Tom Harrison would probably have described it as a brilliant opportunity to reset and recalibrate, but as tired English cricketers walked off the field at the end of a wicket-packed second day in Hobart, those without the lucky to have the optimism of a general manager could only see their latest situation as hopeless.
That creeping sense of dread had actually started from the start when Nathan Lyon nodded to the UK news cycle by enjoying a rowdy party at No 10. He scored three sixes – including one that flew into the front yard of a nearby house – as the Australian tail wagged, completing an impressive 12-for-three turnover just 24 hours earlier to finally post 303 all in their first innings.
It then fully materialized when Pat Cummins led the final display of fast bowling excellence with the pink ball Kookaburra, the captain’s figures of four for 45 pins in England for a dismal 188 in just 47.4 overs. But for Chris Woakes offering some resistance from No. 8 by taking the top score with 36 – and only after being dropped on zero and five – plus Sam Billings rolling out some classy straights in a first Test run of 29, it would have been much worse.
And finally, after the brooding salmon skies gave way to total darkness, a dizzying day ended with Australia closing 37 for three and a 152 point lead. Stuart Broad completed a pair for David Warner, Woakes strangled Marnus Labuschagne in the leg for five and Mark Wood rebounded Usman Khawaja with a snorter. But Steve Smith was not out at 17, Scott Boland had survived admirably as a night watchman and the Australian venues remained drawn to a 4-0 series win.
Talk of Tasmania looking to get the full value of their $5million staging fee with a so-called GM speech turned out to be a mess by that 17-wicket bargain. There are eight millimeters of chaff on the surface of the Ovale de Bellerive, which, combined with the vagaries of pink ball cricket, offered a lot to the setters. Lyon are the lone frontline spinner on display but have yet to be called up, save for their 31 buccaneers with the bat and a diving catch at the back of Ben Stokes as the England were down three for seven from 21 balls in the probably decisive second session.
Australia call their fast bowlers ‘the cartel’ and they delivered a collective performance that contrasted with England’s on day one. Cummins set the example here – his dismissal of Joe Root lbw for 34 with shredded beauty was arguably the tipping point – and Mitchell Starc, playing his fifth successive Test in the series, went to five years but still wiped out three Englishmen. along the way. And then there were Scott Boland and Cameron Green, two change bowlers who once again delivered control and hostility to their captain.
Australia received a significant advance once Lyon turned a night of 241 for six into a total that topped anything their guests mustered on the entire tour. The new England opening partnership of Zak Crawley and the recalled Rory Burns was separated after just 10 balls, with the former calling a risky single and the latter exhausted by a Labuschagne throw ball from cover. Burns, who had just come off with an unreviewed advantage behind the sixth ball, had recorded his eighth duck in 22 innings. Greater vigilance and/or a dive could have saved him.
Crawley was not innocent and his attempts at atonement delivered just some of the shots seen in his 77 in Sydney and before Cummins found his inside edge on the 18th the ball was cannonaded into his pad and first-inning Centurion Travis Head choked out the short-legged hold. At 29 for two moments before the break, Root had once again joined Dawid Malan to begin the final rescue mission.
The pair found a rhythm similar to the third-wicket stands seen in Brisbane and Adelaide after the start of the second session. And although Malan enjoyed a similar slice of luck to Burns – an advantage behind the 13 off Green not sent upstairs – thoughts of easing the terms began to mount. But refreshed after letting the supporting cast resume initially, Cummins then came back in devastating fashion, strangling Malan in the wicketkeeper’s leg on the 25th – a dismissal he was chasing given the leg slip – then trapping Root in front for leave England 81 for four.
Root’s stated goal of finally securing a century on Australian soil, this series now comes down to one final run off the continent, but personal milestones remain secondary to the cause. Unfortunately for him, the cause was quickly shaken further as Stokes flashed from Starc on four and Lyon dove to his left for a hold only improved for the Athletics when Ollie Pope smothered Warner in the same position late.
Kudos should probably go to Pope for being clear-minded at this stage, having been pushed back into the squad in the absence of the injured Jonny Bairstow and found himself the sixth England wicket to fall before the second interval. The irrepressible Boland harassed outside his stump, eventually finding the edge with one of the many groping shots offered by the right-hander on 14.
Once Woakes overcame drops from Warner and Khawaja in the cordon – Boland the bowler declined twice – from 110 for six, he managed to chisel 72 runs from two stands with first the encouraging and unfazed Billings, then Wood, who generally dropped out for 16 of them. .
But with Billings looking to take on Green and mimic Lyon’s remarkable shots on Wood in the first place, only to choose a long leg and give Green, and Woakes then toned down Starc’s leg, the innings then evaporated and soon it was back to the jobs of the day. for English bowlers who rarely rested.