The day the Ashes were reignited
Scyld Berry, Paul Hayward and Nick Hoult on Adelaide thriller Final-day news, reaction and analysis on telegraph.co.uk now
Cricket is sometimes said to be a game of numbers, but that applies – if at all – to an ordinary match. Cricket in an Ashes series is primarily a game of psychological superiority.
Since day three of the Brisbane Test, Australia have held that superiority, but England have by no means been shattered and devastated, as they were by the end of the second Test on their last tour when they were already too badly bruised and mentally scarred by Mitchell Johnson to recover. The captains of both sides have seen to it that England have preserved self-respect.
It was Steve Smith, ironically, who first helped England by not enforcing the follow-on. So instead of being wiped out by Australia on the third evening, when the new pink ball behaved devilishly, England were allowed to run through Australia’s second innings for only 138. Their eventual target was no more than 354, whereupon England’s own captain, Joe Root, raised his standard and charged in a counter-attack that was Ashes cricket at its most thrilling.
In 2013-14, Alastair Cook could not set such a stirring example to rouse his troops, and by the end of the second Test Jonathan Trott had gone home, while Matt Prior and Graeme Swann were on their way out. Smith’s decision to bat again, in prime bowling time, guaranteed that James Anderson and Chris Woakes would not go the same way. They picked up nine cheap wickets between them after a barren run, before Dawid Malan grew in stature during his stand of 78 with Root that refused to acknowledge Australia’s superiority.
Anderson so profited from Smith’s decision to bat again – which was a bigger misjudgment than Root’s to bowl first – that he helped himself to his first fivewicket haul in Australia. Anderson’s skill in maximising the swing-and-seam movement to be had on the third evening and fourth morning was extreme.
This skill reached its apogee when Anderson bowled inswingers – and the odd outswinger – from round the wicket to the righthanded Smith. Very few right-arm pace bowlers have ever used this angle of attack successfully at right-handed batsmen.
If Woakes was upmarket bitsand-pieces in the Brisbane Test, he was a true all-rounder here. His first contribution was to the facesaving stand of 66 with Craig Overton, which went a long way to persuading Smith to rest his bowlers and bat again. He followed up with four wickets, two on the third day, then bouncing out Tim Paine on the fourth morning and bowling Shaun Marsh when he aimed to hit a straight ball through square-leg. England had needed no second invitation to run through Australia, with no one scoring more than 20.
When the stage was set for England’s run-chase, the lighting was as clear as could be at 4.15pm. The target was little more than the 315 which Australia knocked off to defeat England at Adelaide in 1902 – the highest successful run-chase here hitherto.
Yet again Mark Stoneman exhibited the assurance of the senior opening partner, Cook the hesitancy of the junior. Stoneman peeled off six fours – mainly clips through midwicket – off his first 22 balls, before Nathan Lyon came on and personally cut the scoring-rate to one run an over.
Lyon picked up Cook for a second time in this game – and the seventh in Tests – when Cook fell over while working to leg, taking Australia’s off-spinner ahead of India’s Ravi Ashwin as the leading Test wicket-taker of 2017.
Stoneman’s favourite stroke in the practice games had been the front-foot cut, a risky shot against the new ball in Australia. In this innings, he played a back-foot cut, safely, then seemed caught in two minds – or else he had become so tied down by Lyon – that he merely pushed to gully something else that was cuttable from Mitchell Starc. Stoneman, Malan and James Vince have all shown they can score runs in Australia, but that is a world away from scoring a Test century in Australia.
Root barely compromised on his approach to playing himself in: he might have been a little more measured either side of tea, but that was all. Then he metaphorically pulled down the visor of his helmet and charged, unperturbed by the loss of Vince, who drove at a wide half-volley just when Starc was finding reverse away swing.
It was seat-of-the-pants stuff. Root was edgy with his cover-drives at first, but started to nail them as the artificial light replaced the natural. Malan gave a model display of how to hang in until the bowling at least seems easier: he then took three fours in an over from Starc.
England were greatly assisted by Smith using up his two unsuccessful reviews in two overs, before he compounded his error by dropping Malan when eight off Lyon.
How the Barmy Army revelled in Smith’s inability to question any more umpiring decisions, which finally became correct when the officials learnt how to estimate the ball’s bounce on this Adelaide pitch – not easy for umpires from Pakistan and New Zealand.
The loss of Malan, for the second time to a ripper of an effort ball from Pat Cummins, hardly silenced them.
Close shave: Joe Root’s inside edge eludes the diving Cameron Bancroft