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Ashes: England defeated in Fifth Test after promising run chase dashed by desperate collapse

·3-min read

There was a moment, not long before the tea break, when England fans naively allowed themselves to dream that their batting line-up could chase down 271 against this Australia attack, which has so tormented them all summer.

England, especially Mark Wood, with career-best figures of six for 37, had worked mighty hard to keep that target as low as it was and the openers, improbably, had got them off to a tidy start.

Entering the final over before the break, England were 68 without loss; that represented the highest opening stand from either side this series, and England’s highest in Australia since 2013. Rory Burns, living a charmed life, and Zak Crawley, looking a little calmer, were hanging in there. They had a little over seven sessions to make 203 more for a first win in Australia since 2011.

Then Cameron Green, a menace with the ball and a presence with the bat all series, found some extra bounce. Burns’ attempted leave, with his arms high in the air, could only send the ball cannoning into his stumps. Tea, commencing the final session of a day-night Test, was taken immediately.

Less than 23 overs later, it was all over – in three days that had begun with Australia falling to 12 for three. England had lost all 10 wickets for 56 to be bowled out for 124, their sixth score under 200 in a series in which they have failed to make 300 once. Australia did not need to use Nathan Lyon. They did not require the extra half-hour.

So in the end, they were one wicket from a whitewash, the indignity they have suffered twice before this century. A series score of 4-0 was exactly the result four years ago but, in so many ways, this has been so much worse.

As ever in these situations, there were some desperate strokes as the wickets fell steadily. Ben Stokes pulled Mitchell Starc straight to the man in the deep. Ollie Pope stepped inside Pat Cummins and was bowled. Sam Billings, somehow, managed to pick out mid-on. The last two wickets, of Wood and Ollie Robinson, simply stepped aside and allowed Cummins to bowl them.

There was a bit of misfortune, such as when Joe Root was bowled by a Scott Boland shooter, while Green found outstanding deliveries to dismiss Crawley and Dawid Malan. But there were no excuses for a desperate collapse.

The events of the early part of the second successive 17-wicket day, as Wood steamed in taking the wickets his toil this summer has deserved, felt like a distant memory.

Having been left out in Adelaide, it felt like Wood had spent his first three Tests of the series being desperately unfortunate. He troubled Australia’s best batters, but did not have the wickets he deserved. On day one in Hobart, he had bowled poorly on a pitch that did not suit him, but short stuff had worked on the second – especially when a brute dismissed Usman Khawaja.

On the third day, which Australia resumed 152 in front, he picked up the nightwatchman Boland, then had Travis Head caught down the legside. Steve Smith became the fifth batter caught hooking in the match, taking his Test average below 60 for the first time since 2017.

By the dinner break, Wood had made Starc his fifth wicket, after Stuart Broad pinned Green – who had shared 49 with Alex Carey, riding his luck. Carey, to Broad, and Cummins, to Wood fell after the break, setting England 271 to win. That made it the first time England had taken all 20 wickets in a Test in Australia since 2014, 10 matches ago. That would be as good as it would get.

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