Ashes: England bookend latest terrible collapse with glimmers of good cricket in Fifth Test

·4 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

At the top and tail of the second day in Hobart, England did okay. They took four wickets for 62 to end Australia’s first innings on 303, then picked up the top three for 37 in the second. That’s seven for 99.

In those periods, despite Nathan Lyon launching three stunning sixes, there were some good moments for England. Mark Wood picked up three wickets, all with short balls, and one particularly stunning one as Usman Khawaja was bounced out by a brute.

David Warner was dismissed for a pair, his second in seven Ashes Tests, and the 14th time Stuart Broad has got him out. Marnus Labuschagne’s quiet patch of form extended to six innings when Chris Woakes had him caught down the legside. Sam Billings took a couple of fine catches to open his Test account.

The trouble is what happened in between, and England ended day two 152 runs behind, and with little hope of escaping Hobart with the scoreline reading anything but 4-0; or, put another way, one wicket from a whitewash. England had been bowled out for 188 in their first innings, continuing the sorry run of batting form that has seen them fail to reach 300 throughout the southern summer.

It says plenty that, while 188 is an objectively dismal score, it is actually sits bang in the middle of England’s first innings efforts this series, ahead of 147 in Brisbane and 185 in Melbourne. On those occasions, the pitch and the weather made batting hard yakka. It should not have been this time.

This was another desperate batting display in blameless conditions. England started with their new opening pair combining for one of those rare run outs where both batters are at fault, and ended with no man having reached 40, no partnership having reached 50. There was a middle order collapse of three for seven from 21 balls, while the last three went down in just nine sorry deliveries.

There were some dreadful dismissals. Ben Stokes just fired the ball to point for the second time in the series. Ollie Pope fiddled outside off-stump, again. Dawid Malan and Woakes both tamely edged down the legside when set. Billings, having played with spirit on debut, got his hook shot wrong and was caught on the fence.

The worst, in so many ways, was the first. After cycling around with Dom Sibley, Haseeb Hameed and Joe Denly in recent years, this was Rory Burns and Zak Crawley’s first go as England’s opening pair. There is reason to believe – although operating at a low bar – that they might be the best option they have.

It was a dreadful start. There might have been a single there but Zak Crawley set off, then hesitated, then set off again. Rory Burns was flat-footed and never terribly interested in the run; he offered no dive. That left him an inch short when Marnus Labuschagne’s throw from close range on the offside smashed into the stumps.

Burns was gone for a duck, his seventh in 12 months and eighth in 22 innings. By then, he could already have been given out. With the final ball of Mitchell Starc’s first over, Burns appeared to play and miss outside off-stump. There was half an appeal from Australia, but no response from the umpire. For Australia, there was no cost. A six-ball duck remained a six-ball duck.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Crawley flickered, playing some typically attractive strokes. But when Pat Cummins employed a short leg, his inside edge cannoned off the pad and high to Travis Head, who snaffled the catch.

In a neat throwback to the ancient days at the start of this series, it was left to Malan and Joe Root to rebuild. Root led that work, busily finding gaps. Malan had a Burns moment, edging behind on 13 when Australia offered barely an appeal and no review. With the stand worth 49, Cummins found a way through. Malan, not for the first time, was strangled, then Root fell to one that jagged back hard. Stokes’ soft dismissal to Starc was perhaps the lowest ebb. All that application through the pain in Sydney, gone.

That left Pope, recalled two games after being dropped like Burns, and Billings, on debut at the crease, both on zero. It was 85 for five, and avoiding the follow-on did not feel certain, even though just 19 were required.

With some stylish strokes, that pair averted that particular crisis, but Pope was soon gone, unable to resist a grope at Scott Boland. Next ball, Woakes was dropped badly at first slip. On five, he was shelled at first slip. That was the thing about this particular collapse: Australia bowled well, but were not at their sharpest.

Billings then Woakes found ways to get out, before a shambolic showing from the tail. Broad, another to have batted bravely in Sydney, looked as if he could not see the ball, and was bowled off the inside edge for England’s fifth duck of the year. Wood, batting with the injured Ollie Robinson (who would bowl later on), slogged until he was bowled, concluding another sorry innings.

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