The Ashes: England relying on Root to avoid big defeat
PUBLISHED: 08:09 07 January 2018 | UPDATED: 08:09 07 January 2018
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Joe Root’s last stand was all that feasibly stood between England and 4-0 Ashes embarrassment as they diced with a landslide innings defeat at the SCG.
Shaun and Mitch Marsh completed their centuries, finishing respectively with 156 and 101 out of Australia’s monumental first-innings 649-7 on day four of the final Test.
Then Steve Smith’s mid-afternoon declaration put the onus on England to reveal a resilience which has been lacking throughout the winter and they formed no new habits on the way to 93-4, still 210 adrift, despite their captain’s unbeaten 42 from 124 balls.
In extreme conditions, city record 47-degree heat under near cloudless skies, the tourists were softened up by the Marshes, who took their fifth-wicket stand to 169.
By each passing an Ashes century in the same innings, the two sons of former Test opener Geoff were emulating deeds of two previous sets of Australian brothers – the Chappells in 1972 and the Waughs in 2001, both at The Oval.
England’s batsmen were then unsurprisingly vulnerable.
Alastair Cook became only the sixth player in history to pass 12,000 Test runs, but then succumbed to a perfectly-pitched Nathan Lyon off-break which pinned him on the back foot and turned past the outside edge to hit off stump.
Mark Stoneman was already gone by then, lbw on the defence to Mitchell Starc, and James Vince fell in all too typical fashion when he edged Pat Cummins to second slip off the back foot.
Root dug in manfully, battling on after a nasty bang on the finger from Starc.
He lost Dawid Malan lbw to a Lyon arm ball in the last hour, but Jonny Bairstow was skillful enough to help his fellow Yorkshireman at least close out the day.
The morning session was as unequal as any in this conspicuously one-sided series.
It began with Marsh the elder bagging his second century of the winter, cover-driving the fifth ball of the day off Moeen Ali for his 11th four to move from 98 to 102 off 212 deliveries.
England had to look sheepishly elsewhere during the Marsh celebrations, twice over when Mitch repeated the dose – his hundred, also a second in the series, much quicker from just 140 balls and containing 15 fours and two sixes.
Tom Curran briefly interrupted the carnival, though.
The Marshes had almost stranded themselves with a mid-pitch embrace before each hastily making their ground for the two runs which took Mitch to his century; then one ball later, he lost his off stump to one that nipped back.
Australia’s uncompromising means to an end nonetheless continued into the afternoon, as Stuart Broad was left stuck on 399 career wickets and Mason Crane’s experience perhaps encapsulated the tourists’ strife best of all as he recorded the most expensive figures by any English debutant – 48-3-193-1.
There was a symmetry too in that his unwanted record exceeded Devon Malcolm’s at Trent Bridge in 1989 – when Geoff Marsh dished out plenty of the punishment.
Here, Marsh’s eldest son eventually followed the younger back, run out by a direct hit from Stoneman at cover as he responded to a call for a single, before Starc was last out to a miscued slog at Moeen.
The declaration left England with an hour to bat before tea and almost instantly they found a different kind of trouble.