The Ashes 2019 – Fourth Test: Drama, tension, glorious joy


It’s settled – this is Australia’s 2005.


Another rollercoaster ride of a test match concluded in the shadows of day five, but this time the green and gold were jubilant.


The match meandered along once rain resumed on day three, England recovering after the late loss of Denly the night before. Overton was quickly removed from his nightwatchman post, but this only brought in Root. He and Burns combined well, both battling past 50 and settling in against a disciplined Aussie bowling unit.


Australia’s control they had built up over the first two days was in serious danger of slipping away in half a day. Nearing the 150 mark of their partnership, Burns finally fell to Hazlewood’s nagging line and length. When the English captain once again fell short of a century, the ‘Hoff’ had just reward for some mesmerising bowling in English conditions. Just like that, the two set batsmen were gone and the match was nearing Australia’s hands once more. Roy tried to snatch back the momentum, but his fleeting innings was Moeen Ali-like before he was delightfully knocked over by Hazlewood. Cummins had bowled a fiery spell that had set the English back, allowing Hazlewood to swoop through and gain some crucial late wickets.


Day four needed quick wickets, yet Australia had a shaky start. Bairstow and Stokes were both hell-bent on building a solid base to bat the day. It all appeared smooth sailing until Starc’s knack of producing something special came through when he bowled a jaffer to unseat Bairstow’s bails. Perhaps highlighting what the Aussies missed on that fatal final day at Leeds, Starc then worked the angles perfectly to have Stokes edging to slip.


From then on, the wickets fell gradually, neither in a cluster or with a drought between. Buttler, in a state of newfound confidence and increasing form, batted superbly with the tail. He squeezed every last run and ball out of them, making a vital 41 that was only undone when Cummins got the Duke to skip low. He and Starc were impressive in cleaning up the tail, giving Australia plenty of time to pile on a total that could be Ashes-retaining.


Australia’s start once again went horribly. Broad was just as dangerous against the left-handers, underlining the lack of confidence that the openers had in changing up their plans against the miserly Pom. Labuschagne bounced to the crease full of the understandable confidence that several consecutive half-centuries gives a batsman. Archer, sensing the moment that his fellow opening bowler had produced, cranked up the speed and trapped Labuschagne in front with a cracking inswinger.


A tense battle then ensued between Archer and Head, as the South Australian batted with flair. He timed his drives well, but Archer only became incensed by this challenge. His aggression paid off, as Head was scared into a lack of footwork that would leave the gate ajar for the Duke to crash through. Finding this time and space between Head’s bat and pad, the ball would crash into the stumps and invite an inspired roar from the Manchester crowd.


Once again it was left to Smith. With seemingly little time to bat before his compatriots fell, the dynamo had to produce something special. As Wade held firm up the other end, the genius constructed an innings that would be underrated in terms of runs, yet dazzling when viewed live.


Without the standard time used to get accustomed to the conditions, Smith continued on from his double century. He played some outrageous shots, a man brimming with confidence and talent. Highlights included drives where his wrists defied their joints, twisting around to stroke the ball squarer through a gap. His swipes off Archer and co managed to pierce the miniscule gap of a heavy leg side field. While England thought they finally had a chance, and could at least force Smith into bunkering down, he excelled. Smith battered them around, his step away and swat to the boundary signalling Australia’s intent to claim the Ashes here and now. His 82 came off 92 balls, and was ably supported by Wade’s 34. From there, it only took a handful more runs before Paine declared and the Aussies came out snarling, the little urn now slowly falling back into their suitcase for the trip home.


It was strapped in and all but zipped up when Cummins produced his finest over in international cricket. Just three balls into the first over he used his inept ability to cut the ball off any wicket to have the stoic Burns turning his bat face too early, the shiny Duke falling to Head on the off side. If that was cause for a late evening celebration, then the peach he delivered to Root the next ball was set for a rowdy night. In a Ryan Harris/ Mitchell Johnson like moment, Cummins caused another famous Ashes moment, as his delivery beat Root’s bat and clipped the top of off to send Australia to stumps with real momentum.


But time is a great leveller, and England came out on day five without the frenzy they would’ve felt the previous night. Out of the top four, the rockier pair of Roy and Denly had to make a fist of this if they were to challenge for a draw or unlikely win. The key seemed to be to protect Stokes, and not expose him to an early morning barrage from some freshly massaged Aussies.


The unlikely duo fought hard for the first hour, sending Aussie hopes spiralling down. But when England crowds begin to develop real optimism, Cummins worked his magic once more, setting up Roy and then swinging it past his flashing bat to cause the death rattle to sound around Old Trafford.


Stokes was out there. This was the time for both sides. Hopes lay on one man. Cummins bent his back, longing for the wicket that could set Australia on course for rampant celebrations later that day. As innocuous as ever, Stokes was beaten, yet tucked his bat under his arm in a look of solemn disappointment. Paine and Cummins both went up, and when the umpire realised Stokes had trudged off in self-confession of touching the ball with his dangerous bat, the finger came up. Lunch became a lot heartier for the Aussies.


With Cummins being the main man for Australia, it was Lyon who finally came to the party post-lunch. His initial spell producing no luck, he finally found the sweet spot outside off that caused the ball to leap at Denly’s gloves, his gritty half-century coming undone in quick fashion. Just like day three, the English batsmen were going to fit tooth and nail for a draw. Bairstow and Buttler caused Australian nerves to soar. In similar fashion to this series, the tide turned when Starc trapped Bairstow in front from around the wicket.


Overton and Buttler then calmed the match down, plodding out dangerous Australian deliveries. The clock was slowly ticking, the light steadily retreating. But Hazlewood finally tricked Buttler into shouldering arms to a ball he shouldn’t have, taking out off stump on its way through. This reinvigorated Lyon, who went from finding startling bounce to having one roll through and trap Archer in front on the shin.


The game was left to Overton, and the Leeds brick wall of Leach. Broad was left at 11, ready to come in and fight for a draw if the bespectacled offie failed. With the overs left ticking under 20, the unlikely duo of Overton and his little friend Leach held out desperate Aussie surges. They just couldn’t get them out. In a moment of captaincy that deserves immense recognition, Labuschagne was chucked the Duke for some leg spin. It quickly went from ‘why not?’ to ‘why wouldn’t we?’ as Leach was easily snaffled up at bat pad. Cricket is a funny game indeed.


This would be the straw that would break the camel’s back. Falling to a part timer in the dying stages, Leach would soon be joined by an exhausted Overton. Having bowled a mountain of overs and soaking up large amounts of pressure on day five, the burly shouldered Brit had no answer for a Hazlewood off-cutter that rapped him on the pads. A desperate review would change nothing, and the Aussies had secured the little urn’s position on the Boeing home in dramatic fashion.


Smith was once again man of the match, and England’s celebration post-Leeds now gave way to an Australian shindig that was dedicated to an amazing effort overseas. In most series this would signal the end of care, but the way this series has gone, the Oval test is eagerly awaited by everyone due to the unlikely drama that has unfolded in front of our eyes the past two months.


Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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