The brilliance of Steve Smith was vital for Australia once again as they won the fourth test at Old Trafford to retain the Ashes.
Despite a brave second innings by England, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins all bowled superbly throughout this test to win reasonably comfortably. This had made the final test irrelevant for England, who may decide to experiment with their team after this disappointing Ashes series.
Australia won the toss on day one and elected to bat first, a decision they may have regretted when David Warner was dismissed almost straight away through Stuart Broad. Marcus Harris followed soon after and became Broad’s second victim on the first day, leaving Australia on 28-2.
Despite this, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith formed a very good partnership which steadied the ship for the visitors. Craig Overton took his first wicket of the series shortly before tea, bowling Labuschagne. At tea, Australia were in a very healthy position at 170-3. Play was then abandoned before the players had a chance to return because of the rain.
Stuart Broad got in on the act early on in day two by taking yet another wicket. Travis Head was the man to go this time. A wayward shot from Wade was easily caught by captain Joe Root but Paine survived going into the lunch interval.
245-5 was the score at that point, with Steve Smith getting to a century. He would have walked after he edged Jack Leach’s delivery to Stokes. However, the spin bowler bowled a no-ball which gave Smith a reprieve.
Australia added over 100 runs to their total between lunch and tea to leave them at 369-5 going into the final session. Overton took another wicket in the first ball after tea to give England a boost, dismissing Paine who had batted well to get his 58 runs.
Pat Cummins only managed to add four runs to the tally before he edged a Leach delivery to Stokes. Smith got to 211 before he was caught by Denly. At 438-8, Australia were firmly in control. They added 59 more runs to their total through Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc before declaring. Australia were in a very strong position with 497 runs.
Joe Denly was England’s only casualty before the close of play, leaving England on 23-1.
Bad weather caused more disruption in this test at the start of the third day. Burns continued with nightwatchman Overton after lunch, with the morning session being completely abandoned. Although Overton stood firm at the end of the second day, he soon fell to an edged shot from a Hazlewood delivery. At 25-2, England were in trouble.
However, the partnership between Rory Burns and Joe Root gave England a lifeline. Both players scored over fifty runs taking England’s total to 166-2 before Hazlewood took three quick wickets before the England of play.
Rory Burns, Joe Root and Jason Roy all fell victim to his brilliance before the close of play. This left England heavily reliant on Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow. They finished on 200-5 before bad light ended play on the third day.
The hosts needed 98 more runs to avoid a follow on. A follow on would have given Australia a great chance to retain the Ashes.
England started off brightly with Stokes and Bairstow at the crease before the latter was bowled by Mitchell Starc’s jaffa of a ball. Stokes then became Starc’s second victim, edging a delivery to Steve Smith. Australia took one more wicket before lunch, with Cummins dismissing fast bowler Archer. This left England at 278-8, needing 20 more runs to avoid a potential follow on.
Australia may not have taken the chance to make England follow on even if the hosts fell below that 298 target. Starc and Cummins took one more wicket each, leaving England 301 all out before tea on day four.
Similarly to the first Australian innings, Broad took a wicket almost straight away, with Warner was the man to go. Another lbw was given in Broad’s favour when he bowled a brilliant ball to Marcus Harris. Although this decision was reviewed by the visitors, the replays showed that the ball would have hit the wicket.
Archer was the next bowler to make an impact. His lbw against Marnus Labuschagne and his terrific ball to Travis Head left Australia in a vulnerable position at 44-4. Australia managed to get to 63-4, with a view to declaring later on in the day to try and bowl England out in day five.
Wade and Smith’s 100 partnership allowed the visitors to get to 149-4 before Smith took a swing at a Leach ball. Stokes caught the man on form and England took one more wicket before Australia declared on 186-6. Wade was the man to go this time.
The target for England to win the test was 383 runs. An improbable win was turned in to an almost impossible victory when both Burns and Root, who built up a great partnership in the second innings, were both dismissed by Cummins. At 0-2, this was an awful start for the hosts. The day finished on England at 18-2 with Denly and Roy opening the final day.
Although England survived in the first hour of day five, two wickets shortly before lunch put the hosts on the back foot. Jason Roy and Ben Stokes both fell to Pat Cummins, who now had four wickets to his name in this innings.
One of the highlights of the day for England came when Joe Denly reached his 50, but this was to be short-lived. A tricky ball from Nathan Lyon allowed Labuschagne to take a simple catch.
Despite the early promising signs that Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler would build a solid partnership, a Starc lbw cut the former’s innings short with 25 runs to his name. The hosts managed to get to tea without the loss of any more wickets at 166-6.
Buttler’s wicket shortly after tea appeared to be the crucial blow for England at the time, who needed to survive the final session to rescue a draw from the match. He was bowled by Josh Hazlewood, who was exceptional in this test.
Nathan Lyon took another wicket soon after, with Archer being the man to go this time. Last test’s hero Jack Leach was his replacement. Overton survived an lbw review by Australia by the tightest of margins and it looked like the hosts would be all out sooner rather than later.
England were more and more hopeful of getting an unlikely draw, with the light getting worse and under 20 overs left. However, Jack Leach and Craig Overton were the final players to be dismissed with just under 15 overs to go.
The Result: Australia win by 185 runs