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Root toss call in the spotlight as Australia have the better day

Will Macpherson by Will Macpherson
@willis_macp 5 minute read

In avoiding losing clusters of wickets, Australia had the best of a fractious first day of the second, day/night, Test at Adelaide.

At a fork in the road, Joe Root began the Adelaide Test by taking the path fraught with danger. “We’ll have a bowl” was his response when the toss went his way, and tongues were instantly wagged, theories were opined and the history books were mined for reasons why this was wrong, or stupid, or mad, or imminently infamous. Root said it was the attacking decision, and it was certainly brave.

By the end of the first day, Australia were surely the happier side, but England were hardly distraught either – I mean, they managed to get Steve Smith out, after all. They might have wondered after Brisbane if that would ever have happened again. Australia did not lose wickets in clusters, or indeed many wickets at all. Their position is one from which they can forge a match-shaping score should they start well on Sunday.

It was a fidgety day, always shaped by Root’s decision, and whether it was any cop. It is still utterly unclear whether the captain’s call was a wise one or not, but the pitch did not look or play like a bowl-first job, and the action only really flickered, broadly around resumptions, and changes to its rhythm. Cameron Bancroft was run out brilliantly by Chris Woakes four balls into the second session, Usman Khawaja drove loosely to gully four balls into the third, and Smith was bowled by the first ball of Craig Overton’s mammoth final spell. That was the first Test wicket for Overton, told of his debut on the morning of the game. Smith is one hell of a scalp right now. Dine out on it, Craig.

The crowd broke a record at a storied cricket ground. With more than 55,000 people through the gates (many of them queuing three hours before the first ball), a game of cricket at Adelaide Oval has never known more. The previous highest for a Test came in the Bodyline series of 1932/33, which is remarkable. By the end, barely a quarter of that figure remained in the ground; people have food to eat, beers to drink, and homes to go to. By the time media duties and all the rest were done, England were hopping about to make their curfew.

Initially, Root’s bold call had been backed up pretty poorly by his bowlers. They were too short, lessening their swing, and David Warner and Bancroft gleefully picked up where they left off in Brisbane, taking their unbroken stand past 200. But a second rain delay brought an early lunch and helped England. They regrouped, and the batters’ rhythm was broken. Warner nudged to cover, where Moeen Ali misfielded. The batsmen set off, then turned back, because the ball had found its way to Woakes at mid-off. Bancroft, not helped by that hefty melon of his, scrambled as Woakes was clear of thought. He steadied himself and threw the stumps down. Bancroft, having dived, head-butted the turf. Someone, somewhere, once said never run on a misfield, didn’t they?

Warner and Khawaja both carelessly wafted when set, while England were better to Smith. There were plays and misses this time, and his rhythm appeared thoroughly disrupted by what Stuart Broad and James Anderson had to say to him. Finally, with the 416th ball bowled to him in the series, Overton bowled him, and wheeled away in celebration of a moment he will never forget. Smith hadn’t been bowled out in Australia since November 2015.

It was Australia’s day largely because wickets did not follow wickets. The stands for the second and third wickets were each worth 53, and the day’s most important passage might just have been the very last. Peter Handscomb hasn’t looked convincing for a second this series, but he is still there, and so is Shaun Marsh. They resisted the witching hour and Australia have a platform. The ball is an over old, and England have no choice but to strike while it still glows.

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