Out bowled, out batted, out thought. England were six and two thirds days into this Test series against Australia and you felt that they may as well pack up and come home. Even the fabled return of Ben Stokes, a player who is out of practice and struggled on his return to domestic cricket in New Zealand, wouldn’t save them. The next match is at the WACA, a ground where England have won once in 13 matches, that solitary victory coming 30 years ago. England would be 3-0 down after Perth with the Ashes gone by Christmas.
Then, after some absolutely horrendous bowling in Australia’s first innings, England finally got it right after Steve Smith didn’t enforce the follow on and decided to bat under the lights. Four wickets in 26 overs gave them some hope. But it was the kind of hope that you get when you have had 15 pints and you think that the girl you like is interested in you when in fact she just has concerns for your health.
Australia are going to win this Test and win this series. England’s efforts across the first two innings of this match ensured that. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. Australia were red-hot favourites going into this series and you would have struggled to find someone outside the England camp that suspected that the home team would not regain the Ashes. Still, the manner of the impending defeat in Adelaide is embarrassing for the tourists. This isn’t a brilliant Australian side and they have made them look very, very good.
Having made the wrong call at the toss when he asked Australia to bat, Joe Root needed everything to go his way to get a win for his team. But England aren’t in this position because of that toss, Australia could just as easily have got the chance to choose to bat first and England would be in an identical position. Australia are leading by 268 runs at the end of Day Three because England have played badly. Those wickets late on Day Three will give England reasons to be cheerful, but this game is gone barring a miracle of 1981 at Headingley proportions.
The day started with James Vince nicking off to the wicket-keeper, something that has come to define his career. He has now been dismissed caught by the keeper or slips seven times in his last nine Test innings. The decision to select Vince was always going to be subject to considerable scrutiny. After failing, when in the Test side in 2016, Vince backed that up with 738 runs at an average of 35.14 in the Championship for Hampshire.
There is no doubting that Vince is supremely talented, and we have seen the best of him this series when he made a very good 83 in the first Test. But as a batsman who will always struggle when the ball moves laterally it seems unfair to bat him at three where he will be exposed to the swinging and seaming new ball. Those concerns were exemplified by the four balls he faced on Monday. He got off the mark with a ball punched through the covers off the back foot, a shot that was well executed but always dangerous. He played virtually the same shot three balls later and didn’t get the execution right. It was edged through to Tim Paine.
While England had been either reluctant or unable to pitch the ball up in the first innings, when the Australians bowled they had no such issues. Pat Cummins got one full and moving away and Joe Root had a dart at it and edged through to the slips. It was a loose shot but it was probably there for it. On another day, it could have raced through the slips for four. Not today.
The point the England first innings became a farce was when Cook propped forward and edged a simple chance to slip off Nathan Lyon. At 80 for four, England were never going to come close to Australia’s first innings total, especially with Root and Cook both gone.
Lyon pulled off one of the great caught and bowled efforts to dismiss Moeen Ali, diving full length to grab the ball. When Jonny Bairstow also gave a caught and bowled to Mitchell Starc five overs later all of the top order was gone and England were still 300 runs in arrears.
The best partnership of the England innings followed, with Chris Woakes and Craig Overton putting on 66. Overton top-scored for England on his Test debut with a measured 41 not out, but runs from your number nine are for finishing off a competitive total, not for setting one.
England were eventually dismissed for 227, still 215 runs behind Australia on first innings. As is the modern way the follow-on was not enforced despite the fact that the sun was setting and the lights were starting to come on. This was a mistake. If Australia had got England out there in those conditions this game would be done.
England bowled really well with the new ball, in fact they have improved each time they have had one throughout this match. With the first one they were awful, with the second they did OK, with this one they finally got it right as four wickets fell. That two of them are Steve Smith and Dave Warner it means this represents England’s best spell of this series.
Still, wickets have actually become almost irrelevant. Even if England managed to bowl Australia out for 150 , they would still be second favourites to get a win. Taking time out of the game is just as important. Realistically, the best England can hope for is a draw, Australia continuing to bat actually makes that more likely. It was great for England fans to see their team actually getting it right with the ball, but they needed that on Day One.
England’s meek capitulation with the bat in a second successive innings in this series means this Ashes is all but gone. Adelaide was always their chance to get into this series and they have failed. England now need to find a way to prevent this being another 5-0 defeat.
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