We are six days in, and nothing has changed. It has been a catalogue of errors seen on tours past. When she sang “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending”, Taylor Swift probably was not thinking of Ashes cricket. She might as well have been.
In 2017, England lost by 10 wickets in Brisbane. This time, they lost by nine. And now in Adelaide, this match is following an unerringly similar path to the Test four years ago. Then, batting first, Australia cruised into the final session of day two, spending 149 overs compiling 442 for eight, so they could get tucked into England’s openers under lights. They picked up one wicket, on the way to a thumping win.
This time, they took it further, batting into the 151st over, posting 473 for nine. That left England a desperately painful passage of 90 minutes to bat before stumps.
Haseeb Hameed took first strike again, allowing Rory Burns a sighter. They both made it out of Mitchell Starc’s first over, but Jhye Richardson beat Hameed four times in his first six balls. Starc had Burns caught at second slip with a lovely delivery with the first ball of his second over, continuing his tough series, then Hameed chipped Michael Neser’s second ball in Test cricket straight to mid-on. Even without Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, facing Australia is no fun.
With rain falling, out came Root, but thunder and lightning, at the end of a brutally hot day, took the players from the field 10 minutes later.
Adelaide Oval has its capacity capped due to Covid, and the atmosphere has been a touch flat. When dark fell tonight, and Starc steamed into Burns with memories of Brisbane in every mind, the place simply fizzed.
Starc, Richardson and Neser, on debut, had seen their confidence swelled by a period of 10 overs after the dinner break in which they flayed 83 runs to accelerate the declaration. England had eight fielders on the boundary, yet the tailenders still found gaps.
England have made so many familiar mistakes already this series. In both matches, their team has looked unbalanced, they have taken a wicket with one of their many no-balls, and missed chances in the field. Here, they have added overthrows to the comedy of errors. Tactically, they have been wooden, favouring funk over fundamentals. Almost nothing has worked.
One of the things that did work was Mark Wood and his extra pace to Steve Smith, who made 1,461 runs from 2,612 balls, including six centuries, at an average of 121.75 across the two Ashes series Root has captained, in 2017-18 and 2019. When Wood dismissed him in Brisbane, he had just 12.
England duly dropped Wood and without him, and even Jack Leach, who has been mismanaged, England’s attack was simply a monotonous diet of five right-arm medium-fast bowlers, just as Smith has feasted on in the past. It allowed him to ease his way into the series with a classy, unobtrusive 93.
Three of those five seamers were in the team four years ago. Then, James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes combined for figures of four for 230. This time it was four for 234. Lessons are not easily learned in this set-up.
It was an especially bruising innings for Woakes, who only picked up one wicket (the last, Richardson) and travelled at a rate north of four an over, including taking some very nasty tap at the death, just like the T20 World Cup all over again. This was supposed to be the tour that he proved he could bowl with the Kookaburra ball; it is not inconceivable that this ends up being his last Test overseas.
Smith was the constant through two sessions of building for Australia, as England tired. Marnus Labuschagne brought up his sixth Test century — and first in the Ashes — early in the day. Having been dropped twice by Jos Buttler on day one, Labuschagne led a charmed life.
Ollie Robinson’s first ball of day two saw him caught behind, only for replays to reveal a no-ball, just like Ben Stokes to David Warner in Brisbane.
Fortunately, in a morning session that brought a total of three wickets for England, the no-ball was not too costly. In his next over, Robinson — who bowled well again — pinned him lbw. Travis Head put on a swift fifty with Smith, before being bowled by Root, then
Cameron Green was castled by Stokes. After a golden duck in Brisbane, Green made just two.
If a door felt ajar, at 294 for five, it was soon slammed shut by Smith and Alex Carey, who made his maiden Test fifty. Anderson ended a stand of 93, dismissing both just before tea, but, with dark closing in, a very familiar sort of pain was just about to begin.