@willis_macp 15 minute read
England’s skipper and premier bowler have given England a sniff, and a mouth-watering final day of the second Test awaits. Will Macpherson dissects the best of day four’s action.
Into a fifth day we go, then. Nerves shredded and nails gnawed, but belief barbed. James Anderson took a five-fer, Joe Root stood the hell up and England, improbably, are in the game, even if Australia remain overwhelming favourites. They should have been locked out days ago but here they are, arguing with the big, bad bouncers, refusing to believe that their night out is over. The four-day Test mob – can we play you every week?
For England, the fourth day’s final session started badly and ended badly, and unfairly built hope in between. James Vince did as James Vince does and threw the hands at a half-volley, which first slip gobbled up. Then, two hours later, the utterly glorious Pat Cummins, from round the wicket, found the mother, father, uncle, aunt and third-cousin of all effort balls to ram one through doughty Dawid Malan’s defences with 10 minutes to go. Out came nightwatchman Chris Woakes, the wizard fresh from his best Test figures overseas, to keep out eight deliveries. Both teams return on the final day not quite halfway to its target.
Malan, in a stand of 78 with the skipper, had been magnificent. He was dropped on 8 by Smith at slip, and edged Mitchell Starc within an inch of his stumps. But he played some handsome strokes too, like the square-drive and pull off Starc in the same over. The platform had been laid for those above by Mark Stoneman and Alastair Cook’s opening stand of 53, which had cruised until Lyon, who has bowled exceptionally again, entered the fray.
Root was in charge of the stand with Malan, but led a charmed life too. He was given out, lbw to Lyon when leaving on 36, but it was overturned, while he smashed one through Cam Bancroft’s hands at short cover, too. But generally he drove well, worked the ball off his pads (the weakness Smith highlighted before this match) and left plenty. It seems likely now that whatever the results, Smith’s decision on the follow-on (which David Saker now says they regret) will be more infamous than his at the toss. The game is in his hands, because his innings lit up one of the great sessions of cricket. His side are the ones with their tails up, certainly.
Within three deliveries, Australia lost both their reviews because, unlike on the third evening, Steve Smith actually listened to his bowlers. Pat Cummins’ beauty seared through Joe Root, but there was nothing but a bit of thigh pad on it. Then Dawid Malan was struck on the back-pad, with keeper and first slip not interested but the bowler, Hazlewood, adamant. Up went the T-sign, over the top it was going. All that after choosing not to send one upstairs when Cook was stone-dead on 0.
Anderson, as he had been on the third evening, was mesmeric, and fully deserving of putting right a peculiar statistical quirk: no five-wicket hauls in Australia. Sure, he struggled both times England were whitewashed, and his average over here remains rooted in the mid-30s. But it’s not like he had never done a thing in Australia – he took 24 wickets in 2010/11. That’ll do.
Anderson had Pete Handscomb given out to the day’s third ball, but it ended up being his fourth decision overturned on the day. On the way through to first slip, Hotspot showed his lifter took the shoulder not the glove. Still, he likes bowling to Handscomb, and had him soon enough, caught low in the gully. By then he’d ended a lively cameo from Nathan Lyon, the nightwatchman, too.
Woakes then chipped in with the wickets of Tim Paine, pulling, and Shaun Marsh, cleaned up through the gate. He was removed from the attack for Craig Overton to finish the job with the wicket of Josh Hazlewood, but not before Anderson had completed his 25th five-wicket haul. The target was as high as 354, but he had handed England hope.
Thanks to he and Root it’s on. Or is it? Maybe it is. Surely not.