REPORT: The Ashes, Fourth Test

Matt Cooper reports from the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

DAY FIVE 

Yet another hundred for Australia’s captain Steve Smith ended England’s hopes of a consolation win in the fourth Ashes Test.

Smith resumed the day alongside vice-captain David Warner, knowing Australia needed to bat all day to save the Test after some helpful assistance from the weather the previous day meant England had lost nearly two full sessions with which to bowl Australia out in.

With the news that Cricket Australia had made the decision to charge $30 for final day tickets, despite entry being free for the fifth day at all the other Tests, it was of no surprise that England supporters and the Barmy Army massively outnumbered the Australians.

Their support was duly rewarded just before lunch as Joe Root, who they had just sung ‘Happy Birthday’ to, brought himself onto bowl and was given an immediate birthday gift from Warner who spooned a catch to James Vince, just 14 short of his second century of the match.

Broad then struck with the final ball of the session, getting Shaun Marsh caught behind brilliantly by Jonny Bairstow for 4 and it looked as though England were well and truly in with a chance of winning the Test.

However, after lunch the impenetrable Smith continued to grind down the English bowlers alongside Mitchell Marsh who, after struggling early on, grew in confidence as the innings progressed.

Together they shared an unbeaten partnership of 85 which lasted 290 balls and left England’s hopes of victory dashed on a pitch which has failed to offer the slightest bit of assistance to bowlers from both sides.

It was Smith’s third hundred of the series and marks the end of an outstanding year from the Australian who has scored the more Test runs this year than any other player, marking the fourth consecutive year he has passed 1000 in Tests.

From an England perspective it is important they have avoided the 5-0 whitewash and it is great to see Alastair Cook return to form in world-record fashion.

It is obviously a shame that performances such as this weren’t seen in the first three Tests but England have finally shown they can compete as they look to salvage a bit more pride in the final Test in Sydney.

DAY FOUR

Rain unfortunately dominated the fourth day of the fourth Ashes Test as only half the day’s overs were bowled.

Australia had the best possible start to the play, dismissing James Anderson for 0 with the first ball of the day.

Anderson’s dismissal left Alastair Cook stranded on 244 not out, a magnificent innings under huge pressure.

Cook being the not out batsman meant that his 244 was now the highest score ever by a batsman who had carried their bat – yet another record to add to his very long list.

With a lead of 164 and some cloud cover to work with, England’s bowlers then looked to try and take some early Australian wickets.

Cameron Bancroft was the first casualty, bowled by Chris Woakes via an inside edge onto his pad for 27.

Fellow struggler Usman Khawaja dispatched the under-pressure Moeen Ali back over his head for a six which was sensationally caught in the crowd.

However his woes continued as he edged behind off Anderson for 11, leaving Australia with some serious top-order concerns to address before their next series against South Africa which begins in March.

The dismissal of Khawaja brought the in-form Australian captain Steve Smith to the crease and, despite England looking good with ball in hand, Smith and first innings centurion David Warner knuckled down and saw off the England attack until the rain came at around 2pm.

While the rain did ease off at times and play did even restart at one point, the respite was ultimately brief as play was called to a close just after 5pm.

England will undoubtedly be hoping for a much better forecast tomorrow as they look to earn back some pride with a win.

DAY THREE

Alastair Cook was truly back to his best as he batted through the whole of day three on his way to a magnificent double hundred.

The opener more than doubled his overnight score, ending the day on the highest ever score made by a visiting batsman at the MCG, surpassing Viv Richards’ 208 with 244 not out, leaving England with a commanding lead of 164.

Australia started the day promisingly, dismissing Joe Root shortly after he passed 50, caught in the deep by Nathan Lyon off a short ball from Pat Cummins.

England were then in danger of collapsing with Dawid Malan, 14, out LBW although, like Vince the previous day, he did not opt for a review despite replays indicating he had edged the delivery.

Jonny Bairstow departed for 22 before Moeen Ali fell to a sharp catch from Shaun Marsh after a frantic 20, the sixth time he has been dismissed in seven innings by Lyon.

Chris Woakes provided some much-needed resistance for England, enjoying a 59-run stand with the imperious Cook but he too departed in the twenties, gloving behind off Cummins for 26 before debutant Tom Curran fell to Josh Hazlewood for 4.

After Stuart Broad was hit on the shoulder, his woes against the short ball were expected to continue but he stuck around and battled and slashed his way to an invaluable 56 before a controversial catch in the deep by Usman Khawaja led to his departure.

Broad’s half-century marked the first time an English number 10 had made 50 in Australia since Chris Lewis in 1991 and, in just the second time they have batted together in Tests, he and Cook shared a partnership of exactly 100.

Cook’s mammoth innings broke many a record. He is now the leading Englishman in scores of 150+ with 11; has surpassed West Indians Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara into sixth place on the all-time Test run-scorers list; surpassed his highest personal score in Australia as well as compiling the longest innings by a visiting batsman, lasting over 10 hours and 409 balls.

With England 491-9, they will look to pass 500 tomorrow and then get quick wickets on a slowing surface to truly drive home the advantage that Cook’s excellent display has given them.

DAY TWO

Alastair Cook’s unbeaten century put England in the driving seat on the second day of the fourth Ashes Test.

The 33-year-old shared a 112-run partnership with captain Joe Root who made 49* as the tourists ended the day on 192-2, trailing Australia by 135.

England’s perseverance with the ball on day one was rewarded with quick wickets in the morning session as Australia lost their last seven wickets for just 67, Stuart Broad taking 4-51.

Australia started positively with Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh reaching their 100 partnership but then looked to be too aggressive, Smith chopping on for 76 to give debutant Tom Curran his first Test wicket.

Chris Woakes then dismissed Mitchell Marsh, 9, in similar fashion before Broad trapped brother Shaun LBW for 61.

Broad and Anderson promptly cleaned up the tail as Anderson passed Courtney Walsh to become fifth on the all-time Test wicket takers list with 521 scalps.

With Australia finishing on 327, England came out with a point to prove and Cook proceeded to stunt a bowling attack that was clearly missing the series’ leading wicket taker Mitchell Starc.

Cook enjoyed 35 and 45 run partnerships respectively with Mark Stoneman, 15, who was brilliantly caught and bowled by Nathan Lyon and James Vince, 17, who surprisingly did not review his LBW dismissal despite Hot Spot showing evidence of an inside edge.

With Australia’s bowling further hampered by an unwell Pat Cummins spending time off the field, Cook and Root cashed in on a slowing surface.

The only real chance came when Smith dropped Cook on 66 off Mitchell Marsh at slip. This allowed the former England captain to score his 32nd Test hundred and move past Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene to become the eighth highest Test run-scorer.

With the Barmy Army singing their names, the pair played with growing positivity to give England their best day of the series so far.

Now the platform is set Cook, Root and the rest of the line-up need to drive home their advantage to ensure they get a lead large enough to win the game.

DAY ONE…

David Warner’s Boxing Day century helped put Australia in a strong position in front of over 88,000 fans on the first day of the fourth Ashes test in Melbourne.

The opener’s attacking intent shone through as he dominated the England bowlers after Australian captain Steve Smith opted to bat after winning the toss.

Warner scored 83 of the 102-0 Australia finished the morning session on but England fought back in the afternoon to restrict his free-scoring. Cameron Bancroft was trapped LBW by Chris Woakes for an unconvincing 26 and Warner proceeded to spend eight overs in the 90s.

With both Warner and the crowd feeling the pressure, the 31-year-old top-edged a pull shot into the waiting arms of mid-on Stuart Broad to give debutant Tom Curran what he thought was his first Test wicket.

However, replays showed Curran had overstepped and a massive cheer erupted from the Australian fans as Warner was given the ultimate Christmas present. It took the Australian vice-captain just one more ball to finally reach three figures, pushing a comfortable single into the leg-side.

Warner’s hundred made him the 14th Australian to pass 6,000 Test runs but he was dismissed shortly afterwards, caught behind by Jonny Bairstow off James Anderson for 103.

Despite the drama surrounding Warner, the second session was definitively England’s as they took 2 wickets for just 43 runs, showing good perseverance on a pitch which offered nothing to the bowlers.

After Broad dismissed a nervy Khawaja for 17, he had two shouts for LBW against Shaun Marsh turned down and England looked to have a bit of momentum.

However, the Western Australian dropped anchor alongside captain Smith as the two shared an unbeaten 84-run partnership until close. Smith passed India’s Cheteshwar Pujara as 2017’s leading Test run scorer and made yet another 50, ending the day with 65.

Despite England’s fightback, Australia are very much ahead going into Day Two and England will need early wickets tomorrow to get themselves back in it. However, Smith has not been dismissed in the Boxing Day Test since 2014, so that is easier said than done.

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