Injury concerns, some newfound bowling options, and wickets at big moments headlined the fourth day’s action at the Adelaide Oval.
A day that had a familiar feel to it, came down to the final delivery to produce a final moment of drama, as Australia require six wickets for victory on the final day at the Adelaide
Here are the moments that mattered from Day 4.
All action in opening overs as England strike
England needed to get busy early on Day 4 to resurrect any glimmer of hope of making a fist of and getting back into the contest at Adelaide. With Australia resuming one down and in a commanding position to bat until they deemed necessary, Ben Stokes, who was leading the team in place of Joe Root who suffered an injury in the warm-up, threw the ball to his old guard and wished for some magic.
James Anderson struck first, removing night watchman Michael Neser with a trademark inswinger which hit the top of middle stump.
The next over, Stuart Broad had Marcus Harris out for the second time in the Test Match, with the assistance of yet another blinding catch by Jos Buttler to finish the job to remove the Victorian opener.
The action and chaos continued for the rest of the over as Smith strode to the wicket. Broad found the edge of the Australian captain but Buttler, not for the first time this match, was unable to hold onto a regulation chance.
The next ball, Broad had Smith trapped, what looked to be dead in front on the pads and took off for a trademark Broad Celebrappeal but was given not out on field by umpire Paul Wilson. Ball tracking showed that the ball was pitching outside off and hitting the stumps, with impact marginally on the side of the umpire, meaning Smith was spared by a matter of inches.
Five-time ICC Umpire of the Year Simon Taufel, who has been a part of Channel Seven’s coverage in recent seasons explaining contentious umpiring decisions, explained as to why the call was given not out on field and the reasoning behind the on-field umpire’s viewpoint.
Buttler was in the action once again not long after, holding onto another great catch off Ollie Robinson, removing Steve Smith as England continued their positive first hour, taking 3/17.
Ollie turns Funky as Root returns
Colin Miller would be sitting back in his Las Vegas abode and grinning from ear to ear. Both with the position of his old side at the Adelaide Oval who are right on top against England, and with tributes to him out and about on the field.
Many were caught by surprise when English seamer Ollie Robinson ditched the long run-up, put the sunglasses on at the top of his short mark, and started sending down some off-spinners.
With Joe Root off the field and in hospital getting a scan for the early part of the first session, England was left to get creative to find a slow bowling option to try to change things up and speed up the over rate. The UK journalists remarked that they had seen Robinson turn out his tweakers before in the County Championship a few seasons ago.
Joe Root returned to the field not long after as Robinson persisted with his off-spinners for three overs before reverting back to his traditional medium pacers. It may not have heralded any wickets, but it sure alluded to another spin option if the going ever gets dire for the tourists.
Quirky Marnus and blistering Head push Australia’s advantage
It was just starting to get a tad worrying for the Aussies when Travis Head joined compatriot Marnus Labuschagne at the crease.
At 4-55, Australia’s call to not enforce the follow-on and instead bat on in the second innings looked to be the wrong one.
But Head turned the contest on its head for the second time in as many games, striking often to post a run-a-ball half-century full of punchy drives and well-timed flicks.
Head was joined by Labuschagne, who continued his fine Ashes form with the bat to persevere through to yet another half-century.
On a day where the Aussies were hoping for a quickfire partnership that would set up a threatening final innings run chase for the English, Labuschagne’s composure and Head’s controlled aggression were critical to further asserting the home side’s dominance.
It was just a shame that both were removed for 51 trying to accelerate to another gear in pursuit of quick runs.
The Root and Malan pairing evolves in a new way amid Starc scare
We’ve already seen throughout the series so far that Joe Root and Dawid Malan are key pillars with the willow for England. Having held their side together during the majority of day three, the two came together with ball in hand to deliver some crucial wickets on the fourth afternoon.
Root needed to return to the field in the middle stages of the day after previously getting scans for an abdominal injury that occurred in the morning’s warm-up. His underrated off-spinners started to tie down the flowing Australian second innings as they pushed for quick runs.
But he was very ably supported by a new-look option in Malan. After putting on a partnership of 138 yesterday, the pair came together at either end, and it immediately paid dividends. Malan’s leg-spinners came out well, and the fierce amount of top spin he put on the ball resulted in the wicket of Labuschagne for 51.
From there, the pair hunted for more wickets, with Root claiming left-handers in Alex Carey and Mitchell Starc in relatively quick time, while Malan snared the big-hitting Jhye Richardson for 8 to finish the Australian innings.
Taking the pace off the ball looked to have done the job for Australia’s impatient batters, but it also enticed Mitchell Starc into swinging towards a potential injury. A massive back swing and missed slog-sweep ended in the opening bowler clutching at his back and side, as he required painkillers and physio work before he was dismissed for 19.
Thankfully for Australian fans, the pain didn’t seem to do too much damage to his bowling, as he came out in the night session and opened the bowling well without much evident pain.
Rory temporarily Burns his demons, but Aussie patience wins out
All eyes were on Rory Burns as he strode to the crease just before the end of the second session. Having struggled to face more than 20 balls in an innings so far in the series, he was set to yet again face his tormentor in Mitchell Starc.
Starting with the first ball nightmare in Brisbane and continuing into a three-ball stay against Starc in Adelaide, the talk around town was Burns was batting for his opening spot ahead of the upcoming MCG Boxing Day test.
With plenty of pressure on him, he trusted in his unique technique (which emphasizes his more dominant left eye, hence the big head turn to face the bowler) and managed to fight through Starc and Richardson’s early forays.
It would’ve been hard to keep fighting after fellow opener Haseeb Hameed was undone by a ripsnorter of a Jhye Richardson delivery in his first over, but Burns was intent on leaving well and playing straight.
It all came undone at the hands of Richardson, who snared his second when catching Burns’ edge. Despite threatening to find form, Burns departed on 30 not long after Malan was also trapped in front by Neser.
Horror finish leaves England Root-ed
With captain and number one batter in test cricket at the moment in Joe Root at the crease, England would’ve been able to head into the final day with a sliver of hope that they could hold on for a memorable draw.
But the final ten minutes of the day’s play capped off a horrific day full of pain and frustration for Root.
With only a few overs left in the day, it looked like Root and Ben Stokes were going to see off Australia’s bowlers and give themselves a shot at shutting out the Aussies on day five. But then Root copped a horrid blow from Mitchell Starc in the third last over, causing him to keel over and cry in pain.
The blow looked to have hit him in the same spot that he was hit this morning in the warm-up, as medical staff and concerned teammates watched on with bated breath. Thankfully he kept batting, but the England captain was still in clear pain.
It all came to a head in the final over of the day, where Starc pitched the ball up from around the wicket and extracted an edge from the number one batter’s bat. The pink ball flew through to Carey, who claimed the catch and struck a dagger to England’s heart in what turned out to be the final delivery of the day.
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