Chris Stocks and Alex Narey review the damage Down Under
IN THE end, it’s the hope that kills you. As well as England played to get back into this Test match, ultimately, they will head to Perth 2-0 down after being well beaten yet again by Australia.
Perhaps in a parallel universe – where England’s bowlers pitched the ball fuller on the opening day – Joe Root’s team would have been chasing somewhere closer to 250 rather than the target of 354 they were eventually set.
That was always going to be a tough ask, especially as it would have represented the record successful chase in England’s Test history and the highest ever at the Adelaide Oval.
Still, that tantalising prospect still existed heading into the final day, with Root still unbeaten at the crease on 67, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow to come and England needing 178 to win with six wickets in hand.
Steve Smith, Australia’s captain perhaps haunted by his decision not to enforce the follow-on, was nervous enough to admit having to take a sleeping pill the night before.
However, the hosts – led by Josh Hazlewood’s removal of nightwatchman Chris Woakes and Root within the first three overs of the day – wrapped up victory inside the first session.
England had fought back admirably after a largely terrible first three days, making a game of it after bowling out Smith’s men in their second innings for 138 – Australia’s lowest total at Adelaide since 1955.
But they had left themselves far too much to do after allowing Australia to pile up 442-8 declared in their first innings and conceding a deficit of 215 thanks to another limp collective effort with the bat.
Of course, after winning the toss, Root plainly made the wrong decision to bowl first in this maiden day-night Ashes Test.
Maybe things would have been different had he chosen to bat instead.
Yet it’s also true that Australia probably would have won this contest inside four days had Smith not refused to enforce the follow-on when England were there for the taking on day three.
Moral victories, if this can be categorised as such, only get you so far. Cold, hard facts suggest this England team are well on their way to being whitewashed Down Under, just as their predecessors were in 2006-07 and 2013-14, unless they raise their game significantly.
But Root, dropped for the final Test of that ill-fated Ashes tour four years ago, believes his current squad are made of sterner stuff than that.
“I think we are playing better cricket this time around,” he said. “I don’t think we are as unevenly matched as we were last time.
“The way we went about the second innings proved to everyone really we are still massively in this series. It is as simple as that.
“We have shown throughout the two games that for periods we can outperform Australia but just not for five days and that is
going to be our challenge.
“I thought we showed a lot of character, which is what you want to see in big series like this. It is now about finding a way to do it over periods of time.”
What will worry Root most is the fact he was the only England player to pass fifty in this match. Every other batsman – bar James Vince – made starts in at least one of the innings.
But nobody could impose themselves on the game like Australia’s Shaun Marsh, whose first-innings 126 ultimately proved the difference between the teams.
England needed Root to try to match that but he failed to convert a Test half-century for the 34th time.
Dawid Malan at least showed fight and character, as did opener Mark Stoneman.
But the influence Nathan Lyon is having on this series is damaging the tourists badly, with the off-spinner taking six wickets in this match, including Alastair Cook twice. Moeen has also been dismissed by him four times in as many innings this series.
There was, at least, positive news in the form of Craig Overton’s promising debut and James Anderson’s first five-wicket Test haul in Australia.
However, neither were enough to stop England producing yet another disappointing overall performance that saw them slip to their sixth successive overseas Test defeat.
Almost done: Josh Hazlewood celebrates taking the wicket of Joe Root of England during day five
Top knock: Shaun Marsh celebrates his century
Got him: Craig Overton after bowling Steve Smith on day one