By dinner time on Monday the match was won for Australia; by supper time, a mythical feast in these parts since the cricket just keeps on giving, there was just a glimmer of hope on what had, until then, been another grim day for England. Australia possessed a mammoth first innings lead of 215. As darkness began to fall they had the perfect opportunity to bowl again just when the demons come out here, The Guardian reports.
Instead they followed the modern wisdom of never enforcing the follow-on despite the chameleon nature of the new Adelaide Oval. The ball darted around in the darkness as promised when England could have been batting a second time. Presumably an ologist of some sort had counselled against that follow-on. Now batting against Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes with a new pink ball was a trial. Australia finished the day on 53 for four with a very substantial lead of 268. Had England been batting surely we would already be contemplating Perth.
Anderson, who bowled 11 overs on the trot, soon found the edge of Cameron Bancroft’s bat. Then Usman Khawaja was lbw but what gave the assembled Barmies in front of the old scoreboard something to sing about were the dismissals of David Warner and Steve Smith in swift succession. Warner was snapped up at second slip, Smith was lbw despite reviewing – 15 minutes earlier he overturned by a millimetre or two another lbw decision off Anderson. Suddenly the game was no longer a foregone conclusion.
For the first two sessions we were visited by the ghost of Ashes past: a rampant Australian side were never stretched despite unusually benign conditions for batsmen – in daylight. No English batsman could prevail, which meant that Craig Overton, batting at nine on his Test debut, was the top scorer with 41 not out. It should not have been beyond England to bat for much longer and to score many more than 227. The pitch was blameless during those two sessions especially as the ball softened.
James Vince fell in the second over of the day in the most naive of ways. This is Australia; the ball bounces higher than at the Ageas Bowl. A nondescript short of a length delivery wide of off stump enticed him to play a back foot force away from his body and the edge carried nicely to Tim Paine.
So Joe Root, restless and bristling, was early to the crease. As ever he was off and running briskly. Who knows whether he feels a peculiar pressure – but those looking on sense that everything hinges upon him, which is a mighty burden in Australia. As captain of a beleaguered side he may be over-eager to impose himself.
Pat Cummins had the wit to bowl full and fast, inviting the drive. The delivery looked to be in the slot but Root leant back as he drove, perhaps trying to hit the ball too hard. The ball was sliced to third slip, where Bancroft took the catch.
The departure of Root galvanizes any side. Now despite the benign surface it was an agonizing struggle for England. Dawid Malan did his best to dig in; he successfully reviewed when given out lbw to Mitchell Starc; he might have been run-out if Bancroft’s throw had hit the stumps.
Meanwhile Alastair Cook had batted with composure against the pacemen, the timing of his footwork more assured than in Brisbane. But he is more fallible against off-spinners now. He received a good ball from Nathan Lyon, which spun just enough, but his bat was still on the move as he tried to defend, which guaranteed that there was enough momentum on the ball to carry gently to slip.
Next to go was Malan to the first ball of a new spell from Pat Cummins, which took his inside edge. By now Lyon was well into his spell and he had not bowled a ball to a right-handed batsman until his 11th over when Jonny Bairstow took strike against him.
In the afternoon session there were three consecutive caught and bowled dismissals; the last known instance of that is believed to have been at Headingley in 1962 when England were playing Pakistan. However the dismissals of Peter Parfitt, Fred Titmus and John Murray did not have such a damaging impact on England’s victory chances on that occasion.
Moeen Ali was the victim of a slower, flighted delivery from Lyon, which provoked a leading edge and a spectacular diving catch. Soon after Bairstow drove at Starc and the lanky left-armer stuck out his right-hand, juggled the ball briefly before calmly clutching it. The Australians were buzzing in their brand new backyard.
The plucky 66 run partnership between Chris Woakes and Overton was the solitary consolation – and an unexpected bonus. Overton had posted three consecutive ducks on this tour and Woakes has not been in spectacular form.
This pair remained calm when confronted by the promised bumper barrage, ducking dutifully, deflecting deftly until Smith and his bowlers decided to revert to a more traditional length. Then the short ball had a surprise element again, which may have accounted for a miscued pull by Woakes that gave Starc the simplest of the caught and bowled of the trio.
Lyon happily finished off the innings after dinner to become the leading wicket-taker in Test cricket in 2017 with 55. Overton was left unbeaten and the highest scorer – there would have been good odds on that even in Instow, where they must be thrilled how he has shown such a relish for the fight.