England’s tailenders stood tall in the fourth Ashes Test as they drew a nerve-shredding draw in the fourth Ashes Test after going down nine in Sydney to block Australia’s hopes of a whitewash.
After defeats in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne, the Tourists stopped the rot at the SCG in the most tense fashion as number 11 James Anderson scored off the last six balls of the match.
Anderson, 39, came to the crease in scenes of painful play when a skilful rearguard action by Jack Leach ended with just three overs to spare. He bravely challenged Australia’s high-class attack for 34 balls to become Steve Smith’s first Test scalper since 2016, the part-time leg-spinner at the end of his first over after the umpire decided on bad light. Means it was not secure to sew the face.
Stuart Broad scored an unbeaten eight off 35 balls and was about to embrace his longtime bowling partner when Anderson kept his nerve to bowl Smith’s final over – the 91st of an entertaining day and the 102nd of the innings .
England had scored 270 for nine, nowhere close to their theoretical win target of 388, but a proud morale was successfully restored in the final act of the tour.
Despite losing the urn in just 12 days, England now know they will not suffer the notoriety of a 5–0 series sweep, the same fate that happened in the classes of 2006/07 and 2013/14.
The pendulum swung on several occasions throughout the day, but never more decisively than when Australia fought hard during the final hour, including three players who were being supported by painkillers.
Ben Stokes (side), Jonny Bairstow (thumb) and Jos Buttler (finger) were all in serious trouble and while the latter have been ruled out of the series finals in Hobart next week, there is no guarantee that they will be in trouble. Any teammate will fit.
England knew they would have to fight a long and hard fight to prevent defeat and they had many players to thank for laying the groundwork for the lower order.
Zak Crowley (77), Stokes (60) and Bairstow (41) all soaked up at least 100 balls, showing the kind of dedication and determination this series often takes.
But even then, his work would have been in vain if the celebrated colleagues at the other end of the order had not displayed enormous character at the business end.
For Anderson, in particular, there must be memories of the Ashes draw he helped deliver with Monty Panesar in Cardiff in 2009.
England would have known that without the afternoon shower, in which seven overs were stripped from the day’s play, they would almost certainly be staring at a 4-0 scoreline, but on a journey where almost nothing to plan Wasn’t gone, a small piece of luck was more than welcome.
With Stokes and Bairstow at the crease at 193 for four in the final session, things looked relatively safe for England, but the real excitement was only bubbling up.
Stokes, in visible discomfort throughout his stay, fell just before the all-important new ball, prompting Nathan Lyon to slip regretfully after watching the last 123 balls with resolve.
He had given everything to the cause despite his strain restrictions and was reporting that even his attempts to swing his bat in anger were halted by aching in his intercostal muscles.
This left Australia with renewed optimism as they cracked open a fresh Kookaburra with 22 overs to spare. Captain Pat Cummins opened the doors with it in the 85th over with a vigorous double strike.
First he lbw Butler for 11 runs on the back foot, intelligently asked for DRS after being turned down on the ground, then two balls later he produced a brilliant inswinging yorker that crushed Mark Wood’s foot directly in front of the middle stump .
It was a big blow to England’s hopes, but their will was not broken. Bairstow scored a century after his first innings with a blockade that lasted almost three hours, most of it with the tail, and when he walked to the bat-pad spot to give Australia another lift, Leach And Broad played against the odds with true steel.
They soaked up 52 balls and shared a 32-run partnership, with Leach trickling in with 25 as he scored the most attacking areas. It looked like they’d get close, but when Smith was unexpectedly drawn into service by the fading light, Leach slid to expose Anderson for his last-gasp defense.
Crowley’s efforts had been forgotten by then but he started the day on an optimistic note with a free flow while Haseeb Hameed, David Malan and Root themselves failed to make a similar dent.