Ashes second Test preview: England at a crossroads as Australia smell blood

We preview the second Ashes Test between England and Australia in Adelaide, after a crushing defeat in Brisbane left the tourists with plenty to improve on.

By Tim Williams Published: 14 December 2021 - 2.13pm

A contentious decision at the toss, a woeful first ball and a hope-extinguishing batting collapse.

Followers of the England cricket team could be forgiven for slipping into fatalism after yet another heavy defeat at the Gabba, but hope remains ahead of a pivotal second Ashes Test match at the Adelaide Oval.

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The day-night Test should provide conditions that offer assistance to England’s cartel of seam bowlers, with James Anderson and Stuart Broad ready to return after they were left out in Brisbane.

Captain Joe Root lamented his side’s propensity to lose match-defining moments in the last Ashes tour four years ago and he struck a similar tone post-Brisbane.

“We have to be brave, we have to look to do things differently to previous tours,” he said.

“If we go about things exactly as we have on the last two tours, we’re going to get the same results.”

England have a pernicious habit of squandering promising moments, one they must correct to stand any chance of clawing their way back into the series.

Australia were 195 for 5 in their first innings after the impressive Ollie Robinson dismissed David Warner and Cameron Green with successive deliveries, before unlikely hero Travis Head launched a blistering Adam Gilchrist-esque counter-attack.

Stuart Broad and James Anderson could return for England after missing out in Brisbane

They were eventually bowled out for 425 after Head, who many believed shouldn’t have been selected over Usman Khawaja, scored one of the great Ashes hundreds.

After a chastening start, the tourists batted with resolve and defiance to keep the game alive on day three.

Resignation was replaced with hope. Could England, spearheaded by marvel Root, keep the Australian bowlers toiling in punishing conditions and set a competitive total?

Optimism lasted less than four overs on a galling day four when Malan became Nathan Lyon’s 400th Test scalp, with Root edging behind an outswinger from the excellent Cameron Green soon after. Their biggest crime was not getting through to the second new ball.

England folded like a house of cards, losing their last eight wickets for 77 runs in the morning session, leaving Australia only 20 to chase.

Their cause was also tarnished by an indifferent display in the field which was far inferior to Australia’s near-faultless efforts which featured some brilliant catching.

“We could be sat here in a very different position”
- Root

Electing to bat first was logical given the Gabba’s history, but the game was effectively up when England were skittled for 147 on the first day.

They must be better in Adelaide - with little margin for error - but England will be pleased with the discipline and skill of their bowlers led by Robinson, the form of Root and promise of opener Haseeb Hameed.

Conversely, Rory Burns and Jack Leach look devoid of confidence and the match-fitness of Ben Stokes is concerning.

“I’m not just trying to make things up,” said Root. “I genuinely believe that if we’d taken our chances better, and handled that first innings better, we could be sat here in a very different position.”

To find a foothold in the series, England’s batsmen must share the run-scoring burden.

Root has scored over 1,000 more runs this year than the second-highest scoring batsman (Burns with 492). Their collective average is only 23.6 and only Root and Malan passed 40 in Brisbane.

With so much understandable scrutiny on their bowling selection given the number of options, England must start racking up significant first-innings totals with the bat and Root can’t do it alone.

They head to south Australia hoping more familiar conditions and four days of hard Test cricket under their belts will contribute to a more favourable outcome.

After a chequered build-up, almost everything went right for Australia in Brisbane. Pat Cummins’ bowling wasn’t compromised by his newfound captaincy responsibilities and the selections of Head and Alex Carey were wholly justified.

They extended their 35-year unbeaten run against England at fortress Gabba and have now won 10 of the past 11 Ashes Tests in Australia.

Cummins, who acknowledged the role of fortune in the win particularly in losing the toss, was effusive in praising his side.

8
The number of day-night Tests played, and won, by Australia

“I am really proud of everyone, it was a complete performance, the bowlers did their thing,” he said.

While England will be looking to profit with the pink ball, Australia have won all eight day-night Tests they have played, including a 120-run Ashes win four years ago.

Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne have flourished under the lights, with the latter, who batted beautifully in Brisbane, averaging 81.50 from six innings.

The picturesque Adelaide Oval will be the setting for one of the highlights of the series, with 35,000 supporters set to pass through the turnstiles each day.

Australia are smelling blood knowing another win will put them on the cusp of retaining the Ashes, but their preparations have been hampered by Josh Hazlewood’s injury.

Jhye Richardson has taken 23 wickets at under 14 in four Sheffield Shield matches this summer and is favourite to replace Hazelwood

Ranked third in the International Cricket Council’s Test bowling rankings, his absence will be keenly felt, but Australia have able deputies Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser in the squad.

Western Australian Richardson is likely to come in for his first taste of Test cricket since 2019 when he took six wickets at 20.50 against Sri Lanka, although Neser can’t be discounted after match figures of 7-65 against the England Lions last week.

They are also sweating on the fitness of opener Warner who has been nursing bruised ribs sustained during his first-innings 94 at the Gabba.

Khawaja is a capable replacement, with Bryce Street an outside option after his hundred for Australia A at Ian Healy Oval.

England are at a crossroads. Defeat in Adelaide could be the start of a long winter, but Root’s men have more than a prayer in the City of Churches.

Coverage of the second Ashes Test begins on Thursday at 3am on BT Sport 1 HD