Root has demand for Ashes resilience rewarded

HAD a funny old dream last night.

England's James Anderson and Stuart Broad celebrate after holding out for a draw in the fourth Ashes Test match in Sydney. Picture: PA.
England's James Anderson and Stuart Broad celebrate after holding out for a draw in the fourth Ashes Test match in Sydney. Picture: PA.

England held on to save the fourth Test with nine wickets down.

The details are a little sketchy, but James Anderson and Stuart Broad completed the escape in dramatic style.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It meant that there was no Ashes whitewash for the tourists, who headed into the final Test in Hobart still 3-0 down.

England's James Anderson and Stuart Broad celebrate. Picture: PA.

Levity aside, it certainly felt like a dream.

Readers waking up on a cold Sunday morning perhaps felt that way too.

At last, a bit of fight, a bit of spunk, from the visiting team.

Although it does not completely erase the nightmare of what went before, it was at least something to cling on to, something to take forward.

England's Ben Stokes reacts after being dismissed by Australia's Nathan Lyon.

Of course, no-one should get carried away about drawing a Test with nine wickets down.

Australia did that when they survived at Old Trafford in 2005, a spectacle that England used as extra motivation to go and take the greatest of all series.

Joe Root did not lead a somersault parade in the dressing room when Anderson patted back the final ball bowled by Steve Smith, to whose part-time leg-spin Australia had been forced to turn in gloomy light.

There were no high-fives, back-slaps, air-punches and so on (at least not in public view, anyway), just lots of low-key smiles and handshakes befitting the fact that it could, so easily, have gone the other way.

England's Zak Crawley walks off after being dismissed.

That it did not was down, on a tense final day at the Sydney Cricket Ground, to the resilience and determination that Root had demanded prior to the game.

This series has exposed a stark gulf in class between the teams (greater, perhaps, than some of us had anticipated), but the least that England fans expect is a bit of the over-my-dead-body attitude that was witnessed yesterday, exemplified by Broad and Anderson at the finish, who survived the final 12 balls, and by a heart-warming show of collective fortitude.

Anderson it was who combined with Monty Panesar to save an Ashes Test at Cardiff in 2009, only to suffer the opposite emotion when he was last man out to the penultimate ball of the Sri Lanka Test at Headingley in 2014.

He is, in other words, an old hand at such things.

After England lost Jonny Bairstow yesterday, their last recognised batsman, for a fine 41 to go with his first innings hundred, there were eight wickets down and 64 balls left, at which stage the wise money was on Australia.

But Jack Leach ate up 34 balls and scrapped for over an hour, Broad battled for 35 deliveries and for just under an hour, and Anderson saw off the last six “rocks”, as Shane Warne describes them, while England held its breath.

As the post-mortems continue, some feel that Australia could perhaps have declared earlier in their second innings and/or batted with a tad more purpose, and they were certainly hampered by the loss of seven overs to rain on the final day which might have made all the difference.

But the ‘ifs and buts’ should not mask the fact that they also dropped six chances – including three on day five – and took a wicket with a no-ball, unforced errors of their own making.

Smith’s reprieve of Bairstow in the slips on 28 was one such moment, eating up time and deflating home spirits.

Bairstow, in fact, rather summed up England’s efforts in this fixture.

Fighting for his Test future, as well as for the team, he played magnificently despite copping a painful blow on the thumb in the first innings that makes him a doubt for the match in Hobart along with Ben Stokes, who injured his side while banging down short balls.

Stokes, too, had a good game, adding 60 yesterday to his first innings 66 and showing plenty of courage considering his injury.

It was perhaps typical and indeed unsurprising that when the chips were down with England 3-0 down, Bairstow and Stokes were the men to the fore: they can look back on this match with a great deal of pride.

Ditto Zak Crawley, who top-scored with 77 after England had been set a notional 388 to win, reaching a closing total of 270-9.

Crawley has yet to completely shake off the air of a one-innings wonder, the gloss of his 267 against Pakistan at Southampton in August, 2020 having somewhat worn off.

It remains his only Test hundred and was followed by scores prior to yesterday’s effort of 9, 8, 5, 13, 53, 0, 9, 5, 2, 2, 0, 17, 27, 6, 12, 5 and 18.

Those figures suggest that there is plenty to work on but there is something about Crawley, his technique and temperament, that augurs well.

At just under 24, he certainly has time on his side and not too many rivals for a place at the top of the order, where the cupboard remains depressingly bare.

Poor old Haseeb Hameed, his opening partner, looks like the remnants of a clay pigeon on a country estate – in other words, shot. Hameed’s scores in this series are 25, 27, 6, 0, 0, 7, 6 and 9. It can only be the sympathy vote that keeps him in the team.

After two low scores in Sydney for Dawid Malan and also for Root, England were indebted to Bairstow and Stokes for doing the bulk of the heavy lifting as Australia’s victory-hunters were kept at bay.

Buttler, who is flying home with a finger injury, toughed it out for 40 minutes before his departure was followed two balls later by that of Mark Wood, which left England 218-7 with 17 overs left.

Defeat was duly averted but there is perhaps no greater indication of the gulf in class between the teams than the curious case of Usman Khawaja.

The 35-year-old left-hander, whose previous Test was one you may remember featuring a certain Stokes at Headingley in 2019, scored 137 and 101 not out after returning to the side in place of Travis Head (Covid).

Head scored 152 in the first Test and, on paper, deserves to come back into the team this week.

But Khawaja, named man-of-the-match, does not deserve to miss out either, so perhaps opener Marcus Harris will get the chop.