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- English cricketer (born 1990)
The 2021/22 Ashes, the first in Covid times, is a strange series. And day four of the Second Test in Adelaide might just be the strangest yet; at once it was a reminder of the hold Australia have over England down under and the tenuousness of the whole thing.
For Joe Root, the England captain. It was an especially odd day. He started it by taking a nasty blow to the nether-regions while taking throw downs from Jeetan Patel, the spin bowling coach. There was swelling, difficulty walking, and a trip to hospital for a scan that meant he missed the first 78 minutes of the day.
Root did eventually take the field and picked up two wickets, just like his regular batting partner Dawid Malan, exposing the folly of England’s lack of spin. Ollie Robinson, known for his seam, also wheeled out three overs of offspin, as he did a couple of times for Sussex in the County Championship five years ago. It was all strange and, on a pitch turning, perhaps an indictment of England’s bowling of spin, and their attitude towards it.
Root ended the day walking off dejected, having been dismissed by the final ball of the day, a lovely delivery from wide on the crease from Mitchell Starc. It was scarcely believable that an over earlier, Root was hit in the same area – although he was wearing a box this time. The bowler was Starc, Australia’s fastest, and the accuracy unerring; Root looked like he was about to be sick and took five minutes to pull himself together.
He had been doing what he has all year, trying to hold England’s batting together. England’s slim hopes of survival had slimmed significantly, and are now the responsibility of Ben Stokes, their patron saint of lost causes. Australia’s second declaration of the match meant they were asked to chase 468 to win from 134 overs. On 82 for four at stumps, the more important metric is that 90.4 of 134 overs remain in the match.
Around the time Root was struck in the groin for the first time, news emerged that two members of the media have tested positive for Covid-19 at Adelaide Oval. They were forced into isolation that will deny them the opportunity to leave South Australia for Victoria, with entire broadcast teams deemed close contacts. With many others awaiting results and the Pat Cummins situation that dogged the opening day of this match, we do not need more reminders of how easily Covid can derail the best laid plans at these times.
The period Root missed on the field was perhaps the most eventful. England started the day with three quick wickets, including Steve Smith, against whom they also had two very near misses. Michael Neser was bowled by a beauty from James Anderson, then Marcus Harris well caught by the diving Jos Buttler off Stuart Broad for the second time in this match.
First ball, Buttler dropped Smith, diving to his right this time. Second ball, a desperately close lbw review went Smith’s way, based on umpire’s call on impact. Luckily for England, Buttler atoned for his error, catching Smith down the legside off Robinson, before he had morphed into a spinner.
Australia, through the circumspect Marnus Labuschagne and the crisp Travis Head, were soon reasserting their dominance and the last five English wickets were all gifts in pursuit of quick runs, rather than hard-earned scalps. There were, though, some tidy catches in the deep, not least from Stokes.
Smith declared before Nathan Lyon, such a key bowler, had to wander out to bat, leaving England 40 minutes to survive before tea and 44 overs in the day.
Almost inevitably, an opener was lost cheaply. It was a lovely ball from Jhye Richardson to remove Haseeb Hameed for a six-ball duck at the end of the second over, but it was not a surprise. This was Hameed’s third duck in five Tests this year, and England’s 49th. A remarkable 13 have come from openers.
Rory Burns, in a quietly significant change, had taken strike to Starc’s first ball, and looked in better order. He and Dawid Malan put away the bad balls in a stand of 44, before Neser pinned Malan and Richardson had Burns nibbling, and caught at second slip.
England’s hopes lay with Root. But this strangest of days had one more twist.