Australia stunned England with two late wickets, including that of Joe Root for 83, to leave the tourists wobbling on 233 for five at the end of a the rain-disrupted opening day of the fifth and final test on Thursday. A day that started with incessant light rain washing out the first session had looked like ending with a packed Sydney Cricket Ground bathed in summer sunshine and England’s Barmy Army of fans in full triumphant voice.
Root and Dawid Malan had combined for a 133-run partnership to help the tourists to 228 for three when Australia took the new ball with less than half an hour of play remaining. Mitchell Starc, back after missing the fourth test with a bruised heel, induced Root into a flick to square leg where Mitchell Marsh took a superb catch before Josh Hazlewood removed nightwatchman Jonny Bairstow with the last ball of the day.
Malan, who survived a few scares to notch up his fifth test half century, reached stumps unbeaten on 55. Despite the Ashes already having been relinquished after the loss of the first three tests in the series, the tourists had been determined to build on their performance in the drawn fourth test and secure a consolation victory.
Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Alastair Cook departed relatively cheaply before tea but Australia’s bowlers were unable to drive home their advantage until the dramatic climax. Both Root and Malan scored slowly – the captain had six boundaries in his half century and his partner five – and there were chances to dismiss the latter in particular.
Root had just reached the 50 mark when he called for a single off Nathan Lyon only for Malan, who was on 28, to stand his ground and then set off very late. Marsh fielded the ball but fired it to the striker’s end and Tim Paine’s throw to Lyon caused the spinner to spill the ball allowing Malan to make his ground.
Malan had eked his tally to 34 when he got an edge off to a Lyon delivery that eluded both Paine and captain Steve Smith at first slip.
Cameron Bancroft almost conjured up a sensational run-out from the close field but his throw just missed the mark and Malan again survived.
They were chances that Australia would have rued had the day not ended as well for them as it had started. Stoneman and Vince had both got starts under brightening skies but they again betrayed their batting frailties to depart for 24 and 25 respectively, both caught behind off Pat Cummins.
Cook made 244 not out in the drawn Melbourne test last week and looked to be creeping assiduously towards another big tally when Hazlewood intervened. With the former England captain on 39 and just five runs from becoming the sixth batsman to score 12,000 test runs, the big paceman fired down a fullish delivery that rapped the 33-year-old on the front pad.
A loud shout for lbw was turned down by umpire Joel Wilson but Smith reviewed immediately with the TV tracking removing any doubt about the ball pitching outside leg and forcing the decision to be reversed.