So I’ve had a couple of beers. I’ve got a third on the go. And it’s time for me to update the blog. I doubt this will be my most coherent effort but the time feels right. After all, the Ashes feel like they’re slipping away once again.
We’ve been here before, of course, but I doubt even Ben Stokes at his best can get England out of this hole. And Joe Root has already been dismissed so I’m not sure who else is going to make the runs. I suspect this hole will soon become our grave.
I don’t want to sound too fatalistic but I suspected we’d be in this position once Australia made nearly 500 and the ball was already turning. The only surprise is that Nathan Lyon hasn’t done much damage. But who needs a top spinner when you’ve got Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, and Mitchell Starc to take the wickets?
This Australian bowling attack is a good one. There’s no disputing that. So England’s first innings total of 301 wasn’t too bad in the circumstances. Root found some form – although I wish he’d find it more often and for longer – and Rory Burns continued to defy his critics. I think he’s shown enough in this series to warrant an extended run in the side. He’s got guts and can get his head down.
The problem is that we don’t have enough players like Burns. Everyone knows it. And I suspect it’s beginning to dawn on England’s players too. Collectively we’re just not good enough.
Jonny Bairstow is out of form, Ben Stokes is mercurial, Jos Buttler is finding the step up in class against Australia tough, and as for Jason Roy … well, the least said the better. He might well score some runs tomorrow – every dog has its day – but rarely has a much hyped prospect looked so out of his depth.
The only good news today was that we managed, somehow, thanks to some poor umpiring and a bit of luck, to avoid the follow on. This helped our survival chances quite a lot because Tim Paine was bound to be cautious with his declaration after Leeds. He needn’t have been so cautious on this surface but it didn’t seem to matter once Pat Cummins had torpedoed our first innings heroes in his opening over.
In many ways today was classic England. We lost wickets, scraped the follow on target, and then briefly got everyone excited by reducing Australia to 44-4.
Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer bowled superbly well, but for a minute every patron in the ground seemed to forget that Australia were actually 240-4 when you added their first innings lead. In reality Australia already had too many runs on the board.
The prospect of England repeating Leeds was always an illusion. This pitch isn’t like Headingley where the surface improved as the game went on. This one is deteriorating slightly. And with Steve FFS Smith still at the crease reality soon began to bite hard.
How does Smith do it? I still have no idea. His pads are always covering the stumps, so he knows exactly what he can leave, but he has an uncanny knack of scoring off any delivery that’s straight. You think the bowler has a hope as the ball’s honing in on his pads – especially as some part of the stumps is usually visible thanks to his quirky feet – but somehow the bat always comes down in time to deflect the ball away.
Many batsmen have played this way in the past – Javed Miandad and Mohammad Azharuddin immediately spring to mind – but they occasionally missed those straight balls. This gave the bowlers a chance.
Smith, on the other hand, never misses. He’s super human. His innings of 82 today extinguished any lingering hopes England’s most optimistic supporters might have had, but it was a relative failure for Smith in the context of his remarkable run of scores. I can only conclude that he’s a complete and utter bastard!
So can England bat out day 5? I’m afraid the weather seems unlikely to help us. Roy might biff a few, Stokes might bat out some overs, Bairstow might score a pugnacious thirty odd, and Jos will probably get his head down for a while, but overall I can’t see us pulling off another miracle with our longish tail.
I hate to say it folks, but I think today really was the day we kissed the Ashes goodbye. But we can have no complaints if that’s what transpires tomorrow. The ECB have prioritised white ball cricket over the last four years so they’ve made our bed.
Now we have to lie in it.