A good, old-fashioned description of Test Matches is that successful teams let the batsmen do the batting and the bowlers take 20 wickets. Whilst that has been challenged many times in the history of cricket’s longest-form, this series has seen significant contributions from the lower order that has already changed one match and could do so again in Adelaide, if England are to get close to their improbable target of 354 to level the series.
The tourists closed on 176/4, just about halfway towards what would be a record-breaking England fourth innings chase, after a stunning fourth day in South Australia. If it is close, the Aussie lower order could be seen to have made the difference with the bat in establishing a 2-0 series lead heading to Perth.
In Brisbane, the last four wickets for the hosts added 126 runs (38.4% of the total) in the first innings, turning a likely deficit into a small lead in the process. That was aided by a patient 42 from Pat Cummins that irritated the visitors and was repeated in Adelaide when the Aussies added a further 148 between the fall of their sixth wicket and their declaration, another 33.5% of a handy total, whichever way you swing on the whole debate about the timing of Smith’s withdrawal.
Cummins’ acceleration towards 44 off 90 balls in the first dig helped Australia establish a strong platform, which became better second time around when 75/6 was shunted up to 138 with the help of a tail who chipped in with 45.7% of a low total.
For their part, England would have been dead and buried in this match and heading westbound on their Qantas licking wounds already had it not been for the mini-rally of the tail in creeping up to 227. The 95 added between the last four pairs there was almost 42% of the total and exposed the frailties in the top order for Joe Root’s men, although it did lead to plenty of stats-based sarcasm on Twitter with Andy Zaltzman pointing out that every time England have had an eighth wicket stand in excess of 65 in Australia in the last four decades, they have captured the urn. Chris Woakes and Craig Overton managed to eke out 66 that could yet prove precious.
Considering the troubles at 2, 3 and 5 for England in recent months, it wouldn’t come as a huge shock to England fans that the lower order has chipped in more than it might have been expected. That said, an analysis of the 11 Tests over the last calendar year (including the one ongoing) has shown a slight decline in the contributions from the lower order, with 24.69% of England’s runs coming after the fall of the sixth wicket.
If that run continues on day five in Adelaide, England will be asking their last four wickets to add 88 runs to win the game under intense pressure – their overall requirement is a further 178 heading into crunch time. Not rocket science, but further proof of the importance of this stand between captain Root and Woakes, followed by the input of Messrs Bairstow and Moeen Ali, if England are to smash all kind of data barriers and square The Ashes.