Published on December 6th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta0
A whitewash does look imminent
It took 17 balls for the bubbles of rosy hope to burst.
For one delightful day, England had dared to dream. James Anderson had picked up the only five-wicket haul in the 30 innings he had bowled in Australia. The hosts had been bowled out for 138 in the second innings.
It had seemed that the enormous first innings differences had been somewhat neutralised.
The gigantic 354-run target notwithstanding, yet another failure of Alastair Cook notwithstanding, there was a reason for hope. Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan, the green, untested trio, all spent plenty of time at the wicket before surrendering. Just before stumps on Day Four England were four down.
But there was a reason to hope. The captain was at the crease, one of the best batsmen of the world. Joe Root was looking good, which had not been the case so often on the tour. He was battling hard, and looking positive, always eager to score, and the strokes were coming off.
176 for 4, just about halfway there, but there was batting to come and Root was on 67. The target was 178 more, below the psychological barrier of 200. Hence, there was a reason to hope. Could they pull off a historic win? They would have to chase down one of the biggest targets ever, but there was a glimmer of optimism as the tourists returned to the dressing room at the end of the penultimate day. Maybe the series would come alive again.
And it took just 17 balls on the fifth morning to crush the burgeoning hopes and trample on the dreams of a closely contested series.
It started early. Off the second ball of the day, Chris Woakes, performing the duties of a nightwatchman, feathered the thinnest of edges off Hazlewood. Thin enough to register a blank on Hotspot, but snicko picked up something along the way, as did that incredible umpire Aleem Dar.
But there were still Moeen Ali and Johnny Bairstow left to bat, and the early wicket could have been treated as a minor hiccup.
With a ball from Mitchell Starc taking the edge of the captain’s bat as he closed the face of the bat, and falling just short of point, England supporters could have been excused for believing they had been given a break by the cricketing fortunes.
But then the superb ball from Hazlewood held its line, Root was just a shade late on it, and the resulting edge was gratefully accepted by Tim Paine. The captain was gone.
The promise of a scintillating final day undone in the space of 17 balls.
Root did not add to his overnight score. As he walked back, the decision to insert Australia on the first morning would have been weighing heavily on his mind.
It was all over but for the proverbial shouting.
The plight of the England side was palpably apparent as the skipper made his way out of the ground. The depth of batting was all on paper. The pillars of strength were tottering. And thereby was the entire side, prone to be knocked over like a bunch of frail bicycles leaning on each other.
The last four wickets survived less than 20 overs, adding just 56. Starc blew them away at the end. The series stood at 2-0.
And now the hard, unsympathetic strip of WACA await the Englishmen. They need to travel across the continent and battle it out at Perth to stay alive in the series, a venue which has been habitually less than generous to them.
Can they come back? Can they at least keep the series alive by managing to avoid a defeat in the next Test?
It does seem a long shot. The desire may be there, but the wherewithal is severely lacking.
There won’t be any pink ball and floodlights anymore to allow English bowlers to make it wobble around. The conditions will be far better suited for the Australian bowlers born and brought up in these parts, relying on pace and bounce. The inexperienced men of the English batting unit will have their task cut out, and the seniors have by now come under tremendous pressure to perform.
There are no tangible options for a miracle cure as well. The team management has already clarified that they are not looking for changes for the next Test. The resource bank is empty.
The odds seem to be stacked heavily in favour of the hosts, and a 5-0 rout does not look that far away.