Steve Smith is one step closer to completing one of the most remarkable individual Test series in living memory, bludgeoning a quick-fire 82 late on day four to accelerate the visitors to 6-186 – a lead of 382. Pat Cummins then took two wickets in the first over of the hosts’ fourth innings, to leave them 2-18 at stumps. They have a full day to negotiate, with just eight wickets in hand if they are to save this Test.
Australia and England look set to enter into another day five Ashes thriller as a result.
Mitchell Starc (3-80), Josh Hazlewood (4-57) and Pat Cummins (3-60) shared the wickets for the visitors as they wrapped up England’s innings on day four, whilst Jofra Archer (3-40) and Stuart Broad (2-54) were the pick of the English bowlers in Australia’s brief second innings dig.
David Warner was dismissed for his third consecutive duck, and Marcus Harris (6) also failed, in worrying signs for the visitors, as Australia’s top order issues showed no signs of correcting themselves.
Earlier, day four got underway well for the visitors, when a much improved Mitchell Starc (3-80) castled English wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow (17) to have the hosts 6-228.
Starc shatters stumps on Day 4
The Australian left-arm quick was benefiting greatly from more control and some late in-swing, and he utilised both of those measures to remove the dangerous Ben Stokes (27) just four overs later.
With Jos Buttler (41) and Jofra Archer (1) at the crease, the latter drew the mire of ex-English captain David Gower with his bizarre first-ball single.
Facing Mitchell Starc with his first ball at the crease, Archer tucked a ball off his hip to square leg, before setting off on a leisurely jog. Quickly, Archer realised he may be in some strife, scurrying the last few yards, with replays showing he would have been caught well short of his ground with a direct hit.
Archer’s lax first ball effort
Gower was bemused on air.
“Just for a moment, Jofra Archer forgot that you do actually have to run your runs as well,” Gower said.
“If that throw was a little bit straighter, it would have caused huge embarrassment.”
“Two words. Wake up,” he finished.
Archer did not wake up. Flashing loosely at Cummins and Starc, the former had Archer caught behind soon after for just one.
At that point, Australia had England 8-256.
Stuart Broad (5) came and went, before a flurry of boundaries from Buttler saw England all out for 301, squeaking past the magic 297 follow-on figure in the process.
Australia would have to bat again.
With an emphasis on quick runs and positive, energetic cricket, David Warner (0) and Marcus Harris (6) had a golden opportunity to reverse their ill-fortunes in the series to date.
However, as is becoming essentially script-like through the first four Tests, both openers were removed quickly to Stuart Broad (2-54) to leave Australia teetering at 2-16. It was also Warner’s third straight duck, and the sixth time Broad has dismissed him in this series.
2-16 quickly became 4-44 after Marnus Labuschagne (11) and Travis Head (12) both fell victim to Jofra Archer (3-45)
Then, Matthew Wade (34) joined Steve Smith (82) and the pair batted beautifully together, counter-punching and slowly accelerating, as they swung the pressure back on the English attack.
Steve Smith continued to do Steve Smith things, and brought up his ninth consecutive Ashes 50+ score, off just 62 balls. Australia led by 301, with two hours left in the day’s play at that stage.
Eventually, Smith was dismissed for 82, unselfishly chasing quick runs, but not before he and Wade had combined for a 104-run partnership.
“He (Smith) could have knocked it around and got another hundred,” Mark Taylor said live on air.
“It shows you how much the Ashes means to him, and how selfless he is to try and chase those quick runs and not worry about his wicket.”
Wade departed in the next over with the score at 6-158, and at that point there was an hour left in the day’s scheduled play. Commentators watched the Australian changing room with interest, waiting to see when the inevitable declaration would come.
Paine added 23 quick runs before drawing the innings to a voluntary close, the declaration coming with Australia 6-186, leading by 382.
Rory Burns and Joe Denly were tasked with seven overs to face before stumps, and things started in the worst possible fashion for the hosts – Burns removed by Cummins with just the third ball of the innings for a duck.
Then, with one of the balls of the series, Cummins dismissed captain Joe Root for a golden duck with the very next ball, the score 2-0 at the end of the first over.
Jason Roy was demoted from opening to number four for this Test, but he was in in the first over, and he and Denly saw England through to stumps, without the loss of another wicket. It was 2-18 when the umpires called time.
So, as it was at Headingley, a day five thriller looms. Australia need to win only this Test to retain the urn. England will have quiet cause for optimism after the last-day heroics of that very Test, but if the visiting team have learnt from the ghosts of games past, this time tomorrow, the visiting public could be reading a summary of how Australia finally retained the Ashes under golden skies at Old Trafford.