Australia retained the Ashes after a gripping last day at Old Trafford, despite a defiant effort from England who were eventually bowled out for 197.
Australia make morning breakthroughs
Australia were made to sweat towards the end by yet another valiant Jack Leach rearguard alongside an even more resilient Craig Overton, but ultimately it was too much for England’s bespectacled hero of the third test, as well as the batting order ahead of him.
The hosts began the day in an almost impossible position having lost Rory Burns and captain Joe Root yesterday to a surgical spell of bowling from Pat Cummins, but resistance in the form of Joe Denly and Jason Roy gave England hope in the first hour.
That partnership, which had taken England from 0-2 to 66-2, was broken when Cummins bowled Roy through the gate for 31. A frustratingly familiar dismissal brought relief to an increasingly tense Australia.
Ben Stokes, the hero of Headingley, was next to go as Cummins picked up his fourth, finding the edge through to Tim Paine as Stokes tried to leave. Umpire Marais Erasmus was unmoved at first, but Stokes walked in the knowledge that a review would send him on his way regardless. 87-4, and in the space of half an hour England’s chances had gone from faint to threadbare.
Denly leads the way
At the other end, Denly had once again played a gritty, composed knock and seen himself through to lunch. The makeshift opener had played Nathan Lyon well, been solid in defence and admittedly ridden his luck- no more so than when he slashed Mitchell Starc over third slip for England’s first scare of the morning. He and Jonny Bairstow would see England through to lunch, and the home camp could only look to take encouragement from how the first 90 minutes had played out.
Denly had played some nice shots off the pace bowlers too, and brought his 50 up with a textbook drive off Cummins, but it would be Lyon who brought about his eventual dismissal 20 minutes after the restart. A largely underwhelming spell ended with Lyon finally managing to find a Starc footmark, and then the glove of Denly for the ball to be snaffled at short leg.
Bairstow and Buttler give England hope
His wicket brought Jos Buttler to the crease and for a while he and Bairstow looked to have things under control on a pitch that was lively one minute and rather sedate the next. The pair, two of many under scrutiny amongst England’s batting line up, held firm against a carousel of Australian bowling, with Paine making nine changes in 14 overs at one point in an attempt to break through.
The partnership was ticking along without much to alarm the batsmen when Starc, scattergun in the morning session, was switched to the James Anderson end. He found his mark and Bairstow was trapped in front by a length ball tailing in- a review confirmed it was just clipping the top of middle. That brought Craig Overton - a surprise selection in place of Chris Woakes- to the crease, and another gutsy partnership would ensue.
Dogged tailenders take England close
Overton and Buttler would survive for 21 overs without much scare beyond an overturned lbw decision that would have caused controversy had the impact on Overton been in-line. He had practically middled the ball onto his pad, but somehow the third umpire Ruchira Palliyaguruge decided there was inconclusive evidence that bat was involved. Hawkeye made that academical.
It would take a changed ball -and some cunning from Josh Hazlewood- for a somewhat lifeless looking Australia to make the breakthrough. Having sent some comfortably dealt with short deliveries down, he posted a man either side of Buttler, who had survived for 110 balls by this point. Given that, it was going to take something quite brilliant to surprise him, and the doubt caused by the two close catchers was enough as he shouldered arms to a length ball that nipped back enough to crash into the top of off stump.
Jofra Archer will one day show his talent with the bat, but realistically it was never going to be today- he lasted just nine balls for just one run before Lyon got one to turn and keep low, trapping him in front. That did little, if anything, to dampen the spirits of the near sell out crowd, who still believed- with good reason as Leach strode to the crease.
Leach would have to survive for a lot longer than 17 balls this time around but he rarely looked in trouble, playing Lyon with relative ease and frustrating the pacers. He looked as comfortable as he did in that Headingley knock, perhaps even more so, and with Overton in almost complete control at the other end, what should have been an impossible escape looked like it might just happen.
Leach rarely looked in trouble, that is, until he was. Marnus Labuschagne, who has added a degree of competence to Australia’s non-Steve Smith batting this series, was chucked the ball for the second time today more in hope than expectation. He delivered with his fifth ball, landing one in the rough outside Leach’s off stump and getting it to rear up and in off the gloves to short leg. England’s last realistic hope of resistance was gone.
Australia finish the job
It didn’t take long for Australia to wrap up proceedings. In the third ball of the 91st over Hazlewood nipped one back in to trap Overton in front, whose review was as defiant as his 105 ball innings but ultimately fruitless.
Joy for Australia- a first successful Ashes tour since 2003, inspired by the unstoppable Smith- but for England a long few months of introspection must take place before they set off to New Zealand.