Plenty of selection headaches to come…
After another Headingley miracle – come on, England, get another trick already – the Ashes were locked at 1-1 apiece as both teams headed to Old Trafford in Manchester.
Here are the ratings for the Fourth Ashes Test.
Steve Smith’s First Innings
Australia won the toss and Stuart Broad panicked early, dismissing David Warner and Marcus Harris to foolishly bring Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne together at the crease.
The partnership between Australia’s two best batsmen saw the visitors recover from 2/28 to 3/144 before Labuschagne was bowled by Craig Overton. The thing I like about Overton is that he not only bowls a ‘heavy ball’ but his name tells you how heavy it is.
But nothing could stop Steve Smith. He brought up his half century with a remarkable stroke where he threw himself at a ball outside off stump, full stretch at a 45 degree angle, back leg down on one knee while his front leg was still stuck back in front of the off stump, as if it had been handcuffed there to make batting more of a challenge for him.
Very normal Earthling cricket shot.
Rain Delay Viewing
The one thing that could stop Steve Smith’s run-scoring was the rain, which arrived after lunch on the first day.
In a somewhat startling move, Channel Nine decided to use the rain delay to shed themselves of every Australian viewer who had been watching the Test match to that point.
They replayed Ben Stokes’ absurd match-winning innings from the previous Test, just in case it hadn’t already been brutally seared into every Australian fan’s memories ten days earlier.
By the time the rain returned on the third day, somebody at Nine had apparently checked the ratings on that first day and scheduled a different replay to fill the time. This time, it was instead a 1990s Ashes Test match.
Which one? That one England lost. Yeah, that one.
Steve Smith’s Second Innings
After reaching a century and moving on to 118, Steve Smith was then dismissed by Jack Leach, caught at slip by Ben Stokes.
This was to be expected. Leach had been brought into the side precisely because of Smith’s statistically determined weakness against left-arm spin bowling. And so it had come to pass.
Except it turned out that Smith’s weakness was more specifically against left-arm spin no-ball bowling. Because the replay showed that Leach had inexplicably overstepped and Smith was allowed to start again.
Inevitably, Smith then added almost another hundred runs in this second innings he’d been gifted. Because, of course he did. So inexorable was his surge to 200 and beyond that at one point, Stokes sensibly gave up bowling after five balls of an over and left the field with a shoulder injury.
Leach completed the over for Stokes. And, of course, he didn’t take Smith’s wicket. Which means we can think of the over as a Stokes-Leach partnership where Leach contributed a vital one not out.
Steve Smith’s batting tactics have now become so advanced that when he did finally fall for 211 across his two innings, he deliberately chose to lose his wicket reverse-sweeping Joe Root.
This was the second time in Smith’s career he’d been dismissed that way, which no doubt ensures that in future innings, England’s statistical analysis will compel Root to bowl himself to Smith as much as possible.
Fourth-dimensional chess from Smith.
Recovering From Disappointment
In reply, England stumbled to 5/200 at the end of the second day. Mitchell Starc in his return to the side proved disappointing with the ball, with his sole highlight being a delivery that crashed into Joe Root’s box and shattered it.
Understanding the pressure that Starc was under to get it right on the third morning, Ricky Ponting in commentary advised the left-arm quick to not look for a ‘miracle ball’ early. (Coincidentally, ‘Miracle Ball’ is what Root dubbed the testicle that survived Starc’s delivery the previous day.)
Starc didn’t listen to his former captain, however, dismissing both set batsmen and finishing with 3/80 as England just avoided the follow-on.
Also hoping to recover from earlier disappointment was David Warner, who had been dismissed by Stuart Broad for a duck in the first innings. Warner had less success in bouncing back than Starc did, however, trapped for another duck by Broad, his third in a row.
Could it be that Warner is, in fact, still suspended?
Still, Smith and Warner are averaging a combined 57.69 since their return from suspension to Test cricket. Excellent work from the pair of them.
Steve Smith’s Third Innings
Warner’s dismissal triggered a collapse for Australia, as they fell to 4/44 following hostile spells from Broad and Jofra Archer.
But Smith was still at the crease, now into his groundbreaking third innings of the Test. This time he made 82 bonkers runs from 92 deliveries with some typically mad Smith declaration batting, playing shots wherever he pleased as he helped Australia to a 382 run lead before the declaration came.
One of the things I love most about declaration batting is that, in general, the faster you approach your target, the easier batting seems, which means you must then consider setting a bigger target. It’s a wonder teams are ever able to declare at all. It’s the cricket version of a Zeno’s paradox.
But 382 was plenty. Despite strong England resistance on the fifth day, Australia won the Test and retained the Ashes, as the vital website www.whohastheashes.com will confirm.