England shot out for 297 as Australia close in on opening Ashes victory at Gabba

The Ashes

England were staring at an inevitable defeat in the first Ashes Test with a day four batting collapse leaving Australia on the verge of a 1-0 lead with a paltry target of just 19.

Arriving at the ground full of optimism after an unbroken stand of 159 between Joe Root and Dawid Malan on the previous evening, the tourists were steamrollered in the first session.

From the promise of 220 for two overnight to the despair of 297 all out at lunch, it was another demoralising passage for a nation with a painful history at The Gabba.

Play had started with England harbouring cautious hopes of an unlikely rescue mission. Joe Root and Dawid Malan had batted for almost four hours to slowly turn the tide on day three, chewing through 49 wicketless overs and putting on 159 together to plant a few seeds of doubt in the home attack.

Australia v England – 2021/22 Ashes Series – First Test – Day Four – The Gabba
England’s Mark Wood avoids a bouncer (Jason O’Brien/PA)

The possibility of twin centuries looked a good bet as the pair resumed but instead, they were never able to regain control of the situation. Malan added just two runs to his overnight score of 80, lasting 15 minutes before Nathan Lyon finally made him his 400th Test victim.

The 34-year-old has spent most of the year stuck on 399 given Australia’s lack of Test cricket and a wicketless first innings here, and let out 12 months of nervous energy when Malan took a step down the track and nicked a bat-pad chance to silly point.

Only Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, two of the game’s undisputed greats, have ever reached that landmark before for the Baggy Greens and he celebrated by taking another three to claim figures of four for 91.

Malan’s departure cranked up the pressure on Root, who was already desperate to register a first Ashes century Down Under in his 10th outing on these shores. He made it as far as 89, his best score in Australia, but for the seventh time failed to convert a half-century.

Given his level of control on Friday, it was an innocuous exit as he fell for a nibbling delivery outside off stump and feathered through to the keeper. Having undermined England’s hard-fought comeback by taking out both set batters in less than half-an-hour, Ollie Pope gifted them a bonus. Cutting his sixth ball underneath his eye-line, far too tight to even imagine the stroke, he fed Steve Smith catching practice at slip.

Australia v England – 2021/22 Ashes Series – First Test – Day Four – The Gabba
Australia’s Nathan Lyon dismissed Dawid Malan for his 400th Test wicket (Jason O’Brien/PA)

England had lost 14 for three and any semblance of self-control. The pairing of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler offered a glimmer of hope, but it was a mirage.

They took the deficit down from 44 to 12, with a couple of well-timed shots and some useful edges, but Pat Cummins got Stokes with a beauty that kicked awkwardly off the pitch. Squared up and hopping in the crease he could only spray a leading edge to gully.

Buttler’s cameo ended on 23 when he wafted one into Alex Carey’s gloves, leaving England seven down and still 10 behind. Ironic cheers greeted the single that confirmed Australia would need to bat again, but Ollie Robinson’s botched reverse-sweep off Lyon moved the inevitable conclusion one step further.

Mark Wood gave Lyon his latest scalp when he mis-read the flight and paid with his off stump and when Chris Woakes feathered Green behind, a once promising innings hit the wall.

Although a much improved effort compared to their day one debacle, it left Australia needing to apply the tiniest of finishing touches with the bat.