Lunch: England 119-5
[by Gary Naylor]
England stepped into the mincing machine that is the Gabba with a lot of hard yakka ahead of them to rescue something from a match that had tilted Australia’s way through the third day batting of Steven Smith and the late hostility of Josh Hazlewood. To their credit, Mark Stoneman (grittily) and Joe Root (classily) quietened an already soporific Sunday crowd with an hour of calm strike rotation and risk-free accumulation.
The game changed when Nathan Lyon got ball in hand and worked on the left-handed Stoneman. Releasing with a rip of overspin and the seam pointing towards first slip, he found the perfect pace and length to ask the batsmeen, “Forward or Back? Play or Leave? Edge or Middle?” Stoneman soon got a lesson in Test cricket’s challenge when Lyon pitched one that only a technically correct player in form would edge – Stoneman was that play and did so to, who else, Smith.
Next on the left-handers’ rack was Dawid Malan who looked to find a way, but couldn’t against a master bowler brimming with confidence on a wicket offering help. He went the same way as Stoneman and, with the same level of blame – none. Lyon was backing up his pre-match trash talk.
Moeen Ali came in and had a bit of luck early on, but soon found a little fluency to strike boundaries with a timing that no other England batsman could locate on a pitch that had quickened up into a typical Brisbane day two wicket, albeit on day four. Root, somewhat incapacited by a hamstring problem, posted his fifty, but Hazlewood, back for a second spell and locating the rhythm of the previous evening pinned him LBW for 51. It was a poor shot from Root, his head falling across to the off-side, his feet eventually squared up by what was little more than a gentle inswing with an ageing ball. England’s best batsman had succimbed to a technical fault – a stark contrast to his opposite number’s relentless ability to play the ball directly below his eyes.
Lunch was taken with England 119-5, the lead 93. England’s hopes in the match, and perhaps the series, rested on the shoulders of Moeen on 26 and Jonny Bairstow on 1. They’ve done it before, but they faced as stiff an ask as ever they had in the past.
Tea: England 195 all out
[by Josh Robinson]
It was a compelling session of Test cricket at the Gabba on the fourth afternoon, as a finely poised game swung sharply in Australia’s favour in the short period leading up to tea. England had twice begun doggedly to compile what moved towards a challenging target, each time being pegged back by impressive Australian displays in the field, the effects of lthe atter amplified by an execrable piece of shot-selection by Jonny Bairstow which provoked a characteristic English collapse. The second-best wicket-keeper in the England squad proved himself considerably less smart than a bear of less than very little brain as he upper-cut a Mitchell Starc bouncer over gully four minutes before tea, straight to the man stationed on the third-man boundary for precisely that shot. The tail put up no resistance to speak of, as England folded for 195 to leave Australia a target of 170, the last four wickets falling for ten runs, and the last three for one in nine balls.
It was all the more frustrating as Bairstow had previously batted with application, steadily accumulating by taking the opportunities that the bowlers offered in partnership with Moeen and then Woakes. The latter fell to a well-placed bouncer from Starc, shorter and slightly slower than usual, such that it was on the way back down by the time it reached the batsmen, who seemed unsure as to quite what to do with his hands, as the ball flew low to second slip where Piggy Smith took a sharp catch.
Prior to that wicket the defining moment of the session had been Paine’s sharp stumping of Moeen off Lyon, as Moeen had dragged his foot just onto the line that represents the ground beyond the safety of the crease. The unusually thick white lines at the Gabba proved their usefulness, as the TV umpire (and all viewers who had been careful to open their second eye) were clearly able to discern a sliver of white paint between the batsman’s grounded heal and the foremost part of the crease. Moeen looked untroubled by the prospect of an appeal, as if convinced that he was safe – indeed, he’d done the difficult work of keeping his foot grounded, but started from too far forward.
Moeen and Bairstow had come out with intent after lunch, flaying the first two overs after lunch for fourteen before settling down to play more circumspectly. It was a steady partnership, as the English pair played with assurance, watchful whether in their sound defence or on the lookout for the ball that was there to be hit. But ultimately the England middle and lower order weren’t able to bat with the applicaiton necessary to set a truly challenging target. A target of 170 means the first game of the series is not a done deal (170 would be the fifth-highest successful chase in sixty Tests at the Gabba), but Australia have a decisive advantage as we wait for the final session of the fourth day.
Close: Australia 114-0
[by Josh Robinson]
England bowled without penetration as the Australian openers made their way – slowly and steadily at first, more rapidly against the change bowlers – to 114-0, with 56 more needed. I could write another three paragraphs, but they wouldn’t say anything significantly different from what I’ve just written. We’ll be back at 23:55 tonight for the last rites.