After a breakdown in the broadcasting of the first Ashes Test normal service eventually resumed, England’s meek collapse on the fourth morning in the face of a rejuvenated Australian attack condemning them to a nine-wicket defeat and a 1-0 series deficit head into the pink ball encounter in Adelaide.
As Marcus Harris and Marnus Labuschagne finished off a target of 20 runs in 25 minutes after lunch, the latter striding in after the fall of the promoted Alex Carey, it condemned England to their 10th defeat in their last 11 Tests, handed Pat Cummins a first victory as captain and restored the Gabba’s status as Australia’s fortress.
They may have lost to India on the ground back in January, but England? This was a seventh victory over the old enemy in their last nine encounters in Queensland as part of an unbeaten Ashes record that stretches back to 1986. ‘Gabbattoir’ references have thankfully been light over the past week but it still deals in butchery.
No wonder Cricket Australia were so keen to start this unique Ashes series on Vulture Street, despite the logistical issues thrown up by the pandemic and Queensland’s hard border. These led to a lack of engineers and technicians on the ground, with the third umpiring technology reduced throughout and even the television pictures dropping out for 25 minutes during what proved the final morning.
As it happened this gap in transmission did well not to miss a wicket on a morning that saw England lose eight of them for 77 in 33 overs and bowled out for 297. This wasn’t a rushing cascade of dismissals, rather the slow, inevitable decline of a batting line-up that has regularly crumbled all year. Once Dawid Malan had become Nathan Lyon’s 400th Test victim on 82, and Joe Root edged a beautiful outswinger from Cameron Green on 89, resistance proved worryingly fleeting.
This will be a match that leaves plenty of regret for England to stew over during the next four days. Even considering their meltdown on that electric opening day, rolled for 147 inside two sessions after Mitchell Starc bullseyed Rory Burns’ leg stump first ball, and the squandering of the best bowling conditions at the toss, England carved out openings that could have set up a first innings versus fourth innings contest.
On the second evening they reduced Australia to 195 for five, their lead just 48 at that stage, only for Travis Head to ignite the afterburners with 152 runs from No 5 that feasted on a weary, undercooked seam attack and continued the misery for Jack Leach. This intervention swelled the first innings difference into 278 runs and defeat inside three days could easily have followed for England.
But the tourists then mustered a further fightback, one that saw them head into day four on 220 for two, with Root and Malan closing in on centuries that, along with further runs down the order, could have given their bowlers a workable target to defend. Instead Australia, though once again lacking the presence of Warner in the field after a rib injury and with concerns over the fitness of Josh Hazlewood, crucially struck three times for 14 runs during their 10-over wait for the second new ball.
It began with a moment to savour for Lyon. The offspinner had spent 326 days stranded on 399 Test victims – it might have been 325 had Australia reviewed a gloved catch off Malan when on 37 the previous afternoon – but the return of close fielders to generate some early pressure told, Malan’s attempted flick after dancing down the pitch ballooning off his pad to give Labuschagne a simple catch at silly mid-off.
With Root than undone by some late movement from Green, the hunt for a first century on Australian soil thwarted at the 19th attempt, and Ollie Pope’s skittish time against Lyon ended on four when a cramped and injudicious cut shot flew to slip, England were 234 for five, still 44 runs in arrears and with a brand new Kookaburra looming.
Then came the blackout in pictures, during which time Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler seemingly managed to get themselves in to chisel the deficit down to 12 runs. But, as has so often been the case, Cummins delivered the breakthrough, extra bounce twisting up Stokes on 14 as a catch flew to gully, with Hazlewood gritting his teeth through the pain of an unspecified injury and removing Buttler caught behind on 23.
Thereafter the tail folded once more, the only cheers from the smattering of England supporters being ironic ones when it was confirmed Australia would bat again and Lyon picking up two more wickets. When Carey held his eighth catch behind the stumps, Chris Woakes a second victim to the giant Green on 16, it equalled the record number of dismissals for a wicketkeeper on debut one and set up the meagre target.
Carey didn’t quite get a fairytale finish thereafter, nicking behind off Ollie Robinson when deputising for the stricken Warner. “We couldn’t find him,” joked Cummins at the presentation. “We looked everywhere in the stadium. [But] he is fine, we just didn’t want to risk him and he will be alright for Adelaide.”
Whether England will be after their latest Gabba misfire remains to be seen.