A de­feat which should ran­kle and re­shape Eng­land’s at­ti­tude

Missed op­por­tu­ni­ties will haunt Root’s men Tourists’ tac­ti­cal nous out­smarted their hosts

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Fourth Specsavers Ashes Test - Scyld Berry CRICKET JOUR­NAL­IST OF THE YEAR at Old Traf­ford

His­tory’s page is am­ply stocked with ex­am­ples of gal­lant de­feats of Eng­land’s Test crick­eters, and of fine hours when they have held on for a draw. Less nu­mer­ous are ex­am­ples of ruth­less vic­to­ries, which why Eng­land have won 109 Tests against Aus­tralia, whereas the vic­tory which en­abled the tourists to re­tain the Ashes was their 146th.

Eng­land could take a de­gree of sat­is­fac­tion from keep­ing Aus­tralia wait­ing for 91.3 overs out of the 105 they had to sur­vive to draw the fourth Test and go to The Oval on Thurs­day with a chance of re­gain­ing the Ashes. But if Eng­land are ever go­ing to erase their his­toric deficit against Aus­tralia, it is a de­feat which should ran­kle and re­shape at­ti­tudes.

Rather than sat­is­fac­tion, Eng­land should kick them­selves for fail­ing to take their op­por­tu­ni­ties in the fourth Test and this se­ries, start­ing when Aus­tralia were 122 for eight at Edgbaston. Aus­tralia have been the stronger side in two main re­spects – they have Steve Smith and su­pe­ri­or­ity in their fast bowl­ing – but Eng­land could have run them closer with more in­ge­nu­ity and a hun­grier at­ti­tude.

Spir­ited on the fifth day, Eng­land were dispir­ited on the first. It had been much the same at Head­in­g­ley, when Eng­land failed to seize the mo­ment on the first day in plu­per­fect seam-bowl­ing con­di­tions; and, af­ter fail­ing to bowl out Aus­tralia cheaply and dis­missed them­selves for 67, needed the Ben Stokes mir­a­cle to drag them over the line.

In this Test, day one was also the time for Dunkirk spirit, when the gale was chill­ing and Aus­tralia raced to 170 for three off only 44 overs. By scor­ing so quickly in their first in­nings, Aus­tralia made up for the loss of half a day and gave them­selves 105 overs – 25 of them with a sec­ond new ball – to dis­miss Eng­land a sec­ond time. So hav­ing missed the boat when it mat­tered, Eng­land were left with no more than a one-in-six chance of a draw at the start of their sec­ond in­nings, and one in eight af­ter fail­ing to de­ploy their ex­cep­tion­ally well-qual­i­fied night­watch­man, Jack Leach, on the fourth evening.

There is no ac­count­ing for Smith, and ge­nius, while only Stu­art Broad and Jofra Archer have ri­valled the three fast bowlers Aus­tralia have had in ev­ery match, led by the su­perla­tive Pat Cum­mins. But, in­ex­cus­ably, Eng­land’s field­ing has been worse than Aus­tralia’s. Had the chance of­fered by Tim Paine been held by Ja­son Roy at sec­ond slip, Aus­tralia would have been 245 for six; where­upon Smith added 145 speed­ily with his cap­tain to elim­i­nate any hope of Eng­land win­ning.

As Eng­land’s cap­tain, Joe Root was brave, but art­less, in of­fer­ing to put his neck on the block for Cum­mins on the fourth evening. All of Eng­land’s sur­viv­ing bats­men put in a shift on the fi­nal day, ex­cept for Stokes who lasted 17 balls as this sum­mer’s ex­ces­sive schedul­ing fi­nally caught up with him and Archer; but none could sur­vive so long as three hours. To preserve

Root, who is best equipped to bat all day, Leach should have opened – for the third time in Tests – and, in­stead of Rory Burns, taken the first over from Cum­mins, thereby re­duc­ing the risk of los­ing those two prime wick­ets in that dire half-hour. It seemed the right op­tion at the time, and when Leach sur­vived the fast bowl­ing with the sec­ond new ball.

Joe Denly and Roy bat­tled to­gether through most of the morn­ing. Roy, hav­ing gone nowhere as an opener, be­gan grow­ing into his role at No4. The de­ter­mi­na­tion was ad­mirable, the tech­nique in de­fence less so: when he was bowled, Roy’s bat and pad were any­thing but to­gether. He de­serves one more chance, at The Oval, for his im­prove­ment here. Denly made a fine fist of open­ing, with no more than a cou­ple of high-risk cover drives, and was not sub­jected to the bouncer bar­rage he had suf­fered at Head­in­g­ley. He has booked him­self a place, some­where in the top or­der, in Eng­land’s two-test au­tumn se­ries in New Zealand. It was not un­til the sec­ond half of the day that Nathan Lyon found the right line, a foot out­side off stump, which had Denly glov­ing a catch to short-leg.

At the half­way stage of Eng­land’s in­nings, the 53rd over, they had lost five bats­men, their top five bats­men. If Aus­tralia’s bowlers were flag­ging, the full house was not. Af­ter tea, Aus­tralia changed tac­ti­cal tack. Paine posted field­ers around the bat, and it worked im­me­di­ately, the ob­vi­ous now con­tain­ing the el­e­ment of sur­prise.

With a silly point un­der his nose, Jos But­tler was loath to push for­ward in case he popped a catch. But this was the quasi-sec­ond ball, the old one hav­ing been changed af­ter 58 overs, and its live­lier suc­ces­sor jagged in to brush his off stump when he shoul­dered arms. En­cir­cled by five field­ers, and the odd ball bounc­ing steeply, Archer could not push for­ward, so he played back and was trapped LBW by a grub­ber.

Over­ton had been mis­cast as third seamer, but he had grown up scrap­ping with his twin brother Jamie in the fam­ily gar­den, so an Ashes bat­tle was an ex­ten­sion of his child­hood. Ev­ery ball Over­ton and Leach sur­vived was greeted, and cel­e­brated; so too ev­ery stop­page, in the hope that bad light might in­ter­vene and shave off a few min­utes.

Leach lasted more than an hour, un­til a leg-break from Mar­nus Labuschagn­e spat out of the rough and Leach had no time to drop his wrists, only pop a catch to short-leg. Over­ton lasted more than two and a half hours, be­fore Ha­zle­wood pinned him around 6.15pm on an au­tum­nal evening and Aus­tralia went 2-1 up.

The best Eng­land can do is to win the Oval Test and square the se­ries at 2-2. It is not go­ing to be English cricket’s finest sum­mer, there­fore, and the World Cup will have to suf­fice.

Win­ning mo­ments: Aus­tralia’s play­ers wait for the re­view of the wicket of Craig Over­ton, then cel­e­brate vic­tory in the chang­ing room (far left); Nathan Lyon leads the vic­tory song be­fore push-ups on the out­field (be­low)

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