Defiant Root has England on verge of history in Adelaide
Joe Root’s sensational rear-guard innings has given England the opportunity to complete a remarkable win in the second Ashes Test in Adelaide.
The night session of day four may have been the best of the series to date, with Root standing firm and seeing England to 4-176 as Australia threw everything at the visitors with the Test on the line.
If England does manage to score the remaining 178 runs required for victory, it would be the greatest successful run chase in the history of Test cricket at Adelaide Oval.
Australia must still be considered a slight favourite, needing only six wickets to complete a win that once looked a foregone conclusion, but with Root still 67 not out, the tourists are certainly up for the fight.
Geoff Lemon’s analysis
After two days of this Test match, Joe Root was copping vast amounts of stick for deciding to bowl first at Adelaide. He must have been truly relieved when Steve Smith declined to enforce the follow-on, giving armchair tacticians a new captain to pick on.
Neither of these captaincy decisions worked terribly well, but that doesn’t mean either was wrong at the time. It’s very easy to criticise with hindsight. But one of these captains will win this Test, and one will lose, and it shouldn’t be result rather than reasoning that decides whether their calls are defined as right.
It was interesting, though, that people continued circulating the myth that Australia’s loss in Kolkata in 2001 is the reason behind preferring not to enforce the follow-on. We’ve examined the case here, and the data doesn’t lie. Even after VVS Laxman did a number on Steve Waugh’s team, Waugh continued to enforce the follow-on at every opportunity. Only in the more modern age of bowler management has that changed.
You might agree with Smith’s call, you might not. The fact is, it could have given his batsmen another low-pressure chance to score runs, given England’s bowlers more work in the field, and still left England four or five sessions to survive, including two night sessions, against a fresh attack. The failure of his batsmen doesn’t change the reasoning from no-brainer to no-brain.
The action under lights capped off an exceptionally well fought day of cricket.
Having looked all at sea with the bat on Monday night, Australia would have despaired to see little had changed early on under the sunlight on Tuesday.
Peter Handscomb in particular looked a million miles from the composed, assured batsman that made the most of his Test opportunity last summer. When batting with Nathan Lyon, it was difficult to ascertain exactly which of the pair was meant to be the nightwatchman.
Lyon would fall first — rattled by a blow to the helmet from Stuart Broad, he promptly chipped a catch to mid-off from Anderson’s bowling — but Handscomb would not last much longer, slashing Anderson to the gully on 12.
England maintained an element of control over Australia’s batsmen for the remainder of the innings, with runs hard to come by and time seemingly the only objective for the hosts.
Eventually, in trying to push the match on, both Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh would fall, the former to another skied pull shot and the latter to an in-swinging Woakes delivery the batsman tried to hit too square.
The tail end would offer little resistance, and once Starc and Hazlewood fell playing expansive strokes, England was left with 354 to win and some handy momentum.
And that momentum would only grow stronger as Australia’s quicks failed to swing the ball as the English had, and Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman settled in.
Had Australia reviewed an LBW shout given not out, Cook would have departed with England’s score just 1, but the oversight from Smith saw the tourists settle.
It took Nathan Lyon, again, to break the partnership. This time Smith did send the appeal upstairs, with the DRS finding nothing to save Cook and ending the partnership on 53.
Only one run later, a lapse in concentration would cost Stoneman his wicket too as a short Starc delivery was slashed to Usman Khawaja at gully, and what looked like being a dream session for England swung back towards Australia in its closing half an hour.
But despite a sloppy slash by James Vince, and a wonderful delivery from Cummins to remove the dogged Dawid Malan, England took charge of the treacherous night session — led magnificently by captain Root.
His determined and skilful batting has set the scene for a potentially historic day five.
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