JOE ROOT insists England are still “massively” in the Ashes series despite falling 2-0 behind with a 120-run defeat in the second Test.
England arrived on the final day at the Adelaide Oval with an outside chance of sustaining their revival in the inaugural pink-ball Ashes encounter.
But after conceding a 215-run first-innings deficit, even James Anderson’s maiden five-wicket haul in Australia and then a battling half-century from the England captain himself could not truly turn back the tide.
Root was unbeaten at stumps on the penultimate night, with 178 still needed and six wickets intact to pull off a national-record run chase of 354 to level the series.
Instead, he followed nightwatchman Chris Woakes back as Josh Hazlewood twice struck early and then Mitchell Starc (5-88) was the enforcer who ensured England were bowled out for 233 well before tea.
Root and coach Trevor Bayliss are nonetheless in agreement that, even from 2-0 down with three to play, England can still retain the urn.
“It is obviously very disappointing now,” said the captain, who “strongly disagrees” with anyone currently predicting a second successive 5-0 whitewash defeat Down Under.
“I thought the way we responded both with ball and bat in the second innings was outstanding, especially the way we played last night in those conditions.
“I thought we showed a lot of character, which is what you want to see in big series like this.”
If we can get that right and perform to our ability for longer periods of time we will win games, simple as that.England captain Joe Root
England’s problem, he concedes, is that they must sustain their best cricket for longer to win Tests, though he does not equate this winter’s struggle so far with the 5-0 defeat four years ago.
“The way we went about the second innings proved to everyone really we are still massively in this series,” Root added.
“We have shown throughout the two games that for periods we can out-perform Australia, but just not for five days, and that is going to be our challenge. If we can get that right and perform to our ability for longer periods of time we will win games, simple as that.
“The belief in the dressing room is definitely there. I don’t think we are in a situation that we were last time we were here.”
Bayliss, who anticipates fielding an unchanged team for the third Test in Perth, is also still talking a good game.
“We are certainly not going to give up and go home – we’ve got three more Tests,” he said.
“If we keep playing the way we are, I think there’s enough frailties in the Australian team ... that we can exploit that. They are certainly beatable.”
Root’s opposite number Steve Smith endured some fair flak for his decision not to enforce the follow-on here, and admitted England did have him a little worried.
“I had to have a sleeping pill last night,” he said.
“I was a little bit nervous at the end of play.
“It’s been a pretty tough 24 hours ... they fought very hard and gave us a little fright overnight.”
Even so, he does not give great credence to a series fightback from the tourists.
“It’s always tough coming back from 2-0 down, especially when you’re away from home,” added Smith. “You can only be one or two bad sessions away from losing the series. I think that can play on people’s minds.”
On the resumption, at 176-4, the Barmy Army was still singing Jerusalem when Woakes got the thinnest of edges behind to a very good delivery.
In Hazlewood’s next over, Root was also caught-behind – departing like Woakes without addition to his overnight score.
Both had succumbed to significant movement off the pitch, not previously evident in this match, and Hazlewood kept getting the ball to dart around against new batsmen Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow too.
It was Moeen’s off-spin opposite number Nathan Lyon who would account for him, though, for the second time in the match and fourth out of four in the series.
In the first innings, Lyon had pulled off a crowd-pleasing caught-and-bowled from a tame chip back too close to him; second time round, Moeen missed a sweep and had to go lbw after chancing his team’s second review in vain.
England had therefore lost four wickets for 19 runs, dating back to Dawid Malan’s dismissal late on Tuesday night.
Debutant Craig Overton survived on five when Cameron Bancroft could not hold a very sharp chance off Pat Cummins, wearing a helmet at an advanced third slip, but got little further before Starc pinned him lbw in the crease with the second new ball.
For the record, Starc bagged Stuart Broad caught-behind and Bairstow was last out chopping on to his former Yorkshire team-mate.