England 236 and 4 for 82 (Stokes 3*) need a further 386 runs to beat Australia 9 for 473 dec and 9 for 230 (Head 51, Labuschagne 51)
Australia maintained their vice-like grip on the second Test, ripping out four England wickets before the close of day four at Adelaide Oval. Half-centuries from Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne had enabled the home side to declare their second innings 467 runs ahead, and with more than four sessions still to play – and although England fought to see out the night under lights, the dismissal of Joe Root from what became the final ball of the day was a hammer blow to their hopes of salvaging something from the game.
Already 1-0 up in the series and sitting on a 282-run lead overnight, the contest was set up for Australia from the outset. England managed to chip away and avoid being completely overrun, but by the time that Steven Smith called his men back to the dressing room just over an hour into the evening session, the scale of their task in attempting to avoid an 11th defeat from 12 in Australia was clear.
England’s brittle batting was soon back in the spotlight – and before the floodlights had even started to fire up. Jhye Richardson struck with his sixth ball, Haseeb Hameed propping forward only to see the ball prance and take him on the glove, as England’s opening stand – so far worth 0, 23, 7 and 4 in the series – failed again.
Rory Burns did succeed in carving out some time at the crease, as he and Dawid Malan battled through to tea and beyond during a 44-run partnership. But with the pink ball, glowing in the twilight, fizzing and spitting at the behest of Nathan Lyon, who bowled a relentlessly probing round-the-wicket line to the two left-handers, it seemed only a matter of time before further Australians dividends would be forthcoming.
Lyon deserved to make the breakthrough, only for Smith to put down a regulation slip catch with Malan on 19. The reprieve was brief, however, as Michael Neser found some nip back in to beat a tentative defensive push and pin Malan lbw to his very next ball – a dismissal upheld with three reds on review.
Burns used the DRS to overturn a caught-behind decision on 30, and had faced 95 balls when he finally succumbed to Richardson, who scrambled the seam to produce a thick edge that was taken low in the cordon. Root and Ben Stokes then battened down the hatches in an attempt to reach the close. They were just two balls away from achieving that goal when Root, having been hit painfully on the box a few overs earlier – the second low blow he had suffered in the day – edged Mitchell Starc behind to spark jubilation among the Australians.
It was not a good day for English dignity. In a hole and facing the prospect of Australia steadily driving home their advantage, the tourists initially took the field without their captain, Root requiring a scan after being hit in what the ECB euphemistically termed “the abdomen” while taking some throwdowns – this time not wearing a box. It all added to the sense that this Ashes tour is becoming yet another cock-up and balls story.
A lively start followed, belying the lack of tension in the game. Neser was nearly run out from the first ball of the afternoon, the nightwatchman only just making his ground to beat a direct hit from point after being sent back. He was then bowled in the second over, James Anderson finding some seam movement to beat Neser’s forward defensive and hit the top of middle stump.
Two balls later, Stuart Broad found Marcus Harris’ outside edge to dismiss the Australia opener for the fifth time in four Tests – Jos Buttler completing the dismissal with a flying one-handed catch. But the punchline was still to come, as Broad induced a first-ball nick behind from Smith, only for Buttler to send an easier chance clanging to the ground. Broad’s next delivery brought a confident no-look lbw appeal from the bowler, but Rod Tucker remained unmoved – and DRS backed up the decision on umpire’s call.
Smith was not able to cash in on his good fortune, gloving a short ball from Ollie Robinson down the leg side – Buttler lurching back into the sublime with a one-handed take – to give Australia’s stand-in captain his first single-figure score in an Ashes Test since the 2017-18 day-nighter at Adelaide.
England had taken 3 for 10 from 12 overs and given themselves something to smile about. But a further sign of their parlous position came when Robinson opted to switch to bowling offspin – apparently in a bid to lift the over rate. Root returned to the field shortly after and Australia began to ease back on to the front foot, Head’s counterattacking knock lifting them from 4 for 55 to 4 for 134 at the dinner break.
Head added 89 in good time alongside Labuschagne, as Australian thoughts began to turn once again to the possibility of a declaration. Head became a second wicket for Robinson – now back to bowling seam – shortly after bringing up a 49-ball fifty on his home ground, and England soon resorted to bowling Malan’s part-time legspin in tandem with Root, rather than put miles into the legs of their quicks. Malan claimed Labuschagne as his maiden Test victim, but four wickets falling to spin only seemed to underscore England’s errors in selection. And Australia will not worry themselves with that.