Calmness. It is the word on the tip of the tongues of Australia’s cricketers.
Ever since Pat Cummins shocked the world by bursting onto the international scene as a teenager, it has been the motto and mantra the quick has operated by.
When the 28-year-old was appointed skipper last month, he drove home the importance of remaining calm.
So when England crawled their way in the second session and into the third, remaining calm, as Steve Smith said in his post-match interview, was important.
“We always felt a couple of good balls, there’s still plenty of time left, trying to stay as calm in the middle, a couple of good balls and we’d keep going,” Smith said.
Catch every moment of The Ashes live and ad-break free during play on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now.
That is ultimately all it took.
The method of his dismissal perfectly summed up his extraordinary Test, after going from hero to zero whilst wearing the gloves.
Here are our talking points from a dramatic, interesting final day of action in the second Test at Adelaide Oval.
ALL HOPE NOT LOST FOR ENGLAND, YET
Cricket can be a cruel game.
Just ask Jos Buttler, who rode the highs and experienced the agonising lows of Test cricket through five “rollercoaster” days.
The England wicket-keeper’s stoic innings came to an end after the tea break in the most painful of ways: hit wicket.
Soon after, the result was confirmed, England were smashed by 275 runs.
The heavy defeat put into light the stark difference between the two sides.
“They do, and they’re soundly beaten in this Test match,” Mark Waugh told Fox Cricket.
“I mean, yes, they hung on well today and there’s been period’s in both Test matches where they’ve put some partnerships together, but not enough. They’re going to have to string a lot more partnerships from the top right through to the middle if you’re going to compete against Australia and they’ll have to play a stronger Australia I feel at the MCG with Pat Cummins back into the side, maybe Hazlewood, I’m not sure about his injury, but it’s not going to get any easier for England.”
But there were glimmers of hope for England to take out of Adelaide.
Root put on a brave face speaking to Adam Gilchrist in the post-match press conference.
“We have to believe,” he said, adding that he backed and had confidence in the squad’s ability to bounce back and stay alive in the Ashes.
Buttler’s innings naturally stands out as something for the tourists to build from.
His 207-ball 26, which left him with a strike-rate of 12.56, was the slowest in Ashes history, beating the likes of Herbert Sutcliffe and Geoff Boycott.
There were other aspects that allowed England to get a bit of confidence and gain a foothold into the game.
MORE CRICKET NEWS
As much as Australia tried to force the issue on day four against England’s bowler, the early inroads allowed their bowlers just a bit of confidence.
Another Harris fail; Smith out any number of ways before finally departing for six; Alex Carey also for single-digits.
For a deprived English side, these are the little things England will hold tight.
As Roots says, England must “believe”.
SKIPPER REFUSES TO POINT THE FINGER
Much has been made of England’s head-scratching selections across the first two Tests, but captain Joe Root wasn’t willing to point the finger at coach and sole selector Chris Silverwood.
Instead, he did so at his bowlers who he accused of bowling too short in the first innings – just like they did throughout the 2017-18 series.
Australia batted England out of the match in the first innings at Adelaide Oval, scoring 9-473 declared with Marnus Labuschagne, David Warner and Steve Smith all surpassing 90 runs having been targeted with short-pitched bowling.
In a brutally honest assessment after day five, Root said it was “frustrating” that the team hadn’t learnt from the failed 2017-18 series having spent too long bowling short.
“When you look at ball in hand in particular, I don’t think we bowled the right lengths,” Root said after play.
“If we’re being brutally honest, we needed to bowl fuller, and as soon as we did in that second innings, we created so many chances, we didn’t go anywhere and made it very hard work.”
Root called on his bowlers to be “braver” and learn from Australia’s example by pitching the ball up more often.
“When we do, we’re going to create chances and make life difficult,” Root said.
“That’s one of the frustrating things because it’s something we did four years ago and we got it wrong and we didn’t learn from it.
“We’ve got to learn those lessons very quickly ahead of next week.”
SPEARHEAD SHOWS UP IN HOUR OF NEED
Mitchell Starc took just one ball to make a statement.
In the second Test he took command of the series and his future.
After losing Josh Hazlewood, Australia’s attack could have fallen apart following the late withdrawal of captain Pat Cummins after a Covid scare.
But the 31-year-old had one of his finest outings in years.
“Yeah perhaps that was it (the extra responsibility), I’m not too sure,” said Smith, speaking about Starc.
“I think he summed it up pretty quickly that there wasn’t a great deal of swing for him and he was just trying to bash a good length and try and go across the right-handers in particular and just hit good areas. I thought he did that as well as I’ve seen him do throughout his career. It looked like he was in great rhythm, feeling really good, and I’m really proud of the way he went about his business.”
The performance didn’t rock England like Mitchell Johnson years earlier, but it was one built on consistency of line and length and, importantly, speed.
Left-armer Starc finished with six wickets, including four in the first-innings.
He scored a vital 39* too, with his lower-order runs and partnerships making it an agonising period for England before they had to face his heat.
“I want to make special mention of Mitchell Starc as well,” Smith said.
“I thought he bowled as good as I’ve seen him bowl for a long time. His line and lengths were exceptional and he led this attack really well.”
One of the most confusing aspects of play on Monday was that it took 55 overs before Australia caved and tossed Cameron Green the ball.
Speculation was mounting that Green, like Josh Hazlewood at the Gabba, had injured himself and was being kept away from the crease.
Green has proven to be something of a specialist in breaking up partnerships and taking key wickets this series having made a marked improvement on his bowling since last summer.
The 22-year-old was guilty of bowling too short against India but has pitched up and unnerved England’s batters – especially Joe Root – with the extra bounce he extracts from his height.
As Australia struggled to end the lengthy partnership of Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler, Green was held back until the team eventually became desperate late in the second session.
Steve Smith revealed after play that Australia is still managing the workload of the youngster, who had been hampered by lengthy back injuries as a teenager.
“The guys inside actually said they didn’t want him to bowl at all today,” Smith said. “I was kind of trying to manage his workload as much as possible.
“We’ve got to remember, he’s still a young kid, he’s bowled the past two days, it’s a long series and it’s a pretty close game, Boxing Day, it’s not long away.
“I held him back for as much as I could but I wanted to have a little crack with him, I thought he might have been able to get the breakthrough for us when they had that partnership going, so, ideally he wouldn’t have bowled today, but we’ve seen how good he is.”
RIDING A BIKE FOR SKIPPER SMITH
As Adam Gilchrist described it, it looked like riding a bike for Steve Smith.
The prolific batsman returned to the role he held before that moment in 2018.
Smith is off and riding though and surely, after years of the issue lingering and bubbling under the surface, everyone can move on.
“I had fun this week,” Smith said. “I did enjoy it.
“I thought the guys played really well. I thought we were able to control the game from after the first day; Davey and Marnus’s partnership set it up and we were able to declare when we wanted to declare and bowl where we wanted to bowl. I thought it was a really good performance.”
Smith, unsurprisingly, returned to a sense of form with a first-innings 93.
But it was his captaincy and bowling changed that proved successful in the final innings.
The usual suspects bowled the bulk of the overs, but Smith was astute enough to give himself, Labuschagne and Travis Head an over or two. It might not have worked, but it gave the opposition something to think about.
These were astute moves, which captains of the past have been cautious of doing since Steve Waugh.
Smith also went against what Cricket Australia’s management wanted, which was to keep Cameron Green wrapped in cotton wool.
But the occasion called for Green to send down an over or two and the young all-rounder almost broke through.
Smith will give up the captaincy should Cummins return as expected.
Given how the duo have operated in the past, Smith’s bizarre, sudden, and brief, return to the captaincy can only be of benefit.