Remarkably, inexplicably and inconceivably, England are in with a chance of winning the second Test in Adelaide having been completely outplayed for the first two and half days. They have a long way to go, and Australia are still firm favourites. But that sweet, sickly, pernicious hope is there. For England fans there is nothing worse, they can deal with despair, hope is the worst. All too often it is snatched away from them.
England decisively won their first session of this Ashes series on the third evening, and they backed that up with a second successive session where they came out on top on the fourth afternoon, bowling Australia out for 138. Finally, England showed what they could do with the ball. After their attack being consistently derided throughout this series they showed what they can do.
Yes, this England attack doesn't have an out-and-out fast bowler, and it is true that Australia have a much better bowling attack in Australia, but there seems to have been some that have completely forgotten that between them James Anderson and Stuart Broad have more 900 Test wickets. That is almost double what the four Australian bowlers have between them.
Anderson hasn’t ever really blown an Australian side apart away from home, but he did just that in this innings. Five wickets for 43 runs in 22 brilliant overs. It was an Anderson masterclass as he showed off all of his skill and guile to bemuse the Australian batsmen. It was great to watch. The only problem was that it came an innings too late.
That England even had a chance of winning this match, albeit a slim one, was because of the way Anderson bowled. He was well supported by Chris Woakes who showed us what he can do for the first time on this tour. His pace was up from what we have seen so far and he pitched the ball up and got it to move late. All of this leads you to believe that this England side are capable of taking 20 Australian wickets in a Test in Australia. Now they need to try and do it in one of the upcoming matches.
That great bowling effort does not mean England were going to win this Test. Teams don’t come back from this kind of deficit. There is a reason why so few teams have chased more than 300 in the fourth innings to win a Test. It is incredibly difficult.
The issues with this Australian batting line-up were exposed for the first time by England. When the ball is consistently pitched up and the bowlers get some lateral movement they can look woefully inadequate. If both Steve Smith and Dave Warner fail in the same innings there is a serious chance that the rest of the team will crumble. England did not capitalise on Smith and Warner not going big in the first innings, and that is why they are in danger of going 2-0 down in this series.
If Anderson and Woakes had put in this kind of display on the second day when Australia resumed their first innings on 209 for four this game would have unfolded very differently. You can’t bowl really badly and follow that up by batting really badly and win Tests against decent teams when you are away from home.
Still, at the close of day four, England, incredibly, need 178 runs with six wickets in hand.
Once England went out to bat for their second innings the target was 354. England have scored that many runs in the final innings of a Test only twice in the last 40 years, they lost one and drew the other. Their highest score in the fourth innings to win a Test is 332 for seven, a total they made way back in 1928. There is no doubting that England have done brilliantly to give themselves this slim chance, but they still need to smash records to get a win.
Things started off well, with Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman putting on their highest opening partnership of this series. That 54-run stand was a good start, but England needed more, especially from Cook who is having another one of those lean spells. Talk of his demise is massively exaggerated. He scored a Test match double hundred four matches ago, he is England’s leading run-scorer, he is just 32 years old and there is no viable alternative. But this fragile England batting line-up need Cook more than ever before.
With Cook gone it was all on Joe Root. England’s captain and best batsman, the only player that has a chance of coming close to Cook’s career run tally. He made a second innings 51 in Brisbane, but Root has also been disappointing so far in this series. This was his chance to lead from the front and score what could be a career defining century. While he is at the crease that slim chance of an England victory remains.
England lost Dawid Malan in the closing moments of the fourth day but Root is still there on 67. If he converts that into a really big score, something that he has struggled to do so often in the past, England could claim one of the greatest comeback wins. Even if they get close this will be remembered as one of best Ashes Tests.
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