Just when it looked like Pat Cummins could do no wrong as Test captain, he has been widely criticised after Australia were unable to dismiss England to clinch victory in a thrilling drawn fourth Test at the SCG.
Cummins attracted all sorts of criticism for declaring too late on Saturday and after England survived the spell before stumps, they lost all but one of their 10 wickets on day five to avoid going 4-0 down in the Ashes series.
First-innings centurion Jonny Bairstow and all-rounder Ben Stokes were again the mainstays for England, soaking up 228 deliveries between them before Jack Leach, Stuart Broad and James Anderson managed to survive the last 10.4 overs to avoid defeat.
Leach revived memories of his unbeaten one at Headingley in 2019 when he stuck around with Stokes to win the match but this time it was his resolute defence and a few attacking shots alongside Broad enabling the tourists to repel Australia’s hopes of victory.
With light fading, the umpires instructed Cummins it was too dangerous for pace bowling so Steve Smith bowled two of the final three overs with Nathan Lyon.
He removed Leach – 26 off 34 – with a nick to Warner off the last ball of his first over, leaving last man Anderson and Broad 12 deliveries to block out.
Cummins gave Australia a chance heading into the final hour when he struck twice in the same over to remove keeper Jos Buttler and Mark Wood in the space of three deliveries with searing in-swingers which trapped them both in front.
Who else but Pat Cummins? ????
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 9, 2022
Bairstow went for 41 when Scott Boland grabbed his third wicket when the Englishman inside-edged onto his pad and Marnus Labuschagne snapped up the chance.
Australia’s hopes of completing only the fourth series whitewash in Ashes history are now over when the fifth Test gets underway on Friday in Hobart.
When Cummins declared a few overs after Usman Khawaja reached his second ton for the match late on day four, it meant England were technically chasing a target of 388 but they had little interest in going for an improbable victory as they looked to bat out the remaining time.
The Roar expert, The Bowlologist Damien Fleming wrote in his column after day four that it was “an unnecessarily late declaration”.
His former Test teammate Mark Waugh on Fox Cricket on day five concurred. “They didn’t need to bat as long as they did – 340 was plenty and if they wanted to get to 380 or 400 they should have got there quicker. There was rain forecast. There was a lot of things that said you don’t need to get to 400,” Waugh said.
“[England] have toughed this one out. You want to show fight, courage and discipline – they’ve done that this Test match, England.”
Seven overs were lost earlier on day five due to rain which ultimately proved crucial.
Despite doubling the team’s record this series for first-wicket partnerships at the start of the day, Zak Crawley and Haseeb Hameed fell short of half-century stand.
Hameed surely used up his final chance to save his spot when he snicked Boland through to Alex Carey on nine. He has managed only 80 runs from eight trips to the batting crease with a best effort of 27.
Crawley stood up to the Australian bowling and reached his half-century off just 69 balls, including eight boundaries, ending a 12-innings stretch where he not only didn’t score a 50 but his highest score was also just 27.
Dawid Malan’s run of outs over the past two Tests continued when he chopped on Nathan Lyon on four to leave England teetering at 2-74.
Crawley posted his entry for most optimistic DRS referral for the series when he was trapped in front by a Cameron Green in-swinging yorker on 77. The replay showed the 100th ball of his innings was hitting middle stump not even halfway up.
Crawley scored 77 of England's first 100 runs. In matches where such details have been recorded (most of them, but not all), only once has an England player scored more of the team's first 100 runs in an innings – Gooch, 82, v India, Chennai, 1981-82.
— Andy Zaltzman (@ZaltzCricket) January 9, 2022
At 3-96, England’s two best batters steadied the ship with a 60-run partnership but Joe Root was brought undone by Boland for the third time in the space of two Tests, feathering a nick through to Carey from yet another delivery outside off stump that found the English skipper’s outside edge.
It was the eighth time from as many knocks this series that Root has been caught behind the wicket to the keeper or slips fielders Steve Smith and David Warner.
Speculation is increasing that Ben Stokes will be handed the captaincy reins after this series and the star all-rounder only enhanced his reputation, bringing up his half-century for the second time in the match with a well-timed clip off his pads from Cummins to the boundary.
First-innings centurion Jonny Bairstow dug in with him as Australia’s desperation grew the further the final session dragged on.
Stokes’s 123-ball vigil came to an end when he was on 60 when he was drawn into playing at a Lyon off break but only succeeded in guiding into Smith’s hands at slip.
Only five overs away from the second new ball, Stokes was fuming at himself, swinging his bat back, looking like he wanted to swing wildly before walking off the wicket in a muted state of white-hot rage.
Jos Buttler held up the Australians for 38 deliveries but departed for 11 when Cummins slipped in an in-swinger and then successfully overturned a not out LBW verdict.
It brought Mark Wood to the wicket and a two balls later, he was brought to his knees on the wicket when another vicious Cummins in-swinger painfully thundered onto his front foot.
Bairstow went for 41 when Boland grabbed his third wicket when the Englishman inside-edged onto his pad and Marnus Labuschagne snapped up the chance to set up a tense final hour.
Root confirmed after the match that Buttler would be returning to England instead of playing in the final Test after suffering a hand injury while keeping in the Australian second innings.