Today’s play showed exactly why the Ashes is seen as one of the most exciting sporting spectacles on the planet.
England’s batting crumbled as many predicted it would, before the Australians, electing not to enforce the follow-on, lost four of their own under the bright Adelaide lights.
Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes were the architects of England’s recovery. Both made the ball talk in a way it hasn’t so far this series to give their batsman a chance of saving the test match if – and it’s a big if – they manage to dismiss the Australians for under 150 tomorrow morning.
If the Aussie quicks are let loose on the fragile English batting lineup for any longer than 4 sessions you get the feeling that it will be good night Irene by midway through the final day.
Give the England batsmen a total of 320 though and it’s amazing what confidence from a dogged bowling effort can do.
Australia will need to produce the magic they did earlier today to dismiss proven performers like Root and Cook who have managed to get England out of the woods from a similar position several times in the past.
Both threw their wickets away this morning; Root pushing at a wide half-volley; Cook playing at a rather unthreatening delivery from Lyon with an open blade. Given another chance, it is unlikely they will fall in the same fashion.
Australia will, however, have the advantage of bowling under lights for two sessions before the end of this test match.
If the ball swings and seams like it did for Anderson, Broad and Woakes this evening, England’s junior brigade will have no hope of fending off Australia’s quicks to save the game.
Just as impressive as England’s evening session were the Australian seamers who it appears have finally hit their straps.
Despite winning comprehensively at the Gabba, you got the sense that the quicks were below their best.
Cummins was on the short side for most of the first innings while Hazlewood looked to be down on pace.
Starc produced moments of brilliance but has improved with every over as the series has progressed.
One cannot write an article without mentioning the legend that is Nathan Lyon. It was only a year ago that he was on the outer following a tough series against South Africa and when Australia arrived at the Gabba for the first test against Pakistan, it looked as if Lyon might be left out.
The selectors opted in favour of the spinner over a fourth seamer and, since earning a regular spot, finds himself atop the wicket-takers list for 2017.
Of the top five players on that list, four are spinners.
Lyon has gone past Sri Lankan maestro Rangana Herath and usurped South African seamer Kagiso Rabada.
Joining him at the top of the leaderboard is Ravi Ashwin, who also has 55 wickets. Lyon, however, has played 2 fewer games.
By the end of his career, Lyon will have surpassed many of the game’s greatest bowlers on the all-time leading wicket-takers list.
He is the glue that holds the Australian bowling attack together and has played a role in many of the wickets taken by the quicks down the other end.
They say you should judge an off-spinner on their ability to bowl their side to victory on the fifth day of a test match.
Many Australian spinners have had their day in the sun – Hauritz on the fifth day at the SCG in 2010 against Pakistan being one such example – but few have managed to do the heavy lifting on wearing wickets all over the world like Lyon does on a consistent basis.
If he continues the way he has so far this Ashes series, he might outlast the likes of Warner and Marsh who will step down when younger players with quicker reflexes hit the big time.
No off-spinner is currently putting their hand up for test selection in the Shield competition other than Agar, whom the selectors prefer to play deputy to Lyon on away tours to the sub-continent as he lacks the incumbent’s control.
Jon Holand and Steve O’Keefe are also on the radar but haven’t put their hands up when given the opportunity and are reaching the twilight of their respective careers.
Lyon, much like Warne, is a fan favourite and with this comes an enormous ego boost that helps a bowler’s confidence when stood at the top of their mark.
If Australia are to win this test match, Lyon must stand up once again and their batsmen must push the lead beyond 350. Any less and they are leaving the door open for an Australian like comeback at Adelaide in 2006.
It seems unlikely, but we musn’t forget that Root and Cook, not to mention Bairstow and Ali, have conquered uphill battles like this before.
You have to wonder what the English press would make of England’s bowling performance tonight if Stokes was in the side.
350? Pfft. We’ll do that inside two sessions. Remember Cape Town?
Tomorrow’s morning session will decide the test match.