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Jos Buttler led England’s underdog attempts to draw the second Ashes Test, taking the game to the final session as Australia chased two more wickets for victory in Adelaide.
England were clinging on at 180 for eight on the fifth evening, with Buttler showing deep wells of resolve as he faced 196 balls for his 25 not out.
With Stuart Broad alongside him and James Anderson still to come, a 2-0 scoreline still seems the likeliest outcome but England have at least shown some much-needed battling spirit.
Starting the day 82 for four in pursuit of a draw, the tourists appeared to be heading for a hasty defeat when Ollie Pope fell to just his seventh delivery and Ben Stokes failed to see out the first session.
We are eight down heading into the final session of the Test.
A resilient knock from @josbuttler 👊
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) December 20, 2021
Buttler should probably have been a footnote but when he edged Mitchell Starc for what should have been a second duck of the match, wicketkeeper Alex Carey failed to react to a regulation chance.
He batted out more than 30 overs with Chris Woakes, who made 44, and then began the taxing job of managing the tail through a nervy final period.
With Stokes at the coalface they would have held on to a slim thread of hope but, just as Joe Root’s dismissal off the final ball of day four underlined the home side’s ability to seize the big moments, so too did Pope’s early exit here.
Potentially playing for his place in the Boxing Day Test, the Surrey batter needed to show he could apply himself in adverse conditions and get on top of Nathan Lyon’s spin for an extended period of time following repeated struggles.
But he lasted just seven deliveries as Australia asserted their dominance almost immediately.
Starc, who has played a terrific hand carrying a seam attack deprived of the injured Josh Hazlewood and the isolating Pat Cummins, was responsible but Pope will surely be aware of his own culpability.
It was a good, testing delivery from the left-armer, who had just switched to go back over the wicket, but at a stage when batting long and leaving as many balls as possible was the order of the day it is hard to understand why Pope felt the urge to feel for one that started outside off stump and was shaping further away.
He trudged off with four runs to his name, courtesy of a nice but inconsequential flick into the on-side, and a Test batting average that had newly dipped beneath the 30 mark.
A hasty finish looked to be on the cards when Buttler replaced him in the middle and almost bagged a pair. Starc found the edge of the bat again but this time Australia’s typically excellent catching let them down. David Warner shuffled to one side to make room for a Carey dive that never came.
Stokes was blocking everything in an attempt to blunt Australia’s momentum but that allowed Lyon to wheel away at one end, repeatedly asking the same questions in the expectation that a mistake would creep in.
Stokes had resisted for 77 balls and almost two hours overall but the error did come, hit on the pad as he retreated deep into his crease and was beaten by a fraction of turn. The lbw was waved away on the field but Australia’s suspicion that they were in business was upheld by three reds on the DRS review.
Given the ruthlessness with which Australia wrapped up England in the three previous innings, a clinical kill looked the best bet.
But Buttler grasped the chance to show he is still up for the fight, digging in for an anchoring innings that curbed all of his attacking instincts and Woakes played with unhurried fluency.
Between them they soaked up valuable time either side of the dinner break, sucking the heat out of Lyon’s spell and taking advantage of aggressive fields to pick up the odd boundary.
They went from being an annoyance to a genuine aggravation when they successfully negotiated Starc’s first spell with the last new ball of the match but the fresh Kookaburra was still only eight overs old when Jhye Richardson made it pay.
Going full again despite having just been stroked through the covers by Woakes, he got one to dart back at pace and peg back middle stump. That left Buttler to shepherd the tail through the long road ahead.
Ollie Robinson did a share of the lifting, facing 39 balls but eventually fending Lyon to slip.
Buttler and Broad saw off an additional 15 minutes granted by the umpires, ensuring one final floodlight session in this day/night Test.