While Steve Smith again made England the victims of a waking nightmare, a pair of Aussie left handers did their part to bat the tourists into a commanding position on day four of the first Ashes Test yesterday.
Smith’s control over England has become so complete that it needs no further explanation. Just watch and savour.
Instead I’ll focus on two mortals who have taken significant steps in their Test career over the past four days – Travis Head and Matt Wade.
Wade demanded wider attention yesterday due to his rollicking knock of 110 which helped pushed Australia to a lead of 397 after Smith earlier scored his second century of the Test.
What came before Wade’s onslaught, though, was crucial. The Tasmanian was handed a nice platform from which to launch into his aggressive brand of strokeplay thanks to a dogged, disciplined innings by Head.
The South Australian increasingly appears capable of, and willing to absorb pressure. Twice in this Test he has arrived at the crease amid bedlam and quietly constructed an influential knock.
Scores of 35 and 51 don’t leap off the scorecard. Context is key, though, and viewed in context both of those knocks helped sway this Test towards Australia.
On day one Head walked out to the middle tasked with halting a top order collapse and a marauding England attack. His side was 3-35.
The 25-year-old held up England for 80 minutes. Yes, I get it, he made just 35. But that was more than David Warner, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Matt Wade and Tim Paine combined.
He blocked England’s march long enough that the ball had stopped swinging by the time tailenders Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon constructed pivotal stands with Smith.
Head didn’t star like Smith, but did play a role, a valuable role. Yesterday Smith starred once more and Head again played a role, even more valuable this time.
Australia were three wickets down and trailing England by 15 runs when Head began his innings. England were surging towards victory.
Had Head fallen cheaply at this point, Wade would have been dropped into a pressurised situation demanding circumspection, which doesn’t mesh with his cavalier brand of cricket.
Wade, clearly, is at his best when he has the freedom to indulge his instincts, to take on the bowlers. Over the following two-and-a-half hours, Head grafted to ensure Wade would be presented with just such a favourable scenario.
When finally Wade took his guard, the mood of the match had changed dramatically thanks to the 130-run stand between Head and Smith. England looked flat. Soon they looked flatter.
That was due to Wade steamrolling them in tandem with Smith, who by this point was batting in Harlem Globetrotters fashion.
Head’s stonewalling had helped transform England’s attack from rampant to subdued, from cock-a-hoop to ripe for the plucking.
Wade was the right batsman to enter. He had the power to fell a dazed opponent. A couple of crisp cover drives, followed by a flick off his pads helped him sprint to 15 from 14 balls.
With Smith taking the mickey at the other end, Wade’s assertive start meant England had little time to enjoy the wicket of Head – they were immediately under siege.
Wade didn’t get carried away, though. He didn’t start trying to manufacture boundaries, denying England’s bowlers respect.
Instead Wade bided his time, scoring just ten from his next 34 balls, before deciding he was now well placed to hit top gear.
He duly clattered 85 from his next 95 balls. As each of his forceful strokes reached the boundary, England’s hopes of victory diminished.
In this way, there was a Gilchrist-like impact to Wade’s ton. The legendary keeper often finished off opponents that had been softened up by the top six.
Yesterday it was Wade’s turn. And Head should be registered with the assist.