First over and out: England wilt in face of awesome foursome

By asking only a gold coin as the price of entry to the Adelaide Oval on Wednesday, the South Australian Cricket Association seemed to be erring on the side of generosity. With England needing 178 runs to win, six wickets in hand and a focused Joe Root in charge, the day promised a dramatic Test match finish.

Perhaps the SACA knew something we didn't. The gold coin paid for less than a session of play, in which Australia resumed the service that had gone missing since the weekend. At 2-0 in the series, that service is beginning to look normal.

If anyone had inside knowledge of what was to happen, more likely it was David Saker. Once England's bowling coach and now Australia's, Saker risked some in-house wrath on Tuesday night by questioning Steve Smith's decision not to enforce the follow-on. Saker knew that the wisdom of that decision would be judged by the events of Wednesday, but that's cricket: the only unimpaired view is from hindsight.

Whatever Saker did to prepare his four bowlers on Wednesday, he ought to bottle it, because the decisive characteristic of their assault on day five was their accuracy from the very first ball. Best while fresh: Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon were commanding from the outset, without needing any warming up or settling down. There was an assertiveness from the Australian attack, under great pressure, that turned a tightrope into a cakewalk.

Hazlewood's first ball of the day, from the Cathedral End, pinned Chris Woakes to his crease. The second drew the batsman into a forward prod and a fine edge. The Barmy Army were barely into the first verse of Jerusalem. We didn't hear the second. Hazlewood's first over of the day was his best of the match.

If that was not stunning, Starc's first over from the River End, a maiden to Root, was equally on-point. Playing to leg, Root sliced the ball to the off; Moeen Ali played to the off but edged to leg. This was one-star Uber batting; strokes were leaving on time but not arriving at their intended destination. Root had dealt with 114 deliveries on Tuesday but suffered through nine on Wednesday, Starc's examination setting him up for a swift removal by Hazlewood, now bowling close to 150 km/h. Facile comparisons to Glenn McGrath must end right there.

Ten minutes into the day, gold coins were still being donated, but England were already a charity case.

Cummins has become something of the unsung hero of the Australian pace attack. Again, his wickets column did not reflect his impact. As with his teammates, it was immediate. Twice in his first over, he went past Jonny Bairstow's outside edge. The record will show that Cummins bowled a six-over spell and took no wicket for 10 runs. The record won't show that four of those runs were an edged boundary through slips; nor will it show that he set Craig Overton back with a heavy blow to the chest and also had Overton nicking to the cordon, where Cameron Bancroft, in a helmet at short third slip, proved why there is no such thing as a short third slip. Cummins is Australia's third seamer in name only. Quality-wise, he has been number one. Put him in the England team and you have a whole different series.

It is now expected that Lyon takes top-order wickets. Early in Lyon's career, Michael Clarke fed him bunnies to boost his red cell count and persuade selectors to keep choosing him. Now, Lyon is a spearhead. And to keep with the theme, he also took a wicket in his first over. He went past Moeen's outside edge and then past his inside. The decision was one of those dicey DRS things. In any case, this was not a day when Lyon was needed. In a fantasy game, the one that many eager spectators anticipated, Lyon was destined to be the key man on the wearing track. Not this time.

The bowling blitzkrieg was sealed with the second new ball. Cummins cleverly kept Bairstow off strike to expose Overton to Starc and a pink Kookaburra straight out of the box. One was all Starc needed. Again, no warming up and no settling down. The only thing that was late was the swing.

So: a grandstand finish, but by the finish of the first session, the grandstand was empty. England's revival turned out to be as overstated as the daily attendance figures. The broad panorama will speak of how Australia's bowlers finished it off. In the finer detail of this last day, their success lay not in how they finished but how they began.

This story First over and out: England wilt in face of awesome foursome first appeared on The Age.