracking would have given them the wicket, the ball smashing into leg stump.

Perhaps that played a role in Smith’s eagerness to review later, first when Pat Cummins hit Root on the pad and then when Hazlewood struck Malan in the next over. In both cases, the ball was shown to be comfortably missing the top of the stumps. No “umpire’s call”, just lost reviews. And, under the new rules, reviews that would never be refreshed. At least in the meantime, Smith had made one good review, when Nathan Lyon straightened one to trap Cook lbw for 16.

Cook and Mark Stoneman had given England just the solid start they required, but on 53 their partnership was broken by Cook’s departure, and Stoneman fell with only one more run added to the score. Having scored at a run a ball for his first 28, he had been stifled for some time when on 36 he tried to glide Mitchell Starc away to the off side and succeeded only in sending a catch to Usman Khawaja at gully.

James Vince did little for his Test reputation by driving breezily at Starc and edging to first slip for 15, which left England wobbling at 3 for 91. But Root and Malan worked hard through the tricky evening period for a 78-run stand. Root in particular was excellent, seeking not just to survive but to score. He did so all around the wicket and struck nine boundaries. If Smith’s hundred was the defining innings at the Gabba, Root could yet make the difference here.

The day had started with Australia on 4 for 53, leading by 268 runs with six wickets in hand. It was a powerful position by any standards, yet England had gained confidence on the third evening and they did not let Australia slip away too much on the fourth day.

Anderson finished with 5 for 43 and a torn pair of trousers sustained while diving in vain for a return catch. He began by removing the nightwatchman Lyon, who chipped a catch to mid-off for 14, and followed by having Peter Handscomb caught at third slip for 12. Handscomb is the only Australian who might be considered in danger of losing his place any time soon, and did little in this innings to show his form as anything but scratchy.

Paine made 11 before he was brilliantly caught by Craig Overton, running in from fine leg and diving to collect the top-edged hook off Woakes, who then grabbed his fourth wicket by bowling Shaun Marsh for 19. Starc made 20, the equal top score in the innings (along with Khawaja) before he skied a catch off Anderson to give the fast bowler his fifth wicket.

The innings was wrapped up when Hazlewood sent a catch to gully off Overton, leaving Cummins not out on 11. It meant that Australia’s 138 was the highest total in Test history in which no batsman had scored more than 20. That was one record broken. Now England hope that another will follow.



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