This has been a testing tour for England. The buildup saw them lose the services of Ben Stokes, the man who balanced their team, to suspension. Then injuries to Toby Roland-Jones and Steven Finn robbed them of back-up seamers. After competing for the first three days of the opening Test there was a meek capitulation in the latter half of the game that saw England lose by 10 wickets.
While that defeat was unfolding, England were embroiled in a distracting PR disaster that involved explaining why Jonny Bairstow had greeted Cameron Bancroft with a headbutt. Until that point England had been winning the off-field war of words. They had just giggled away at the nonsense that Australia were spouting about ending careers and unleashing hate.
The Bairstow incident saw them on the backfoot for the first time, with coach Trevor Bayliss talking about his players being smarter and Andrew Strauss, the England Director of Cricket, imposing a curfew. It all made the team look as if they had a serious behaviour problem that doesn’t actually exist.
It was with this backdrop that they went into the Adelaide Test, a game that should have been played in conditions that best suited them. Despite cool and overcast conditions things have not improved for the tourists over the first two days of this match.
Joe Root got it wrong when he elected to bowl on the first morning, but as the second day got underway were Australia 209 for four. There was every chance that England could have done well with the second new ball and bowled Australia out for under 300. Getting Peter Handscomb LBW in the first over of the day was the perfect start.
England did bowl much better on the second afternoon than they had on the first. They even had a further two LBW decisions given in their favour before both were overturned on review. From there onwards, things went south in an alarming fashion.
England lost their length again, bowling too short and getting virtually no movement with the old Kookaburra pink ball. It was all so easy for the Australians, and the much-maligned Shaun Marsh showed us why the selectors were so keen for him to be in this team. He drove with authority when the ball was pitched up and dealt with the easy-paced short stuff from the English seamers. It was an innings of class and patience that completely justified Marsh’s inclusion in this side. The flashy antics of Glenn Maxwell will always turn heads, but this effort from Marsh was a proper Test match knock.
Australia’s much maligned selection decisions ahead of this series have all worked out so far. While Marsh was making a brilliant hundred, Tim Paine was scoring a very good 57 at the other end. Combined with the unbeaten 82 Cameron Bancroft made in the first Test it is difficult to say any of these picks have been the wrong ones.
The entire second day was summed up by the fifth ball of the 144th over of Australia’s innings. Marsh, on 102 not out, was surprised by a bouncer from Chris Woakes. It took the shoulder of the bat and flew into a sparsely populated slip cordon. Alastair Cook dived to his right from first slip, James Vince jumped to his left from the gully. The two men banged heads and Cook dropped what would have been a simple chance. Over the two Ashes whitewashes that England have suffered in the last decade they have had a lot of comedy moments, this was a combination of farce and tragedy that matched any of those. You couldn’t help but laugh.
Marsh finished on 126 not out, blasting 15 runs off the final over of the innings before Steve Smith declared. Australia had been put into bat and made 442 for eight. Nasser Hussain will be feeling better about his call to have a bowl at the Gabba in 2002 when Australia made 492.
The declaration was perfectly timed. It was just as it was getting dark and the ball would be doing more than at any point during the day. Straight away the Australian bowlers got things right. The ball was pitched up and aimed at the stumps.
According to cricket data company, CricViz, England’s new ball length was 7.36 metres from the stumps. Australia’s was 5.87m. That 90cm is enough to be the difference between a ball that is edged and a ball that can be left, and a ball that is hitting the stumps and one that is going over the top.
Australia got Mark Stoneman early with a full ball from Mitchell Starc that trapped him LBW. The partnership between Stoneman and Cook was worth 29, the highest opening stand for England of this series so far. Rain arrived to save England further embarrassment on a brutal day.
It is always important to try and focus on the positives. Alastair Cook’s last two hundreds came in pink ball games, for Essex and then in the Test match against West Indies. England have avoided batting when things were most difficult thanks to an early finish because of the rain.
Still, England will need a batting performance better than anything they have managed on this tour so far if they are going to leave Adelaide with anything other than another loss.