It was not to be. Presented with the chance to make Australia’s lives uncomfortable on the fourth day of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane, England slipped weakly to a nine-wicket defeat – predictable enough after the events of the first two days, but an unmitigated letdown after their fightback on the third.
Perhaps it was too much to expect the resistance shown by Joe Root and Dawid Malan the previous afternoon to translate into a miracle. After all, England’s first-innings ineptitude had left them with a deficit of 278 – and you don’t win many Tests in Australia from there.
But there was a lack of intent on the fourth morning that couldn’t simply be explained by the renewed excellence of the Australians.
England slipped weakly to a nine-wicket defeat on the fourth day of the first Ashes Test
There was a lack of intent on the fourth morning that couldn’t simply be explained
Gone was the sound judgment and crisp strokeplay that the evening before had helped England to 220 for two at stumps. In its place came a litany of overawed prods and pokes as the gap between the teams widened once more.
With the second new ball available 10 overs into the day, the tourists needed Root and Malan to extend their third-wicket stand far beyond its overnight 159 if they were to set Australia a meaningful target.
Instead, Malan could add only two singles to his 80 before he was caught via bat and pad by Marnus Labuschagne at silly point – finally ending off-spinner Nathan Lyon’s long wait for 400 Test wickets.
Only Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have got there before him for Australia. A relieved Lyon was mobbed by equally relieved team-mates.
Dawid Malan could add only two singles before he was caught by Marnus Labuschagne (left)
Malan’s wicket finally ended spinner Nathan Lyon’s search for a 400th Test wicket
If England could just about absorb the loss of one wicket before the new ball, they could ill afford two – especially when the second belonged to Root.
On Friday, he had resembled the near-genius who had already ticked off six Test centuries in 2021. Now he fiddled at one from Cameron Green that he ought to have left alone, and was caught behind for 89 – his best score in Australia, but still short of the hundred here he craves.
When Ollie Pope seemed to forget that one of Lyon’s greatest weapons is his over-spin, getting into a tangle as he edged to Steve Smith at slip for four, England were 234 for five, having lost three for 11. Australia had not even taken the new ball.
A general sense of haplessness was compounded by the loss of television’s world feed caused by a power issue at Brisbane’s broadcasting centre. For around 25 minutes, the first Ashes Test proceeded without recourse to DRS. It was only blind good fortune that the technology was not required.
Joe Root fiddled at one from Cameron Green that he ought to have left and was caught behind
Allr-ounder Ben Stokes was squared up by Pat Cummins and caught by Green in the gully
But it was not the first glitch to hit the Gabba in this game, prompting critics to double down on their pre-match insistence that Queensland – with its strict Covid restrictions – should never have hosted the first Test in the first place.
On the second day, it had emerged that the front-foot technology which now routinely assists the third umpire in monitoring no-balls was faulty. Then, we were reminded that Real-Time Snicko was not available either, mainly because of limitations placed by the pandemic on the movement of the engineers who man it.
If that was all farcical, England’s batting was little better. Ben Stokes was squared up by Pat Cummins and caught by Green in the gully via the shoulder of the bat for 14, before Jos Buttler fended tamely at Josh Hazlewood to depart for 23. Two potential game-changers gone, just like that. It summed up England’s morning.
Hazlewood had been an injury concern after bowling just eight overs of the innings’ first 83, but there seemed little wrong with him now, just as there seemed little wrong with Australia.
Josh Hazlewood had been an injury concern but there seemed little wrong with him after he got rid of Jos Buttler
Ollie Robinson reverse-swept Lyon straight to point for eight, before Lyon spun an off-break through Mark Wood’s gate and on to the outside half of off stump.
When Chris Woakes guided Green to Alex Carey, who held his eighth catch – a Test record for a wicketkeeper on debut – England were all out for 297, having lost their last eight for 74. It was nothing less than feeble.
Needing 20 to take a 1-0 lead to Thursday’s pink-ball second Test at Adelaide, Australia chose not to risk David Warner’s sore ribs, promoting Carey instead. Robinson did have Carey caught behind for nine with only four needed, before the hosts knocked off their target in 5.1 overs, with Marcus Harris square-driving Wood’s first ball for four.
Since it’s implausible that Australia will not win another Test in this series, England will probably need three victories from the last four to regain the urn.
On the evidence of a Test which effectively lasted a little over nine sessions, it is hard to come up with a more constructive message than ‘good luck with that’.
When Chris Woakes guided Green to Alex Carey, England were all out for 297 before lunch
Ollie Robinson did have Alex Carey caught behind for nine, but Australia got home inside six overs