Sport Cricket Joe Root passes test in Ashes cauldron
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Joe Root passes test in Ashes cauldron

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Test cricket is a five-act play with a climax that will not necessarily be at the end. Thus, Mitchell Johnson’s pyrotechnics on day three of the Adelaide Test were left behind on day four, as Australia and England played old-fashioned Test cricket, a grinding, attritional contest on a wearing pitch.

The Test match is well-named, and players find out about themselves in the cauldron, as Joe Root did. Really, today was about whether England was up for the fight, and previous evidence suggested the tourists might not be. But Root, the man-child from Yorkshire, had something to say about that.

Root is 22 and looks like he ought to go back to the colts, or take out the garbage and cut the lawns. But he has bottle. For an hour or so yesterday Mitchell Johnson cussed and hissed and fired thunderbolts at Root without a semblance of the Englishman backing down. Root talked to himself as the bowler was on approach, smiled at his insults, and moved into line religiously.

He made 87, just missing a century, but he goes to sleep knowing that he can play Test cricket. After that four hours in the middle, many of the days the game presents to him from now on will seem easy. Tempers were on edge throughout the day, and after the detente of Thursday and Friday, old enmities returned, particularly when Mitchell Johnson and Stuart Broad crossed swords at the end.

Thanks to Root, England passed its previous high innings for the series, reaching 200 for the first time, and the tourists are hanging on. But Australia has dominated from day one and, in a sense, is under just as much pressure because Michael Clarke’s team know full well they have earned the win and the 2-0 lead. Not until the last English pole falls will they have the luxury of relaxing. Four more wickets remain.

This was hard work for the Australians from start to finish, after Clarke’s surprising early-morning declaration. Nobody had expected this, not least the English, which must have been a part of the captain’s thinking. Having gone to the bother of batting a second time rather than enforcing the follow-on, it seemed that Australia would bat at least until lunch on the fourth day.

But Clarke’s inventiveness was rewarded. The openers were gifted early wickets by Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry hooking, before the grind set in. No quarter was given and as the game unfolded, it was a reminder of how good Johnson’s performance on Saturday actually was. Seven wickets for 40 on a slow turner is some sort of bowling.

The Australians were well-drilled but the wicket was the winner. Johnson was not the devastating bowler that he was on Saturday, not even close. His rhythm was off and he slid balls away to the slip cordon, like the old Mitch. Hardly a ball from any fast bowler moved off its line.

Nathan Lyon was disappointing. The off-spinner is improving all the time, but he feels the pinch when he is under weight of expectation. When there is big turn available he does not adjust his line, push the ball wider and encourage the batsmen to hit through the off-side. He rushes and bowls at the pads of the batsmen. It has happened before.

The Australians had to maximise opportunities and a constant in this match has been their catching. Ryan Harris’ running dismissal of Cook was made to look easy, and the same for Lyon’s sliding catch off Carberry. Johnson dived full-length forward to remove Ian Bell off Steve Smith’s rank full toss.

In Adelaide, fielding teams need to be productive and efficient and Australia plainly has been what England was not. Ultimately England has won some credibility but delayed the inevitable.