Five talking points from Day 4 in Adelaide

Eddie Otto Roar Pro

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    One day remains in the second Ashes Test and Australia’s position is suddenly looking a lot less secure. Here are all the key points from Day 4.

    1. Test on a knife-edge as England storm back
    The momentum and direction of the whole Ashes series comes down to the final day in Adelaide, as England got back into a Test which they had been dominated for nearly three days.

    If England lose, at 2-0, the series is effectively over with the WACA never a happy hunting ground for the visitors. However, if they can pull off this victory and get to 1-all, Australia will be shell-shocked and the momentum might shift.

    I was very wrong about the direction this game was heading halfway through Day 3. England looked a bedraggled mess and I had all but written them off, not only for the game but for the series.

    However, after fighting back on the third night by picking up four wickets, England dominated yesterday’s play to set up a frenetic finish which seemed impossible when they were bundled out 215 runs behind Australia’s first innings score.

    Yet, here they are heading into a much anticipated Day 5 at 4/176, requiring another 178 runs for what would be a famous come-from-behind win.

    After a James Anderson five-wicket haul saw Australia knocked over for just 138, England showed real character with the bat as Mark Stoneman counter-attacked early, before Joe Root and the middle order held things together in a testing night session to frustrate an increasingly desperate Australia.

    England's James Anderson, centre, celebrates taking a wicket

    (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

    2. Steve Smith has a couple of days to forget
    Words like ‘arrogant’ and ‘disrespect’ have been bandied about regarding Steve Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow-on.

    However, it was more circumspect then brazen or cocky. If anything, asking the opposition to follow-on is usually the ultimate sign of disrespect. Steve Smith has always been an emotional leader and worn his heart on his sleeve.

    That’s a good trait for a leader, however, there are times when that body language can come across as panic, and that panic can spread among the team. Smith didn’t look fully in control of his team last night, and his fumbled catches and failed reviews displayed that of a man feeling the pressure of a match where momentum had stunningly shifted against his team.

    Australia needed a steady hand last night after there was panic about Smith and his team earlier in the day with the bat. His body language displayed that of a man frustrated and concerned that things seemed to be slipping away from an impregnable position.

    While I’m not as critical as others of Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow-on, the fact his side were bundled out and allowed England to wrest back the momentum by batting their first 35 overs in better batting conditions than Australia experienced would have played heavily on his mind.

    Smith had an absolute nightmare with the review system, frittering away Australia’s two reviews in less than an over on two very marginal decisions.

    While players are not umpires, both appeals looked less than convincing and for Smith to go upstairs twice showed an element of desperation and panic had set in after he failed to go upstairs earlier in the innings which would have led to the departure of Alastair Cook.

    Smith will know with a win today everything is bright and rosy at 2-0. However, he would have had a restless night’s sleep, knowing a loss will bring about plenty of inquisition.

    3. Joe Root the man for the big occasion
    Big players love the big moments and Joe Root would have felt he owed his team here. It’s been a chastising opening to the series for Root with his decision to bowl first, mixed in with his own batting and his team’s struggles to get going.

    However, you will need to go a long way to find a better 67 not out than what he produced under lights last night when his team needed it most.

    Root should be classified alongside Virat Kohli and Steve Smith as the equal best three players in the world. That was on display last night when Australia threw everything at him only to be met with stubborn resistance as well as some classical stroke play off both the front and back foot.

    Root defended as if his life depended on it, and was the only England player to break the spell Nathan Lyon has on this team by sweeping a couple of times to the boundary.

    While Root will have won all the plaudits last night, put simply, he needs to score 150 and play the innings of his career to steer his side home.

    Joe Root

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    4. Day-Night delight
    I was half questioning the hype about day-night Test matches after the first couple of nights proved a bit of a fizzer.

    However, the last two nights have been Test match cricket at its very best. With a nail-biting Day 5 finish the perfect scenario, this has been another fantastic advertisement for the concept. The Test match has now brought in almost 174,000 fans over four days, which is the largest attendance for an Adelaide Test since Bodyline in 1933.

    With a gold coin donation gaining entry to Day 5, it’s set for a blockbuster finish which this series needed after a largely one-sided opening Test and a half.

    The Barmy Army were out in full force last night, and a captivated crowd were hanging on every ball, such was the tension of the contest.

    What I love most about the day-night Test matches is the extra layer of strategy the night time session produces. Tests are better when the ball swings and seams and while the batsmen might not agree, from a viewer’s standpoint it’s must-watch.

    5. Australia still favourites from here
    I still have this match about 70-30 in Australia’s favour. The bookies tend to agree with Australia short in the market at $1.28, while England remains a roughy price in a two-horse race at $3.50.

    The Australian quicks need to get in England’s face today and let them know this is eleven against two in the field.

    For a much-hyped pace attack, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were well below their best yesterday and surprisingly passive in their body language. Pat Cummins was the best of the quicks and bowled without luck for the most part, while Australia was held together by another fantastic spell from Nathan Lyon.

    Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow need to attack Lyon and try and get him off his relentless line and length. We saw Alastair Cook go into his shell and that created problems not only for him, but at the other end, as the pressure fell on Stoneman to break the shackles.

    Ali and Bairstow are both excellent stroke makers and capable of using their feet to Lyon. If they can take him out of the attack, Australia might just lose the control they are banking on.