England captain Joe Root celebrates his half century at Adelaide Oval.
England captain Joe Root celebrates his half century at Adelaide Oval.

Root has England on verge of miracle

THE second Test has boiled down to a cut-throat battle between two young captains desperate to avoid Ashes humiliation.

Either Steve Smith or Joe Root will forever rue major tactical decisions made in Adelaide, with the momentum of the entire series now riding on England's epic bid for a record run chase on day five.

Australia struck a crucial blow on the stroke of stumps when Pat Cummins crashed through Dawid Malan's (29) defences, but at the other end captain courageous stood tall and a big Root century could change everything.

In what has the makings of one of the most extraordinary turnarounds in Test history, England have risen from the dead to be 178 runs from securing their place in history.

Root, unbeaten on 67, is bravely leading the charge to the massive victory target of 354 and eclipse the record run chase in Adelaide of 315 set more than 100 years ago.

For much of the match, Root has been haunted by his call at the toss to bowl first, but suddenly it's Smith who is enduring a living nightmare over his decision not to enforce the follow-on, when England were nailed to the wall 215 runs behind on the first innings.

Nathan Lyon has words with Joe Root at the close of play.
Nathan Lyon has words with Joe Root at the close of play.

It was another night to forget for Smith - three shockers with the DRS and a dropped catch at first slip compounded Australia's growing anxiety - as they failed to yield the dividends they would have been expecting from the night session.

Smith threw the ball into the ground in fury when he dropped Malan off Nathan Lyon when the England left-hander was just eight, a potentially major turning point.

The Australian camp concede not enforcing the follow-on was the wrong call, as it robbed Mitchell Starc and co that precious opportunity to utilise a brand new pink ball at night.

"In hindsight, it probably was the wrong call," said Australian bowling coach, David Saker.

"We're still reasonably confident. Obviously the last two days haven't gone to plan. I still think we're in front of the game but it's getting closer and closer and Joe's innings has made that possible.

"If we get his wicket in the morning I think the game changes quite quickly.

"Unfortunately we haven't had the luxury of having a new ball late on days (which we could have had).

"I'm confident our bowlers can get the job done."

Steve Smith ponders a review for lbw against Alastair Cook.
Steve Smith ponders a review for lbw against Alastair Cook.

Jimmy Anderson spearheaded the revival by instigating a crippling Australian batting collapse (all out for just 138) and says England now have hope.

"We're delighted to be in this position and to have any sort of chance of winning the game, which we didn't think we'd have after the first couple of days," said Anderson.

"We're in with a chance. We're going to turn up with the same sort of attitude and hunger and real fight to get ourselves back in this series. Hopefully it can get us somewhere.

"We've got to believe we can do it and have players in the dressing room who can do it. We need a bit of luck but we'll give it a big shot."

Cummins' late wicket was potentially massive, living up to his match-winning tag right when the whips were cracking, and Australia will be targeting all-rounder Chris Woakes when play resumes.

Root took the zap out of Australia's pink ball kings, but not without an almighty scare when he was given out for 32, trapped lbw by Lyon, only to successfully review and prove the ball was sailing over the stumps.

Pat Cummins celebrates Dawid Malan’s wicket.
Pat Cummins celebrates Dawid Malan’s wicket.

In contrast, Australia could not take a trick the DRS.

Smith's first blunder with the technology came when he didn't use it - the skipper and Josh Hazlewood inexplicably not going upstairs when they would have had Alastair Cook plumb for one.

From there Cook and Mark Stoneman put on a half century for the first wicket before Lyon and Mitchell Starc settled Australia's nerves.

The lights came on and Australia was expected to shine, but instead they flinched.

Desperate for the wicket that would have broken the game wide open, Smith went upstairs for a big shout from Cummins on Root - only for replays to show there was no edge and no lbw possibility.

Then an even bigger howler, when a Hazlewood lbw appeal off Malan was shown to be going way over.

Nathan Lyon made the first breakthrough for Australia.
Nathan Lyon made the first breakthrough for Australia.

Smith's poor decision making wasn't helped by the umpires who seemingly couldn't get a call right themselves.

As controversial as Smith's decision not to follow on has been - Australia's batsmen did nothing to back him up, collapsing to be all out for 138 in the second innings with no player passing 20.

From the abject humiliation Australia were dishing out on day three, the match had taken on a different complexion altogether and on the back of James Anderson's career-first five-for down under.

When Smith and Hazlewood decided not to review Chris Gaffaney's baffling determination that Cook was not out with the scoreboard reading 0-1 - Australia was officially rattled.

Chris Woakes and Joe Root leave Adelaide Oval at stumps.
Chris Woakes and Joe Root leave Adelaide Oval at stumps.
James Anderson celebrates his five-wicket haul.
James Anderson celebrates his five-wicket haul.


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