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England fightback crumbles in Ashes collapse as Australia turn the screw

England’s batting wilted once again as their latest Ashes collapse saw them facing another heavy defeat in the day-night second Test at Adelaide.

Any optimism that England could somehow fashion a fitting response to the home side’s declaration total of 473 for nine were shattered on day three as they slumped from 150 for two to a miserable 236 all out. Joe Root and Dawid Malan had occupied the crease for two and a half serene hours at the start of the day, but their 138-run stand proved to be a mirage.

By losing eight for 86 under clear blue skies England not only opened themselves up to following on under floodlights, they completed a third successive capitulation in the series. Australia resisted the temptation to put England’s fragile top order back in and stretched their lead to 282 by reaching 45 for one at the close.

For England the flaws are now entirely familiar. Dismissed for 147 on the first day in Brisbane, they lost eight for 77 in their second innings at the Gabba and they tossed away another century partnership here between Root (62) and Malan (80). As a side who have lost 10 of their last 11 Tests in Australia, it was a grim example of history repeating and none of Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Ollie Pope or Jos Buttler will relish the selection meeting for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. It is hard to imagine all four being axed given the available resources, but on the available evidence Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow will surely find themselves recalled somewhere in the order.

Things had begun with a genuine blast of optimism. The tribulations of Friday night, when the Australia tail hammered 83 runs off 10 overs before dismissing both England openers cheaply, were brushed away by the assured work of Root and Malan.

The pair’s last stand had been worth 162 and they were soon settling back into their previous groove. Root was playing intuitively on the back foot, the captain threading the gaps at backward point and third man, while Malan got going after a thin edge past his stumps with three boundaries in four deliveries, driving straight and cutting eagerly.

The arrival of Nathan Lyon’s spin changed the dynamic, but fortune favoured England as Malan drove straight into the midriff of Marnus Labuschagne at silly mid-off and Root top-edged a sweep. On both occasions the ball landed safely and the danger level dialled down as they found ways to keep the scoreboard moving. Australia were missing the injured Josh Hazlewood and the isolating Pat Cummins, and even showed a hint of impatience when reviewing Michael Neser’s optimistic lbw shout against Root on 34.

Both bats were raised for brisk half-centuries and the stand eased into three figures, leaving Australia the happier to leave the field at 4.30pm local time. When they returned 40 minutes later they grabbed the game with both hands.

Root’s dismissal started the rot, failing to convert a half-century on Australian soil for the eighth time. He was visibly livid, punching his own bat after following a lifter from Cameron Green and nicking to Steve Smith, but his 62 did continue his prolific 2021. He has now scored 1,606 in the calendar year, surpassing the best tallies of Indian greats Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar as well as Australia’s Michael Clarke to move fourth on the all-time list.

Steve Smith catches Joe Root off the bowling of Cameron Green
Steve Smith catches Joe Root off the bowling of Cameron Green. Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

That placed even more importance on a big score for Malan but, after slashing Mitchell Starc for four, he went looking for more of the same off a tighter line and edged to slip.

Australia had weathered the resistance and assumed complete control. The scoring rate came to a near standstill as England’s middle order buckled badly. Pope’s concerns against spin were thrust into the spotlight as he scampered down the crease at Lyon and flicked a catch straight to Labuschagne for a deeply uncertain five. Buttler’s stay was even worse, adding to his two dropped catches with the gloves by banking a 22-minute duck. The end came with a careless wave of the bat as Starc’s slanted delivery tempted him to feed the cordon.

Ben Stokes was dead set on defence, scoring 12 off 71 balls in the middle session, but when Lyon ended Chris Woakes’s spirited knock of 24 by turning one through the gap between bat and pad he had seen enough.

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Ollie Robinson was lbw for nought before Stokes could open his arms, a towering six off Lyon the pick of several big swings before he was bowled by Green on 34. That left Stuart Broad and James Anderson to face the new ball and the former took a ricochet to the chin as Australia pelted the duo with short stuff.

By the time Broad was last man out, Smith had decided not to enforce the follow-on. That left 17 overs for England to wade through, with a needless run out for David Warner their minimal reward.

Ali Martin’s report from the Adelaide Oval to follow …

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