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Atherton on Root.

 

England’s frail support cast must ease burden on ‘Atlas’ Joe Root

Mike Atherton

Chief Cricket Correspondent

Wednesday December 15 2021, 12.01am, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/englands-frail-support-cast-must-ease-burden-on-atlas-joe-root-z0vfdtcl0

 

“Atlas” they called George Headley, because he carried the weight of West Indies’ batting on his shoulders. Modern nicknames tend to the prosaic and England’s captain goes by “Rooty” but he carries a burden no less than the great George, as captain of a team who have won one Test in ten and as a batsman so far ahead of his team-mates he may as well carry a target around his neck at which bowlers can take ready aim.

In recent years, has there been an England batsman who has put as much distance between himself and his contemporaries? Possibly Graham Gooch in the early 1990s, but what Root would give now for a David Gower in his ranks — Gower scored two hundreds during the 1990-91 Ashes — even if it meant the kind of fractious relationship that existed between the two throughout that tour.

That uncomfortable distance is partly a reflection on how outstanding Root has been, but also how miserably the rest of the batting line-up has fared this year. Root has made over a thousand runs more than his nearest challenger (Rory Burns, 492 runs). While he is clocking in at an average of 64.33, no one else averages more than 40; only Dawid Malan averages in excess of 30. Root first; daylight second, as the saying goes.

 

Seven Test defeats in 13 games this calendar year? Park your analysis right there among the variety of collapses, of which the latest, eight wickets in a session at the Gabba, was the costliest. In the four Tests England have won, Root has made first-innings scores of 228, 186, 218 and 121. Great players have always carried an extra load but add in the captaincy and the burden is in danger of becoming intolerable. Some would like to see him take on the mantle of the main spinner as well!

Although the line-up has a makeshift feel, having not bedded down over any length of time, most are not novices. Burns, six blobs this year and facing a potentially torrid start against Mitchell Starc, is 31 years old and has played 30 Tests — five more than Chris Broad; Jos Buttler, still the owner of only two hundreds, is 31 and has played 54. Even Ollie Pope is 21 matches into his Test career. Of the top seven, only Haseeb Hameed is at that novice stage, finding his way, and he looked as composed as anyone at the Gabba.

 

Given these batting frailties, it remains a puzzle why common consent is that day-night matches offer England the best chance of winning. For sure, they should help their beleaguered bowlers find more movement (with a pink ball in Australia, seamers take wickets at 6½ runs per wicket cheaper than with a red Kookaburra, suggesting more movement) but this movement will challenge the flaky batting line-up as well at Adelaide. No day-night game has ended in a draw, which, depending on your glass half-full/empty viewpoint, will either encourage or worry you.

History does not augur well. Australia have won all five of their night matches at the ground, and have never lost a day-night game, whereas England have lost three out of four day-night Tests they have played, with defeats coming in Adelaide, Auckland and Ahmedabad. Auckland is a particularly painful memory, as England flirted with a record-low score, as Tim Southee and Trent Boult ran amok.

Burns, who has six ducks this year, is 31 years old and has played 30 Tests

 

A glimmer of hope for the second Test that starts tomorrow comes from the injury to Josh Hazlewood, which will necessitate a shuffling of the three-card fast bowling pack that has served Australia so well. Accurate and nippy, Hazlewood has a fine record with the pink ball. His likely replacement, the 25-year-old Western Australian Jhye Richardson has played only two Tests but is skiddy and skilful.

He comes with a big endorsement from former great Greg Chappell. “He [Richardson] would be sensational under lights, if he bowls like I know he can bowl. He’s quick, he’s accurate. He doesn’t get the bounce that a Hazlewood gets, but he’ll be a different angle and a different sort of height,” Chappell said. Richardson has taken his wickets at 21 in first-class cricket, and is clearly no slouch.

 

More concerning is the emergence of Cameron Green as a bowler. Until last week Green had not taken a Test wicket and had given more notice of his talents as a hard-hitting, orthodox batsman. We saw little evidence of that in the first Test, as he shouldered arms to a ball from Ollie Robinson that rocked back his off stump, but his bowling took the eye, as he generated steep bounce and decent pace from his 6ft 6in frame.

The all-rounder position is one area in which England have traditionally held an advantage and Ben Stokes remains a wonderful cricketer. But unlike other Australia all-rounders in recent years, Green looks like a genuine contender with bat and ball. He began life as a quick bowler, before stress fractures limited him, but if he stays clear of injury, he should allow Pat Cummins the luxury of a five-man attack with no weak link. There will be little respite for England’s under-pressure line-up.

 

So much of the pre-Ashes discourse centred on England’s ability to take 20 wickets with a Kookaburra ball on flat(ter) Australian pitches, but all that won’t matter a jot if England cannot score enough runs. When Chris Silverwood took over as head coach, hi s demands were simple: big first-innings runs and relentless accuracy with the ball. England have managed 400 in their first innings only once in ten Tests — a match they won. In Adelaide under lights, it is time that “Atlas” got a helping hand.

 

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Haigh on Lyon

 

(And Leach and Bess, too)

 

THE ASHES | GIDEON HAIGH

The Ashes: Jack Leach’s sufferings underline consistent excellence of Nathan Lyon

new

For as long as England can produce no better than a Leach or a Bess, the urn will be hard to budge from down under, writes Gideon Haigh

Gideon Haigh

Wednesday December 15 2021, 4.00pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ashes-jack-leachs-sufferings-underline-consistent-excellence-of-nathan-lyon-l5cm3hnrw

 

Spare a thought for Jack Leach. He is 30, on his first Ashes tour. In Brisbane, he made his first-class debut on Australian soil, at the expense of one of England’s greatest fast bowlers. You know the rest. Just as Rory Burns is “first-ball dude”, Leach is “got-slogged guy”.

Nobody expected Leach to rag it square down under but it was hoped he would at least bowl tidily enough to help England to meet their daily over rate quota. When cost confined his use to 13 overs at the Gabba, Joe Root’s team were penalised five World Test Championship points and docked their whole match fee. At this rate, they’ll be laying claim to amateur status by summer’s end.

With the possible exception of Ben Stokes, no one has been so exposed by the “alright-on-the-night” inadequacy of England’s preparation.

Leach did not play a Test in the summer. In the lead-up to the Gabba, he described part of his routine: “I mean, I’m not shy of bowling in my hotel room, in front of the mirror,” he said. “There’s been a little bit of that and yeah, so I mean, I’ve got in as much as I can.” Getting turn off the mini-bar is hardly predictive of peak performance.

In hindsight, of course, everything is inevitable, but there were warning signs. Leach’s first-class record is strongly weighted towards excellent performance against right-handers on turning pitches — his home ground of Taunton is really county cricket’s only certified bunsen.

 

A greenish pitch and four lefties in Australia’s top seven, then, boded ill, and Leach’s task became impossible once his first three overs vanished for 31. By the time he returned, Australia were in the lead. His analysis, swelled by overthrows, concluded with a couple of demoralised leg-side long-hops.

Was it the difference between the teams? Of course not. It is a truism that fast bowling is the key to winning the Ashes. A corollary is that slow bowling, save when in the hands of Shane Warne, generally isn’t.

 

What Leach’s sufferings did do, however, was underline the consistent excellence of his counterpart, Nathan Lyon, who will take the field tomorrow on his favourite Australian ground (51 wickets in ten Tests at 26.9).

Lyon came into the Brisbane Test under some pressure, albeit perhaps more internal than external. Everyone, of course, falls under Warne’s roving searchlight of disapproval every so often. But Lyon, one senses, suffers more by his own expectations than most.

When he is searching for wickets, Lyon can start looking predictable — a little like a duck going round a shooting gallery, ball following ball, all a little alike.

Success came on that fourth morning at the Gabba when Lyon mixed it up and slowed it down, with a silly point and an aggressive mien, to take four wickets in 50 balls for 20 runs on a pitch offering little sidespin.

Yet even when wickets are elusive for Lyon, he is never other than tidy, which is priceless in a country traditionally unkind to finger spin.

 

In his decade as Australia’s solo spinner at home, he has taken 204 wickets at 33 and cost 2.9 runs per over. Leach is just the latest slow bowler that Lyon has outbowled, with the wicket tally of all other spinners in the same 53 Tests adding up to 180 at 63 — a remarkable head-to-head comparison.

Yet Lyon’s value goes further. He has never missed a Test with injury and, at 34, has probably never been fitter. If not always dearly, he sells his wicket seriously, and has been a serviceable nightwatchman.

He is spry in the field: in the corresponding Test four years earlier it was his run out of James Vince that put the skids under England.

Above all, he needs no protection, no extra consideration. He can do a job anywhere and with anything, even with the pink ball he will be using in Adelaide, with which he has taken 29 wickets at 27.4.

 

For the support of Leach and his understudy Dom Bess on this tour, England have brought Jeetan Patel as spin bowling coach. Consultations with John Davison aside, Lyon has been almost his own instructor. Imagine the brain space that Lyon has saved selectors, coaches, captains over the years by his earthy reliability and self-sufficiency.

That costly over rate breach at Melbourne against India a year ago, moreover, has been one of only a handful by Australia in the past ten years — something else their spinner has saved them worrying about.

 

Leach should not feel so disconsolate. In some ways he has simply met the low expectations held for English spin in these climes. In the past four decades of Ashes in Australia, visiting slow bowlers have paid about 50 runs per wicket.

Still, it’s no fluke that in England’s two winning series of that time, 1986-87, involving Phil Edmonds and John Emburey, and 2010-11, featuring Graeme Swann, that cost fell to 37 per wicket and 2.2 an over. Pace won those series but spin helped England to control them. For as long as England’s cricket system can produce no better than a Leach and a Bess, the urn will be hard to budge from hereabouts.

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Tomorrow, OZ should be able to bat ENG out of the game, or, at least, out of any chance of winning. 

I suppose the strategy will be to pile on runs until it's time for the lights, then dismantle ENG's top order with shiny a new pink ball.

 

ENG's slow over rate, which has already -The Gabba- cost the players deep in the purse, meant that it had limited time to bowl under lights with the new ball. 

 

ENG will have to bowl like demons tomorrow to have any hope. They will also have to hold catches. Buttler dropped two.

Iain Chappell opined that Bairstow is better on the gloves than Buttler, but that Foakes is better than both of them. Who am I to disagree?

 

 

 

 

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I suppose Foakes is still injured. Foakes (like his near kinsman Woakes) is good for a few runs in the lower order. Buttler though, might produce a match winning innings. It may happen one day in a Test Match.

 

Always play your best gloveman, say T. E. Bailey and Truman F. S. Who am I to disagree?

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"There he was, Steve Smith, wearing a borrowed blazer...."

 

Which we might assume, is a breach of Covid Protocols......

 

 

Steve Smith stumbles back into captain’s blazer as Ashes quirks continue to mystify

Gideon Haigh, Adelaide

Thursday December 16 2021, 12.00pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/steve-smith-stumbles-back-into-captain-s-blazer-as-ashes-quirks-continue-to-mystify-csgn78qch

 

Things are happening quickly in these Ashes. In Brisbane, England were a man down after the first ball. In Adelaide, it did not even take that long.

One of day-night Test cricket’s unavoidably irritating features is the waste of the morning, when the patron is free yet detained, killing time until actual play.

Yesterday at the Adelaide Oval offered a complete turnabout, most of the action occurring before a ball was bowled, with the toss almost the day’s dramatic climax, not because of its outcome but from who was flipping the coin.

There he was, Steve Smith, wearing a borrowed blazer and bemused expression, precipitously redeemed after a morning of muted chaos over a fleeting and innocent encounter in a restaurant the night before.

 

Elite athletes are pragmatists. They concentrate on their own performances, accept circumstances and adjust to them. In the face of setbacks, they take comfort in sentiments like ‘obviously it’s not ideal’ and ‘it is what it is’.

But this was what it was because in south Australia a handshake can be like being passed a grenade with the pin pulled out. For sheer oddity, what can come next? How else might Australia lose a Test captain? Instagram influencing? A cryptocurrency scam?

 

So many questions. Would a fist bump have made Pat Cummins a ‘close contact’? A selfie? An autograph? What about that fabled ‘clean skin’ of his? Will future cap presentations have to be made in full Hazmat gear?

Smith dutifully pinched himself to check he wasn’t dreaming, and did the needful. Seeing through the coarse 8mm thatch to the dry pitch beneath, he chose to bat, setting the scene for a last-day scenario featuring Nathan Lyon.

Play commenced as if everyone was out of breath from catching up on the morning’s events, with 18 balls before a run was scored, and David Warner idling 20 balls and 40 minutes before a first sketchy single.

This at least minimised distraction from the doorstop press conference in the media centre by Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley in which the word ‘protocol’ was used with a lulling reassurance. And, after all, where would we be without protocols? Anarchy would surely reign.

 

Almost overshadowed was the resumption of one of cricket’s most delectable duels. Warner v Stuart Broad 2019: has ever a top-class bowler so eclipsed a formidable counterpart? Like Doctor Who, just when you thought it could not go on, it did.

Warner padded up tentatively to Broad’s first delivery, and in his next dozen balls was beaten on both edges. But when Broad came back, Warner pulled resoundingly for four. Later still, he drove in the air down the ground. As the bowler tick-tacked from round the wicket to over and back again, the batter struck statuesque poses to any offer of width.

Unable to coax much from the pink ball, England’s five seamers gradually dropped on to an unambitious and essentially negative length. Slips were spread, redeployed. Fine legs were posted and bouncers bowled, not so much menacingly as monotonously.

This wan Bodyline was successful only insofar as Warner and Marnus Labuschagne received few opportunities to drive. Their combination was too experienced and the pitch too benign for so obvious a ploy, the more bemusing for its implementation in the absence of England’s fastest bowler, Mark Wood.

Labuschagne looked, as ever, a cut above, fluent and purposeful, leaving 2,000 Test runs behind like a 20-Test base camp, a jumping-off point. His defence was tight, his running fleet, and his ornamental leaves looked like a suitable way for Australian cricketers to treat strangers’ handshakes in future. Jos Buttler dropping him on 95 appeared less an own goal than an own hat-trick.

Warner’s fall for 95, Broad the catcher rather than the bowler, brought Smith, seven hours on from his peculiar promotion, a few stray boos quickly overwhelmed by cheers, any nerves quickly allayed.

The situation was nicely set up. His partner was well ensconced, the scoreline healthy, the ball old, England’s slow progress limiting their opportunities with a new one. Australia’s locum leader cleared the leg gully with a pull, punctured cover point with a drive, and, for the visitors, looked ominously secure.

 

As stumps approached, a Mexican wave rippled cautiously round the stands to the east. One hopes such exuberance was authorised in advance with the government health officer.

The image of Pat Cummins also flashed across the big screen, standing uncomfortably close to Australian team-mates in an advertisement; he was watching, we were advised, from his luxury house arrest, to which apparently gym equipment has been re-routed to ensure his fitness for the Boxing Day Test, assuming nobody sneezes in the wrong direction. Nothing seems beyond the realm of possibility in this series.

 

•Gideon Haigh is a columnist for The Australian

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THE ASHES | MIKE ATHERTON

The Ashes: Dropped catches and baffling tactics leave sterile England with forbidding sense of déjà vu

Adelaide (First day of five; Australia won the toss): Australia have scored 221 runs for two wickets

Mike Atherton, Chief Cricket Correspondent

Thursday December 16 2021, 12.40pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ashes-dropped-catches-and-baffling-tactics-leave-sterile-england-with-forbidding-sense-of-deja-vu-5f6g6p3jk

 

“It feels more English,” said Ollie Robinson, hopefully, before the team’s reacquaintance with Adelaide. Cooler, less tropical and with more supporters in attendance, the city of churches certainly felt more welcoming at the outset than the Gabba, and Joe Root responded by picking a very English-style attack: five right-arm seamers, all of whom operate at a pace within touching distance of each other.

That initial optimism, heightened by the pre-match withdrawal of Pat Cummins because of a Covid scare, had faded by the close of play on day one, in the face of some determined batting from David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne. As they had in Brisbane, these two hard-running, full-of-conviction batsmen overcame the loss of an early wicket to push their team into a position of dominance, exposing some barren and unimaginative tactics as they did so.

Having scored a solitary run in the opening hour, Warner had England’s bowlers at his mercy for the second Test running, only to gift his wicket away in sight of a century. After castigating himself for his generosity in the first Test, Labuschagne was clearly too determined to make amends here, tensing up and getting stuck in the 90s after twilight’s golden glow had departed to leave this great cricket ground brilliantly illuminated under the inky night sky.

 

Labuschagne rode his luck at times and was the grateful recipient of two drops by Jos Buttler, the second of them a howler. His mannerisms are more extreme than ever, in the exaggerated way in which he leaves the ball, and the way he commentates as he plays some shots — “that’s a good leave, Marnus!” “duck that one, Marnus!”— but he constructs his game intelligently, knows exactly how and where he wants to score his runs and has had England’s measure since appearing in the Ashes for the first time at Lord’s in 2019.

 

Warner’s tickled ribs, and later Steve Smith, were no doubt delighted by the absence of Mark Wood, and there was no Jack Leach to slow the pace of the game (and quicken the over-rate). Root had warned against putting all their apples in the day-night, pink-ball basket, but it felt like that is what the selection was doing, loaded as it was with the kind of attack England had promised not to revisit after some days of toil on the 2017-18 tour.

England are not doing much right now that makes cricketing sense and this selection looked counter-intuitive. On a green pitch under gloomy skies in Brisbane, England had chosen a varied and balanced attack; now, under piercing blue skies and on a dry, biscuit-coloured pitch, that variety and balance was lacking. Some say England always seem to be thinking about the game but one in front of them; here, it looked like they were playing the game behind.

As a result, Ben Stokes was utilised for lengthy periods in the kind of assertive role that would have been taken by Wood, using fields more reminiscent of Bodyline, nearly 80 years ago. It was fine for a short while, but became repetitive and stale. Root was requisitioned into the spinner’s role and by mid-afternoon he had spun a couple of balls quite sharply, beating Warner on the outside edge and almost picking up Labuschagne at leg-slip, each producing a noticeable puff of dust from the pitch. It is clearly quite dry.

No matter the tactics and strategy, it is wickets that count, and England took only two of them. It must be said that it was far from straightforward for Warner and Labuschagne for long periods initially. It took Warner two sessions to find real fluency; Labuschagne, playing and missing frequently, was dropped just after lunch by Buttler on 21, a reasonably straightforward chance down the leg-side as the batsman flapped at a short ball from Stokes.

 

Their partnership calmed the Australian dressing room after what must have been a frenetic few hours in the morning. It was at about 10pm on the eve of the game that Cummins was notified of his status as a close contact of a Covid case, about 12 hours later that the story was broken in local outlets, resulting in a frenzy of speculation and activity. Not least among the English press corps who sniffed similarities with Edgbaston in 2005, when Glenn McGrath had stepped on a ball before play.

Losing their premier fast bowler was one thing, but Cummins’s position as captain meant a greater sense of dislocation. Smith, looking all spic and span at the toss and greeted later on when he walked out to bat with a mixture of cheers and boos, was catapulted back into the captaincy, not far off four years after leaving it in disgrace. Australia’s much-vaunted pace attack was suddenly being propped up by two bowlers — Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser — with a brace of caps between them.

 

England, meanwhile, recalled more than 1,100 Test wickets into the team. There was no swing for James Anderson but Stuart Broad, presented with his 150th cap by Anderson before the game, bowled beautifully with the new ball and throughout the morning. Broad emptied his lungs after Warner let the first ball of the match cannon into his pads, on the angle from which the left-hander’s game had been dismantled in the summer of 2019. From the evidence of the first hour, which Warner spent fretting over a single run, some scars remained.

 

Broad bowled two spells in the morning and threatened in each. Marcus Harris was brilliantly taken one-handed down the leg-side by Buttler; Warner survived two significant appeals for leg-before and Labuschagne was beaten on the outside edge four times in one over. Warner finally broke free by cutting Chris Woakes for four after drinks and Stokes presaged the ploy to come, with a barrage of bouncers in the run-up until lunch.

The afternoon belonged to the batsmen, with Root setting some extraordinary leg-side fields that may look imaginative to the uninitiated but exposed England’s shortcomings. An attack selected with sideways movement in mind was operating in conditions and a manner betraying it. Both batsmen posted their half-centuries and Stokes, chasing the ball to the boundary, again suggested that all was not well with his left knee.

England’s over-rate was predictably poor, seven overs down by the afternoon break. It was another short ball from Stokes that finally brought Warner’s downfall, when he backed away to thrash through the empty off side, only to pick out Broad, the one man stationed there. He had hammered the ball before to the leg-side boundary and presented his wicket just as England looked on their knees.

 

With dusk falling, the time of night that is said to favour seam with the second new ball, we had the sight of Root hustling through his overs in order to hurry his team to the point when it became available. It did so, with Labuschagne six runs away from his century, Smith into double figures and 35 minutes of play remaining (including the extra half-hour.)

As Labuschagne stalled, increasingly tense as a century beckoned, he edged a back-foot force off Anderson only for Buttler to put down the easiest of chances. Inevitably, the next two balls came the wicketkeeper’s way, too. He caught them both. The crowd cheered sarcastically. It was Australia’s day. With selection, strategy and execution, there was a sense of déjà vu.

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1 hour ago, Scott7 said:

I suppose Foakes is still injured. Foakes (like his near kinsman Woakes) is good for a few runs in the lower order. Buttler though, might produce a match winning innings. It may happen one day in a Test Match.

 

Always play your best gloveman, say T. E. Bailey and Truman F. S. Who am I to disagree?

A distraught Buttler is consoled by Stokes after dropping a simple chance to dismiss Labuschagne

 

A distraught Buttler is consoled by Stokes after dropping a simple chance to dismiss Labuschagne
WILLIAM WEST/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
 
One imagines that FS Trueman would have displayed like sympathy, after the 'keeper dropped a catch off his bowling. 
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The Ashes: Steve Smith leads by example – just like old times

Gideon Haigh

Friday December 17 2021, 12.00pm, The Times

 

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ashes-steve-smith-leads-by-example-just-like-old-times-5bn5r6t9m

 

In the nets before play at the Adelaide Oval, Steve Smith was, inevitably, a conspicuous presence. A crowd gathered to watch him pounding away at his block, punching throw downs into the side netting, drilling his strokes, massaging his quirks.

Smith at practice is much like Smith at the crease. All the mannerisms are present, maybe slightly dialled down for his not being in competition, but unmistakeable.

If he miscues slightly, he throws his head back in annoyance. If the ball does not come on, he gives a warning gesture to an invisible partner. He paid the thrower, Michael Di Venuto, no heed; Australia’s assistant coach might as well have been a machine, feeding his voracious appetite for practice volume.

 

It was not long before the same compulsive rituals were to be seen in the middle, with a few familiar additions, such as the steps down the pitch preparatory to extending a warning arm and bat, as though he’s about to inscribe the mark of Zorro.

In his head, perhaps, Smith is batting all day; only the setting changes. “[Steve Smith] doesn’t channel his batting talent,” Greg Chappell says in his recent book Not Out. “His batting talent channels him.”

 

Before this Test, a news report had pointed out that Smith, since the advent of Marnus Labuschagne, had been merely a productive Test batsman, rather than the run-making perpetual-motion machine of yore.

Smith had taken this intelligence in good part. Australia’s diminishing dependence on him, he insisted, was a favourable development. Where the runs came from mattered less than that they came.

 

Still, part of him must have been piqued, ever so slightly. Every top batter welcomes the idea of the being the guy, the banker, the one who brings it home, the one to whom others turn in time of crisis.

But then, without warning, without qualification, came the leadership, however temporary. Smith averages 54 as a player but 71 as captain. And so it flowed, as if on schedule.

The second day’s first boundary, a rasping cover drive off Stuart Broad, came after five minutes. The first glove change, the 12th man summoned like a maître d’, followed 15 minutes later.

The first touch of class, a back cut from Joe Root, anticipated the first glimpse of eccentricity, a top edge over the wicketkeeper’s head from another Ben Stokes short ball. That brought up Smith’s 32nd Test fifty, and his first since January, in 136 busy, bustling balls.

Every so often England managed to beat his outside edge, with a bit of vestigial shape. But after a while their best hope appeared to be a claim that by wearing Pat Cummins’s blazer on the first day Smith had become a close contact, and should therefore be in isolation. A pull for six off Chris Woakes flew deep into the Basheer Stand, despite Smith’s abbreviated swing.

After England prised Labuschagne from the crease at the fourth attempt, Travis Head and Cameron Green lost their stumps in a fluctuating middle section, and Alex Carey took the opportunity to present his batting credentials at Test level. Unobtrusive behind the stumps, he catches the eye in front of them, with a compact left-handed technique, an elegant cover drive and a deft touch to leg.

 

Carey’s partnership with Smith had swelled to 91 from 166 deliveries when James Anderson slipped one past the Australia captain’s inside edge.

This had not been on the agenda: Smith had only thrice been stopped in the nineties on the way to his 27 Test hundreds. He reviewed, mainly out of incredulity; he departed, with a disbelieving shake of the head, repeating the shot as though he was ready for his next set of throw downs. He had to rest content with licensing his tailenders to lay about them, and timing Australia’s declaration with sadistic intent.

At about 8.30pm, with the last rays of sun gone and the orange ball gleaming in the darkness, Smith led the Australians into the field, arranged his forces from second slip, and wrapped his capacious hands round Rory Burns’s outside edge from the 13th delivery to chalk up his 125th Test catch. He’d been practising for that as well.

 

• Gideon Haigh is a columnist for The Australian

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