Oof. Up before the 3.20 alarm – just. Quick hot lemon and honey then just as you’re settling, Aleem interveneth.
Cruelly late – and surely influenced by an enormous appeal from Australia (the whole continent) – Dar raises that cruel finger on Woakes.
On review there is clearly no white spot… but snicko suggests a tiny feather: Woakes is gone.
It feels tough and possibly terminal; second ball – SECOND BALL! The locals are horribly rampant. When Root also edges Hazlewood behind, in his very next over, the thing feels over. Despite Moeen’s craft and Bairstow’s quality, the hope not so much gone as annihilated. At 3.38 you do, you confess, think of bed.
Both were straight balls. Woakes then Root beaten by that extra four miles an hour, only – or that and their nerves. The key to the series, right there.
Us cra-zee England fans (contemplating bed) are also thinking maybe Bairstow and Moeen could yet find their flow; battle quietly for half an hour then begin to erode that 170 lead. We know they’re both fabulous players when the juices are flowing and we like to think Smith and co may not deal all that well with purposeful counter-attack. Then Cummins comes on and beats Bairstow all ends up with an 86 mph leg-cutter.
Moeen becomes becalmed. Bairstow looks under pressure – which of course he is. Credit Australia. Cummins and Lyon come in early after Hazlewood and Starc and absolutely maintain the squeeze. Moeen’s response against the latter is to try and break out with a sweep. Clunk. He’s leg before.
So thirty-something minutes in and the match seems done. Likewise the series. Likewise the whole purpose of life.
Given the spike in enmities between the sides, this is a catastrophe unleashed for England. Another humiliation at the hands of some jeering, sneering Aussies. Bottom line is these barsteds are better; or three or four of them are.
Cummins has looked class: quick, skilled, disciplined. Starc has actually been less good than he might have been thus far – which is clearly rather concerning – but he’s winkled people out, nevertheless. Lyon has been all over us. Hazlewood bowled beautifully for that critical first period today. The upshot of the barely credible hoopla and drama of this test has been that their bowlers have smashed us more decisively and predictably than we’ve smashed them.
We’ve barely started but Overton is in; ridiculously. Cummins torments him and then hits him, hard, in the chest. Then Bancroft weakly drops one. There’s a lull but not anything to *actually encourage* the tourists. Wickets simply feel medium-likely instead of immediately inevitable, for about three overs. My god Overton and Bairstow are clearly trying but they’ve not settled; merely survived, to the 200 mark. 200 for 7.
4.52 a.m. Enter the new ball. Starc bowls full at Overton. It shapes in late, in the air – it’s too good. Full enough to be hitting… and the finger goes up. Overton has again earned some respect, for his guts and his stickability but this was a peach. 207 for 8.
Bairstow strikes one of very few confident drives down the ground: four, off Starc. The sun is shining but is it me, or does this seem principally to exaggerate the alarming lustre of that new, pink cherry? The cherry that’s suddenly hooping – comically down leg, for four byes, in the case of a rare loose one from the returning Hazlewood. People, this ball looks unplayable, immediately.
Bairstow has 27. There are 134 runs required to win. Broad faces Starc, who again goes fabulously full. Broad escapes, off the toe-end – twice! This can’t last.
Australia have been excellent, goddammit. Interestingly, too, they’ve chosen to stow away the bouncer almost completely. When Starc has Broad caught behind off a tremendously full delivery, that policy seems entirely wise, as well as creditable. Again there was a touch of swing, again it was too quick for the batsman – so why wouldn’t you bowl that way? Anderson is in for the last rites.
Starc offers Bairstow drives and briefly, he partakes. But then he plays on. England are all out for 233, meaning Australia win by 120 runs. The handshakes seem pretty good-natured.
The inquest, for England will focus on the batting, whilst acknowledging the bowling was poor in that critical first session. Anderson, so often and so rightly lauded for his prodigious, refined skills, bowled distressingly short – embarrassingly short, given his knowledge and experience – and set the tone for chronic underachievement. (Later, he did the opposite and took a deserved 5-fer but that later was what it said on the tin).
One view might be that we gifted an ordinary Australian batting line-up some respite: they gathered and Marsh was able to cash in. A sensational turnabout for the second Aus innings was always going to be against that context and those numbers… and would mean nothing should our batters fail again second time round.
The batsmen did fail. When the big moments came, Australia powered through. Hazlewood found length and bounce. Starc – I maintain, without bowling remotely to his full, frightening capacity – blew people away. Cummins was magnificent and Lyons supremely consistent. On the final day, again, Australia rose to it and England did not.
So what’s to be done? Only if Mark Wood is electrifying in the next ten days or if Stokes becomes available will there be a change amongst the bowlers. (Moeen will not be dropped, I suspect, despite his lack of a contribution so far). They have been fallible but also effective and we probably have none better.
Batting-wise I wondered aloud a fortnight or so ago about Bairstow being hoisted up to three and though that’s a big ask for the lad I return to the thought. Vince has probably carved his way out so there’s juggling to be done. Ballance may add some doughty resistance but my hunch is he’s more likely to do that at five than three. Plus he’s essentially defensive and we’re two down. Hales is a huge talent but you’d probably play him five, not three, if at all. Cook stays, obviously but gets the general bollocking about playing nothing you don’t need to play. The coach has work to do.
If Bairstow does go up the order, does Foakes play? Not necessarily, in my view. Bairstow is so bloody fit and temperamentally such a gem that I don’t think there’s a concern around his extra workload. But only the coach, seeing Foakes in the environment, seeing Bairstow’s energy (or otherwise) can judge that. (Incidentally, only the coach can bully the other possible, significant change – stick Root in at three).
If I’m calling it I put Bairstow to three and bring in Hales – we’re going to have to attack to win matches, right? Hales can do that blazing away thing – if he can ever get in.
I don’t personally foresee a whitewash here, despite the consistent failure (do we call it capitulation?) during those key moments. The thing that might change that is if Starc gets to his absolute peak. So far Australia have been too good without Starc finding his scariest, most unplayable best. God help us if he does.