The Adelaide Test was defined by two incorrect decisions made by the two captains. Joe Root’s decision to put Australia into bat on the first afternoon having won the toss was the wrong call. Steve Smith not enforcing the follow-on on the third evening was also the wrong move, with the lights on and ball seaming the chance was there to destroy England in this match and rub out any vestiges of hope that they still had left.
The reason why Australia won and England lost is not just because of those two decisions, the result probably would have been the same either way, but the match unfolded as it did because of them.
England did not lose because Australia batted first, although it certainly didn’t help. They lost this game because the twin concerns about this team on this tour were there for all to see. The first was that their bowling was not incisive enough to take 20 wickets on Australian pitches, the second that their batting is overly reliant on Alastair Cook and Joe Root.
That first criticism has been a bit overplayed. In Stuart Broad and James Anderson, England have two of the greatest bowlers ever to play for them. But it is true that in order for them to get through this Australian batting line-up away from home, those two bowlers need to be right at the top of their game.
In the first innings, all of England’s seamers bowled far too short, meaning that any swing or seam that they did get could be left alone by the Australians. While some have gone too far in writing off England’s attack, they did a very good job playing into the hands of their detractors.
England followed-up this really poor bowling effort with an insipid batting performance — all out for 227 on a very good track. You don’t come back from a 215-run deficit in Test matches to win, or if you do, you need four or five players to put in a career-defining effort.
As much of a concern for England is that their spinner has lacked any sort of penetration. Moeen Ali has now had three successive innings where he has gone wicketless. His only two scalps came in the first innings in Brisbane and those have cost him 98 runs each. Compare that with Nathan Lyon who has 11 wickets at 22.
Moeen bats at six and is still England’s best spinner. He will continue to play because there isn’t another option. In deciding to take Mason Crane, a novice spinner who has played just 29 first-class games as their back-up, England have gone all-in on Moeen. Crane is only going to get a game as a “we might as well” pick after this series is lost.
The bowling performance that England put in to dismiss Australia for 138 was phenomenal. Anderson and Chris Woakes were fantastic. That England had an even theoretical chance of winning this match going to the final innings represents a fine comeback, but 354 was always more than they could chase. Once Joe Root fell early on day five, the dream was over. England’s profligacy with both bat and ball in the first half of this Test cost them this match and any chance of winning this series.
For Australia, this was a great win, and bar for that decision to not enforce the follow-on which allowed England back into the game, it all went their way. Another one of their questionable picks, Shaun Marsh, proved the selectors right with a fantastic hundred when his team were under pressure.
At 209 for four in their first innings, Australia could have crumbled; that they didn’t is thanks to Marsh. Perhaps he will have a late career flourish like Michael Hussey and Adam Voges, or maybe he will be dropped and selected for the Test team another eight times. Whatever happens for the rest of his Test career, chances are this Ashes hundred will be the innings he is remembered for.
Pat Cummins has been the big plus for Australia in this series so far. We already knew that Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc were consistent performers, but while the talent of Cummins has been obvious for a long time, his ability to stay fit has been in question. He has played seven Tests in six years as a result.
Cummins looks to be in great shape and if he takes the field in Perth, it will be the first time in his career that he has played three successive Tests. When England were batting on the fourth evening, with Dawid Malan and Root building a strong partnership, the Australians looked rattled. It was Cummins who found a way through Malan’s defences to settle Aussie nerves.
Some credit of Cummins' success needs to be given to Lyon as well; the fast bowler has been able to bowl in small bursts as his spin-bowling colleague has held up an end and allowed Smith to rotate his seamers without overloading them. If he manages to play that third successive Test for the first time, he owes Lyon a beer.
The Ashes circus moves on to Perth, a venue where England have a solitary Test match win in their history. Things are looking very grim for the visitors right now.