The Ashes: Hope springs eternal for England
PUBLISHED: 15:00 28 November 2017
PA Wire/PA Images
It's the hope that kills you.
After three days of attritional Test match cricket which ebbed and flowed, England had every chance of pursuing a first Ashes win in Brisbane since 1986.
In Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Middlesex’s Dawid Malan, three of the heavily scrutinised top five had made impressive half-centuries.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad had recorded combined first innings figures of 5-99 from 54 overs, and England returned to the Gabba on Sunday with star batsman Joe Root at the crease, and realistic hopes of setting up a challenging run chase for their hosts on a wearing day five pitch.
Nathan Lyon had so far failed to end any careers, either.
Yet after a disastrous fourth day which saw England’s batting wilt and Australia openers Cameron Bancroft and David Warner cruise to 116-0 by close, the hosts were on the cusp of a hard-earned – yet ultimately thoroughly convincing – victory.
What is concerning is that England have somehow managed to compete, yet get soundly beaten at the same time.
It’s hard to look past the impact of Australia captain Steve Smith in separating the sides. No fewer than seven English batsmen made scores of more than 38 throughout the match, yet none were able to better Vince’s 83 on the first day.
In stark contrast, Smith was a model of composure and patience as he piled on an imperious 141 not out, combining with the Aussie tailenders to transform their first innings from a perilous 209-7 into 328 all out, and an important lead of 26.
This was the 21st test century of Smith’s career and one of his most impressive yet – you get the feeling that he could still be out there batting now, and England still wouldn’t have found a way to dislodge him.
There are obvious causes for concern; Essex’s Alastair Cook falling for two single-figure scores, the disappointing return from Jake Ball and Chris Woakes, as well as the sideshow of the bizarre incident involving Jonny Bairstow and Bancroft, but I’d much prefer to focus on the positives as the series heads to Adelaide, and the first ever Ashes test match to be played under floodlights.
Much has been made of the conditions and the hope that England’s bowling attack, spearheaded by Anderson, will be able to use the conditions to their advantage.
In Stoneman, England seem to have found the kind of compact, nuggety opening batsman they have craved for so long, while Vince – a player stunningly written off in the build-up to this series – was just 17 away from a century when he was brilliantly run out by chief pantomime villain Lyon on Thursday afternoon.
England let good positions slip in this match and paid a heavy price, but there’s no reason to suggest Anderson and Co won’t get the pink ball swinging under the floodlights, while if the batsmen can follow the example set by Smith – to stay patient, keep a calm head and wait for the bowlers to bowl in their favoured areas – they can put an imposing score on the board.
In the mean time, let’s hope Bristol Police can speed up their enquiries and hopefully clear the way for a certain Ben Stokes to join the fray...