A day that began brilliantly for England proceeded to become one of agony – another batting collapse consigned the visitors to a first-innings deficit of 237 before Australia finished on 45-1 under the lights at Adelaide.
England’s batting performance on day three retained key similarities from their second-innings effort at the Gabba. Joe Root and Dawid Malan put aside the struggles of the openers to put on another healthy partnership, with both crossing fifty, but their dismissals prompted a collapse of 86-8.
First, to the positives for England: they do have two frontline batters who are clicking. Batting at No.3, Malan followed his 82 in the first Test with a knock of 80 on Saturday and is leading England’s run-scoring charts with 168 runs at an average of 56. His record in Australia is a standout one when surveying his career statistics: six of his 10 50+ scores in Test cricket have come in the country. After 12 innings in Australia, he averages 45.91, nearly 15 runs more than his career average.
Root followed his 89 with a knock of 62 as his long wait for a Test century in Australia continues; he now has five half-centuries in his last six Test innings in the country. In regards to the record he’s been challenging for over the last 12 months – to hit the most Test runs in a calendar year – only three men sit above him in the list now: Mohammad Yousuf, Viv Richards and Graeme Smith. Root needs 183 runs to beat Yousuf’s tally of 1,788 runs in 2006 and will most likely have three more innings this year to get there.
The key theme of England’s batting in 2021 has been an over-reliance on their captain, but the return of Malan during the home summer has alleviated some of that stress. The pair have now batted together on four occasions this year and put on 485 runs, including three century stands; only Jonny Bairstow and Root, with 552 runs, have put on more runs as a partnership for England in 2021.
The fine work between the pair goes back some time. Since the start of 2017, the same year Malan debuted in Test cricket, the Root-Malan partnership has been England’s most prolific, with 20 innings together resulting in 1,217 runs at an average of 60.85. This comes despite Malan’s three-year absence from the Test side from 2018 to 2021, speaking to England’s long-term top-order troubles. Root and Malan have nine stands above 50 in 20 innings, more than any other pair for England.
The question remains: who else can stand up for England? After three completed innings in the series, no other Englishman has managed to reach 40, and there has only been one stand not involving Root and Malan worth more than 50, Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler’s partnership of 52 on the opening day of the series. For now, the No.3 and No.4 are head and shoulders above the rest.