The end of one of the worst tours in England’s history is near. Thank goodness, honestly, because to be in Hobart on the second day of the fifth Test was witnessing a battle unit that almost gave up.
Joe Root and his players have repeatedly talked about ‘badge pride’. It seems clear now that they must have been talking about the Australian badge.
England started the day in the field and ended there, after being sacked in between for 188 in 47.4 overs – not quite the equivalent of a one-day innings, and a lot less entertaining.
Day two of the final Ashes Test in Hobart saw an English batting unit that almost gave up
Ben Stokes shot Mitchell Starc to the rear, where Nathan Lyon caught him
It would be unfair to say that this was their slackest performance in recent weeks. They were finally knocked out for 147 in Brisbane and for 185 and 68 in Melbourne. And another inning is coming.
But it was also not the response ECB chief executive Tom Harrison was looking for when he suggested before the match that England might “come home with some positivity to the test environment”.
With that clarion call in their ears, it was a miracle they couldn’t raise their game. Even in the bad old days of the 1990s, England occasionally won the dead match at the end of the series.
Hobart’s first Ashes Test gave them no such prospect, other than an insane first hour in which they reduced Australia to 12 to three, after which they watched Travis Head push them to all corners of Bellerive Oval.
It was mind-boggling to watch Rory Burns fail to dive to the crease while being run away from a duck
Again England collapsed at the first sign of pressure. Harrison is waiting for a report at the end of the tour from Ashley Giles, the team’s director and performance director Mo Bobat, but the evidence from his own eyes should be enough to draw some troubling conclusions.
The most obvious is what persuaded Harrison to call for a ‘reset’ of a domestic game he’s led for the past seven years: with the exception of Root, the players who supposedly have the cream of the crop of England Percussion represent techniques that are fundamentally flawed, and temperaments not as solid as that.
It was mind-boggling to see how, on his return to the test team – and with a career to play for – Rory Burns failed to dive to the crease after being called off for a risky single by Zak Crawley. Marnus Labuschagne’s pitch beat him to it, sending Burns to his eighth duck in his last 22 Test innings.
Later, Ollie Pope repeatedly fumbled for deliveries from Scott Boland that wouldn’t have hit another set of stumps, until he finally shoved one to Alex Carey. You wondered what he has been doing in the nets since he was left out after the second test. Even Chris Woakes’ 36, the highest score in the innings, required drops on zero and five.
Ollie Pope repeatedly groped at Scott Boland’s deliveries until he finally brought one to Alex Carey
It all meant England were in danger of replicating the 1958-59 low – the only other series of four or more tests in Ashes history in which they failed to reach 300. They lost that series 4-0 and a similar fate now awaits.
Booking their last blow implosion on a day of 17 wickets were two good performances with the ball. In the morning, Australia’s overnight 241 for six 303 went all-out. Later, in the chilly dark of Tasmania, they closed at 37 for three, including the sacking of David Warner for a couple, caught brilliantly by Pope on the back end of his old nemesis Stuart Broad.
But the day was determined by the meat on the bun – or rather the only slice of wafer-thin ham. Even before Burns was up, he survived what the Snickometer suggested was a thin edge in Mitchell Starc’s first over. And it was 29 to two when Crawley was caught via bat and pad on short leg for 18 on Pat Cummins.
On either side of the first break, Dawid Malan and Root threatened to resume their partnership in Brisbane and Adelaide, but Malan saw Cummins down the side of the leg right into Carey’s gloves. The 25 he made was his best score since the first innings of the second Test. Like many of his teammates, he looks exhausted; like more than a few, he must close this tour with a score.
Even Chris Woakes’ 36, the highest score of the innings, required drops on zero and five
Australia’s batters re-emerged with a 115 lead, but lost the third ball to David Warner
That was 78 for three, and it was soon 81 for four when Root was caught up front by a ball from Cummins that swept back and caught him in the crease. The England captain had made 34 – also his average in a run that had started with hopeful tales of a first 100 in Australia, and ended in familiar disappointment.
Moments later, Ben Stokes shot Starc to the back point, where Nathan Lyon dived low to the left: 85 to five, and the game was more or less over.
Pope’s indiscretion made it 110 to six, but at least Sam Billings’ first test delivered an adrenaline rush and half a dozen neatly punched fours. The fun ended with a pull-to-fine leg, before the last three wickets tumbled to six. It was weak, but not unexpected.
Australia’s batters re-emerged with a 115 lead, but lost the third ball to Warner, to complete his second pair in Tests and his 14th layoff by Broad. Labuschagne then tickled Woakes down the side of the leg to make it five to two, and it was 33 to three when Usman Khawaja was unable to swing a ball from Mark Wood that hit over his glove .
But night watchman Boland survived some hairy moments before the close, reaching Australia with a 152 lead. It’s hard to see them screw up from here.
Marnus Labuschagne then tickled Woakes down the side of the leg to make it five for two