England’s bowlers pushed their team to the brink of victory on the third day of this pink-ball warm-up match against a Cricket Australia XI to paper over the cracks of a worrying batting collapse from the tourists.
Joe Root’s side slipped from 77 without loss to 207 all out earlier in the day to set their opponents 268 to win.
But Chris Woakes ripped through the CA XI’s top order, removing the entire top four during a spell that saw him take four for 12 in seven overs under the Adelaide floodlights.
Two further wickets from Craig Overton and one from James Anderson, appointed vice-captain for this tour today in the absence of Ben Stokes, reduced the hosts to 25 for seven in their chase to effectively end this match as a contest.
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England took the extra half hour in an attempt to wrap up victory inside a session but they were frustrated by a 45-run stand in 16 overs between Matthew Short and Gurinder Sandhu that took the hosts to 70 for seven by the close and this game into a fourth day.
Even though England will win this game, it should not gloss over a batting performance that laid bare their shortcomings just 13 days before the start of the Ashes in Brisbane.
The tourists lost seven wickets for 45 runs during a collapse that also saw four fall in seven balls as they slipped to 124 for seven in their second innings.
Only half-centuries from Mark Stoneman and Jonny Bairstow helped England, who had a 60-run first-innings lead, to a respectable total of 207 as Alastair Cook, James Vince, Root, and Dawid Malan all failed.
Seam bowler Simon Milenko, a 28-year-old journeyman who has played just 14 first-class matches, was the architect of England’s downfall taking five for 35, including three in 14 balls at one stage.
The sight of a succession of batsmen being bamboozled by medium-pacers simply pitching the ball up is not a sight to instil any follower of English cricket with confidence.
And Darren Lehmann, Australia’s coach witnessing this day’s play at the Adelaide Oval, will surely be licking his lips at the prospect of Mitchell Starc and the rest of his pace attack taking on this batting line-up.
There is still one more tour match for the cobwebs to be blown away but much more character and resolve will need to be found by the time Root and his players start the series at the Gabba on Thursday week.
The good news is that England do at least have an opener in Stoneman who now has three half-centuries in as many innings on this tour.
Stoneman followed up his first-innings 61 with 51 from 106 balls before chopping Jackson Coleman onto his stumps early in the second session.
Yet Cook’s form is worrying, the Essex batsman looking a shadow of the player who struck a majestic 766 runs in England’s 2010-11 Ashes series win here as he struggled during an innings of 32 from 85 balls. Cook eventually became Milenko’s first wicket, edging him behind shortly before the first interval, which England went into on 89 for one.
They were 166 for seven at the dinner interval after Milenko and Gurinder Sandhu ripped through the top and middle order.
Stoneman was the first to fall before Root was trapped lbw by Sandhu for one. Malan made just five from 22 balls before edging Milenko behind.
Vince, who scored 33 in the first innings, looked uncomfortable against any slight movement and was dismissed lbw by Sandhu for 29 during an over that also saw him the subject of two other leg before appeals as he struggled to get bat on ball.
England were 121 for five at this point, a lead of 181, but they were soon 124 for seven as Milenko dismissed both Woakes, caught behind, and Overton, out for a pair of ducks after being trapped lbw, in the space of four balls.
Bairstow then combined with Mason Crane to put on 66 for the eighth wicket. But the removals of Crane, dismissed by fellow leg-spinner Fallins, and Anderson, caught off a leading edge to become Milenko’s fifth wicket, wrapped up the innings.
England’s bowlers, led by Woakes, then got to work. Jake Carder, Nick Larkin, Will Puckovski and Ryan Gibson all fell to the Warwickshire seamer.
Overton also pitched in with two wickets, bowling Tim Paine after beating the home captain for pace and having Jason Sangha caught at second slip by Root.
Anderson, who has started this tour in fine rhythm after taking four wickets in the opening warm-up match in Perth and two in the first innings here, then got in on the act in the 18th over of the innings, having Milenko caught in the slips.