England’s top order went down in flames once again as they limped to 124 for six in the final Ashes Test in Hobart.
After bowling the hosts out for 303, the tourists began their innings in some of the best batting conditions of the series but could not shake the bad habits that have dogged them throughout the tour.
Things began with a gift of a wicket for the Australians, Rory Burns needlessly run out for a duck on his return to the side, with matters only marginally improving from there.
Zak Crawley, whose poor call put his opening partner in trouble, was unable to make amends as he became the first of three victims for home skipper Pat Cummins and the middle-order spine buckled in the evening session.
After a hard-fought 49-run stand Dawid Malan and captain Joe Root fell in quick succession, before Ben Stokes was superbly caught to make it three wickets in 21 balls. Just seven runs had been added to the total in that time, leaving England 85 for five.
Ollie Pope, handed an unexpected lifeline at number five due to Jonny Bairstow’s thumb injury, failed to learn his lesson with a tame edge outside off stump, leaving a debutant in charge of the fire-fighting mission.
Wicketkeeper Sam Billings has spent the last few weeks playing Twenty20 cricket with Big Bash franchise Sydney Thunder and only joined the camp a few days ago. At the tea break he found himself unbeaten on 19 and charged with negotiating the twilight period under lights.
Australia had resumed on 241 for six having successfully come through their own struggles on day one, when they rallied from 12 for three. They added another 62 runs for their final four wickets, with the tail doing enough late hitting to casually squeeze past England’s best score of the series (297 in Brisbane).
With Ollie Robinson once again unable to bowl due to a back spasm – and with a warning over his general fitness ringing in his ears – England looked to Mark Wood to lead their charge.
His chosen method was a barrage of 90mph bouncers but his initial success – Mitchell Starc and Cummins both succumbing to top edges off short balls – came to a surprising halt when number 10 Nathan Lyon launched him for three sixes in quick succession.
Stuart Broad ended his fun for 31, but by then Australia had once again played themselves into a position of strength.
Burns was taken out of the firing line after two torrid Tests but was back on parade due to Haseeb Hameed’s dire form. He will not look back on his comeback innings fondly, enduring three awkward moments in Starc’s first over – including a suspected edge that went undetected – before being run out following Crawley’s dodgy call.
Both men stuttered as the risk became apparent, but it was Burns who paid the price as Marnus Labuschagne threw down the stumps from cover and he declined to dive for the line.
Crawley had some making up to do and helped himself to three boundaries in a typically assertive start. But it was a cameo where his side needed a clinic. Cummins set up the trap and sprang it when an inside edge cannoned into the thigh pad and was snapped up by Travis Head at short-leg.
Malan and Root, who shared two century stands earlier in the series, came through uncertain starts to raise hopes of another decent stand but it was not to be.
There was a sense of fatalism in Malan’s five boundaries and, not for the first time, Cummins had him caught down the leg-side flicking off his pads. That brought Root and Stokes together, two players with the quality to compete.
But both fell short of their own high standards. Root put together a knock of 34 before Cummins got the better of him, jagging one in off the pitch and winning a close lbw call. Stokes, meanwhile, scored his only four runs with a shot that was perilously close to leg slip was well caught by Lyon trying to force Starc through point.
Pope’s latest inconsequential stay ended on 14 when he nicked Scott Boland pushing indeterminately at one he might have left, leaving Billings to shoulder the burden. He settled himself with a pair of lovely drives past mid-off and looked secure in his surroundings while all-rounder Chris Woakes was dropped twice at slip off the unfortunate Boland.
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