ENGLAND’s faint hopes of pulling off an Ashes miracle are still alive after an enthralling fourth day at Adelaide Oval.
Australia finished with a lead of 353 after being bundled out for 138 on the stroke of tea. No side has ever chased more than 315 to win a Test in the South Australian capital but the tourists have made a good fist of the challenge so far.
Here are all the talking points from the day’s play.
SMITH’S ‘DISRESPECT’ BLOWS UP IN HIS FACE
Former Australian and Tasmanian fast bowler Brett Geeves said the hosts are paying the price for Steve Smith’s “disrespect” in not enforcing the follow-on on day three.
Smith’s decision to bat again came under fire when the Aussies lost four quick wickets on Monday night as they failed to deal with the swinging pink ball under lights. Now England’s day four resurgence has heaped further pressure on Smith for allowing the visitors back into the match.
Geeves said Smith didn’t properly acknowledge the class of England’s bowlers and over-estimated his own batsmen’s ability when opting against enforcing the follow-on, which has come back to bite him.
“He’s made a blunder, there’s absolutely no question about that,” Geeves said on Fox Sports’ Bill and Boz. “The decision not to send England back in is turning out to be a really strange one and a poor one.
“Largely it’s come off the back of disrespect.
“He thought Australia wouldn’t get dismissed and they’d get the new ball tonight (Tuesday) on the back of a declaration and you’d roll them and it would be happy days.
“But they actually giftwrapped an opportunity for England to have the momentum in the game. They opened it, took it and now they’re actually running with it.”
Australia’s bowling coach David Saker said Smith’s follow-on call might have been a mistake but doesn’t believe he’s “ruing” the decision.
“Steven has obviously made the decision that he felt the guys had bowled enough,” Saker said after play. “In hindsight, we didn’t get an opportunity to bowl with the new ball under lights — that was our chance.
“Maybe we got it wrong. At the end of the Test match we will review that.
“But if come out of this winning the game, which I still think we will, you can say it was justified in some way.”
Smith didn’t consult his bowlers before deciding against the follow-on. “He is obviously frustrated at what has happened but I don’t think he is really ruing the decision,” Saker said.
‘HORSE S**T’: ASHES ‘SHAMBLES’ REARS UGLY HEAD
The Decision Review System (DRS) was once again a hot topic in Adelaide after it took centre stage on day four while Steve Smith also played a starring role.
Technology worked both for and against Australia but regardless of who it favoured, greats of the game were baffled by the guessing game taking place.
Controversy first arrived when Smith challenged a not-out call after Nathan Lyon hit Alastair Cook on the front pad with a full delivery. It looked to be sliding down the leg side but Hawkeye said the ball spun enough at the last moment to be on course to hit the stumps and Cook’s dig was over.
Former Victorian wicketkeeper Darren Berry said there was no way the system could have determined how far the ball was spinning because it was a half volley that gave nobody a good enough look at how much turn was there.
Then England benefited from some good fortune when Joe Root enjoyed a lucky escape. He left a ball from Lyon that didn’t spin as much as he expected and it cannoned into him in front of the stumps, convincing the umpire to raise his finger. Root was deep in his crease and there was no question the line was good — he looked plumb to the naked eye — but Hawkeye showed the ball was bouncing over the top.
Ex-Australian star Cameron White and former England all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenhas took to Twitter to say they didn’t agree with the replays.
Smith’s poor run with the DRS only worsened when he called for two unsuccessful reviews in three deliveries. He mistakenly believed Root inside edged Pat Cummins to wicketkeeper Tim Paine then was undone by Hawkeye’s belief in the extra bounce of the Adelaide Oval deck when Dawid Malan looked like a dead man walking.
Josh Hazlewood smashed Malan’s pad and live it looked like the ball stayed low and was going to crash into the pegs. But Smith and the Australians were denied when Hawkeye once again said there was too much bounce.
Berry fired up again while Tasmanian great Jamie Cox and Test legends Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath questioned the DRS.
“I’m not a huge fan of the DRS. I like the raw emotion you get from taking a wicket. If it is then reviewed, everybody comes down. I’m happy to trust the umpires,” McGrath told the BBC.
ROOT RISES TO THE OCCASION
As if being thumped by 10 wickets in Brisbane wasn’t a bad enough start to your first Ashes series in charge, winning the toss and bowling only to watch the opposition pile on 442 would send you to bed in cold sweats.
Whatever the result in Adelaide, Joe Root’s decision after flipping the coin will remain a talking point. But he can go a long way towards making that chatter irrelevant by guiding his side to victory.
Root was a class above on day four en route to making an unbeaten 67. His strokeplay was crisp and his intent was clear as he showed a bloody minded resolve to establish himself as a roadblock in Australia’s path to victory.
When Peter Handscomb and Tim Paine sledged him late in the final session, he gave as good as he got. When Pat Cummins struck him on the hand with a sharp bouncer he carried on without any fuss.
Victory is still a long way off for the Poms but if Root can spearhead the charge towards the impossible, it will undoubtedly be the finest moment of his career.
“Their captain Joe Root was superb. He showed his class … what an innings it has been for him,” one Channel Nine commentator said.
ANDERSON BREAKS HIS HOODOO
Jimmy Anderson returned to the field after a nasty fall to claim Mitchell Starc’s wicket and pick up his first five-wicket haul in Australia on his fourth Ashes tour.
When Starc skied a drive that was swallowed by Moeen Ali at mid off Anderson finally broke his hoodoo of never dismissing five batsmen in an innings Down Under.
He was outstanding on Monday night, swinging the ball at will to left and right-handers as the Aussies looked helpless against him under lights. But even with a slightly older ball in bright sunshine Anderson was just as threatening.
He beat Peter Handscomb and Nathan Lyon repeatedly on day four, adding seam movement to the movement he routinely generates in the air. Nathan Lyon backed away and spooned him to mid off and the quick was all over Handscomb to the point where he changed his technique mid-innings to try and counteract him.
It didn’t work as the Australian No. 5 guided a ball outside off stump to third slip and when Anderson picked up Starc his five-wicket haul was complete.
HANDSCOMB’S GLARING FAULT
Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes Peter Handscomb’s technique is becoming a liability after another unconvincing Ashes performance.
Handscomb has looked out of sorts on his return to Australian soil after successful stints on the subcontinent and a dream start to his Test career last summer.
The right-hander was out edging to the slips for 12 on day four of the pink ball Ashes Test. His previous nine innings in first-class cricket had yielded an average of 26.
Handscomb’s tendency to bat deep in the crease has left him vulnerable to being trapped LBW, and Vaughan questioned whether it was playing on his mind in Adelaide.
“The one obvious thing is he has just lost trust in his game,” Vaughan said on the Nine Network. “Not too sure what to do with his movements.
“One thing I would say to him, just try to keep the game simple. Make sure that you are still on the release of the ball. Bat out of your crease, don’t bat too far back.”
Speaking after the first Test in Brisbane, Handscomb said he had made adjustments to counter England’s plans.
“I have batted deep in my crease for three years. I am not really that concerned,” he said. “I batted deep last year and managed to hit balls on the stumps and made lots of runs.
“Obviously I have got my plans, I just need to hit the ball, it’s as simple as that.”
It’s unlikely selectors would be panicking about Handscomb’s performance given his average of 47.35 in Tests.
But former England batsman Kevin Pietersen suspected England pacemen Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad had identified Handscomb as a target for dismissal.
“How do you concentrate with the ball when you are battling with your technique?” he said.
“In Test match cricket you’ve got to fiercely compete against the bowler. You’ve got to make the bowler think that you are in control.
“Broad and Anderson were really targeting him … they knew he wasn’t happy with his technique.”
AUSSIES’ UGLY PIECE OF HISTORY
Australia’s second innings of 138 brought with it some unwanted pieces of history for the home side.
Usman Khawaja and Mitchell Starc top scored for Australia with 20 each, which is the lowest ever top score in a completed innings of an Ashes Test in Adelaide.
The hosts’ score is also the lowest in a Test match innings where eight batsmen have reached double figures.
AUSSIES SLAMMED: ‘SHOULDN’T BE ON A CRICKET PITCH’
Former English wicketkeeper Matt Prior says the series’ sledging drama runs deeper than initially thought, revealing the Australians have rattled the tourists with personal jabs.
“There’s a lot that’s gone on that I think the England players are quite upset about, and rightfully from what I’ve heard,” the 35-year-old told BBC radio.
“There’s been a lot of chat on the pitch that hasn’t got anything to do with cricket and quite frankly shouldn’t be on a cricket pitch.
“(It’s) stuff that hasn’t come out for various reasons and whatever it may be.”
Prior said Australia’s senior players have begun to work out what really gets under the Englishmen’s skin.
“Simple sledging doesn’t really work on these top international players,” he said.
“Alastair Cook is not going to be affected by sledging, Steve Smith, Warner, these guys have seen it. So you have to go deeper if you want to try and get a reaction. You have to say something that’s going to be pretty, pretty fiery and potentially personal.”
Former Aussie batsman Michael Hussey hit back at Prior’s comments on Fox Sports before play on day four.
“I was a bit shocked,” Hussey said. “I don’t know what he’s trying to achieve out of all these provocative comments.
“These comments, from afar mind you, you really need to be backing it up. It’s sort of teasing us really, you’ve got to back it up with some hard evidence.
“I’d be very surprised if he’s accurate here. The lines are very clear on the field (and) the umpires are very strict these days.”
Ex-Test paceman Jason Gillespie agreed.
“I’d like to hear some specifics from that,” he said. “He’s obviously heard something, so tell us what it is and then we can make a judgment on it.
“We talk about sledging or mental disintegration — what it’s meant to do is put you off your job, which is to watch the ball and react to it.
“If the opposition can get into the head, well that’s the aim of the game isn’t it?”
Former Aussie batsman Rob Quiney says the sledging dilemma could be solved with a simple tweak from Channel 9.
“I just think before the cricket starts, just put a ‘PG’ or a ‘MA’ rating on it so that it can say please parents be aware that there could be offensive language. Then you’ve covered that base,” he said on SEN Breakfast.
“Its massive. It gives journalists something to write about … people talk about it. Kids at local cricket clubs talk about it, you go to sporties and they ask you, ‘Did Michael Clarke really mean to say that when he said that to Anderson last Ashes when they were out here?’ They love it.”