The sun went down, the lights were on, men came and went as 17 wickets fell during one evening of cricket; you might have thought it was a One Day International or the Big Bash.
But, no, during an action-packed second day of the fifth Test in Hobart, you could not look away.
After some exciting lower-order hitting from Nathan Lyon, England’s horror show continued with the bat.
Once again the tourists failed to score more than 200 in their first-innings, as Pat Cummins led the way taking 4-45 and took the crucial wicket of his counterpart, Joe Root, along the way.
The Australian captain had great support in Scott Boland who only took one wicket but could have had three had the home side taken their chances.
Mitchell Starc, meanwhile, cleaned up the tail and took 3-53 from 10 overs.
England finished the day’s cricket with something to take from it, as Stuart Broard dismissed his “nemesis” David Warner, as Shane Warne put it, to take the first of three late-night wickets for the tourists.
Here are our talking points from a dramatic second day of Test cricket in Hobart.
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THE CONTEST THAT DECIDED THE ASHES
It was built as the contest to decide the Ashes: Pat Cummins versus Joe Root.
The duo did not just come into the series as the world’s best quick up against the number one batsman in the world, they came in as the respective captains.
After Tim Paine sensationally fell on his own sword, it was thought England could have an advantage in the leadership stakes.
England’s longest serving captain in Root against the untried Cummins; a bowler not least, the first for Australia in more than half-a-century.
The theory was the added responsibilities would prove too great.
With one innings left in the five-Test series, Cummins has led with authority, conviction, skill, a sense of humour and sincerity.
Perhaps more than anything though, he has looked relaxed, taken the game in his stride and enjoyed it.
There will come a time when things don’t go his way, when he does not have a man come from nowhere to take 6-7, nor a player fill the No.5 position and flay the opposition, but for the time being everything Cummins did he did with grace.
By comparison Root’s easy smile from the English summer has turned to match the gloominess of their winter.
Defeats do that.
But an absence of runs does too.
Root arrived Down Under intent on scoring his maiden century in Australia on what was his third tour.
He has one innings to change that, after Cummins had the last laugh yet again by trapping Root in front for 34.
Cummins is the leading wicket-taker, with 18 scalps at 18.72.
Root is third on the run-scorers list, but averages just 34.55 which tells another story in itself.
The English captain has hit three half-centuries, but been overworked by an Australian side that has coaxed the prolific run-scorer into playing at shots he need not have.
Until being trapped in front by Cummins, he had been caught behind on all eight occasions throughout the series.
In Hobart, Cummins did the English captain in the air and trapped him in front. It was sublime bowling. Root did not even waste a review, not wanting to give his opposite another chance to celebrate.
“I thought when Pat Cummins brought himself back on just as Joe Root started to get some form (was the key moment),” Shane Warne said in commentary for Fox Cricket.
“I thought Scott Boland and Pat Cummins were absolutely outstanding, to see them just be relentless with their pressure, fantastic.”
THEY’VE GOT IT WRONG
For three Tests England could not catch a cold.
As pundits, fans and the players themselves wrote column inches about selection, it really did not matter given England’s horrible fielding.
Right from Australia’s first-innings at the Gabba, England dropped catches and fluffed their lines.
In stark contrast Australia took their chances and rubbed salt into England’s wounds.
Curiously though, that momentum has changed and Australia’s narrow slip cordon has been exposed.
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Case in point came in the midst of another fabulous spell of bowling from Scott Boland, with the Victorian finding Chris Woakes’ outside edge first ball with England 6-124
Woakes, a useful lower order batsman, went on to score an important 36.
Adam Gilchrist was up the moment the ball caught the outside edge of the bat.
“Here’s a chance,” Gilchrist said in commentary for Fox Cricket. “Oh no, Khawaja this time. He goes across Smith at second. You’ve been talking about this a lot, Mark Waugh, the positioning of these slips.”
Waugh, one of Australia’s greatest fielders and safest pair of hands in second slip, was left aghast why the cordon was so tight, believing they were making life harder for themselves by confusing when to go for the ball and when not to.
“Well, that’s two they’ve put down,” said Waugh, having watched David Warner put down a sitter at first-slip. “Scotty Boland’s been on the receiving end both times.
“I’m just not happy with the spacing, they’re going in front of each other because they’re too tight together. If Khawaja was wider, that’d be straight to Steve Smith. They’ve just got it wrong.
“He still should have caught it, but they’re in each other’s way.”
The spotlight has been on Australia’s slips cordon for much of the series particularly after Alex Carey’s issues behind the stumps.
In Adelaide, Carey left a ball go between himself and first slip while he has since dropped a number of chances.
Waugh believes they could give themselves two more metres by being better spaced out.
“Those three slips there are covering two slips,” he said.
“That’s how tight they are. I can’t work out why because there’s good carry in this pitch. If it’s a low slow one and you’re standing up tight, yep, your pace has got to be much together but the ball’s carrying so nicely at a decent pace.”
He said all it was doing was confusing the men behind the stumps.
“You don’t know whether it’s your catch or not, but if you’re spacing out you definitely know that’s your catch and Khawaja wouldn’t have got across to it if they were properly spaced.”
Their issues continue to shine the spotlight on Carey, who as wicket-keeper is often tasked with setting the cordon.
Carey is in his first series as a Test player since replacing former captain Paine.
‘GUY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT’
Scott Boland didn’t get his just rewards on Saturday with two dropped catches off his bowling, and countless more probing deliveries beating the outside edge of the hapless English batters.
Even so, the spell was the latest entry into Boland’s rapidly growing collection of outstanding Test performances which will give selectors headaches for months to come.
Australia’s next Test assignment is a three-match tour of Pakistan in March, which will be followed by tours of Sri Lanka and India later in the year.
All things going well, Australia will have a full complement of quicks to choose from with Josh Hazlewood nearing full fitness.
But in just two-and-a-half Test matches, having only been brought in as a supposed MCG specialist, Boland has made himself virtually undroppable from Australia’s Test squad anywhere.
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It was a problem selectors never expected to have; the man who was meant to be a Test weapon in Melbourne is a weapon anywhere.
Australia fast bowling legend Brett Lee believes that Boland’s freakish consistency to hit a good line-and-length, like Hazlewood, means he must have a plane ticket to the subcontinent.
“Less than a month ago, he was a Sheffield Shield cricketer, with all due respect, and now he’s a guy you can’t live without in the side,” Lee said.
“Hazlewood comes straight back into the mix, he’s world class as well, but to have this guy (Boland) up your sleeve. Far out.
“I think if he hits those similar lengths, obviously there won’t be as much bounce or sideways movement (in Pakistan), but I reckon he’d go alright with the old ball too – reverse swing.
“He’s dominated with the red all series until this pink Test. I think he’d be a handful bowling that line and length (in Pakistan).
Shane Warne agrees with Lee, and even believes that the 2023 Ashes in England is not out of the equation for the 32-year-old.
“I think he’s got the action and the way he bowls, he’s got a great wrist, he bowls a wonderful length. I think he could bowl anywhere,” Warne said.
“I just think about that Duke’s ball in England, how well he’d bowl there, too.”
He added: “I think he could bowl somewhere like in India, the subcontinent. I think Pakistan with that coming up on those hard, abrasive pitches, you need people who can bang it in on a hard length and not skid it.
“He’s definitely on the plane for me. Hazlewood comes back in, you’ve got Hazlewood, Cummins, Starc, Green as your fourth seamer, but if anything happens or you need a bit of a rest, Boland would be my first bowler straight back in.”
Warne added that Boland could be the player-of-the-series having taken 15 wickets at 10.26. The cricket legend also believes that with the emergence of Boland, along with Jhye Richardson and Usman Khawaja, Australia is climbing its way back towards being the best in the world.
“If Australia wants to become the best side in the world again then they need the likes of guys like Boland, and Jhye Richardson, and batters who aren’t in the side who are averaging 40 because that’s what the good sides have,” Warne said.
“They have depth and it’s hard to pick an XI instead of saying ‘who do we play’?
“Australia are getting back to that position. That’s where you’ve got to say to Justin Langer that he’s done a good job.”
WARNER’S NEMESIS STRIKES AGAIN
The decision not to play Stuart Broad in the opening Test at the Gabba on a green top could very well have been a sliding doors moment for England.
It is likely England’s batting won’t have been strong enough to put any real pressure on Australia, but it will go down as one of the Ashes’ great ‘what-ifs’.
But if England are to be competitive at home in a couple of years’ time, they might well want Broad to go to the well again, particularly if David Warner is still opening for Australia.
For the 14th time in Test cricket Broad removed Warner.
Just like he did in Sydney, Broad cleaned up his bunny.
The dashing left-hander was phenomenally caught by Ollie Pope at backward point.
It was a stunning catch, but it continued Broad’s astonishing run at Warner from around the wicket for a duck.
The first-over dismissal saw Warner finish the series with a pair.
“Broad gets Warner once again and David Warner walks off with that pair I’ve been talking about,” former England captain Michael Vaughan said.
Warner averages just 27 when facing Broad, but that record drops to 19 when the veteran quick comes around the wicket.
It was Broad’s 129th Ashes wicket.
Warner may very well have thought he had seen the end of his nemesis.
“Dave Warner’s happy because he’s never going to face Stuart Broad against in Test cricket,” Brendon Julian said in commentary for Fox Cricket.
“Is that fair to say?”
Former fast bowler Brett Lee disagrees, believing “he will” still be around to continue their battle in England in 2023.
A LEAP TOO HIGH
Mitchell Starc climbed above Ben Stokes on the ICC’s top all-rounder’s list during the Ashes.
It came off the back of his fantastic series with the bat and ball against England.
As England’s top seven failed to score runs, Starc, coming in at number nine, continued to frustrate the tourists by producing scores of 35, 39*, 19, 24* and 34*.
So you could understand when the tall left-arm quick walked out ahead of Cummins at number eight in the batting line-up.
Soon after, Starc fell for three as he top-edged a short-pitched delivery from Mark Wood, who hurried the left-hander.
The shot was hardly a criminal one, particularly given Cameron Green had fallen the previous night in similar fashion.
But his short 17-ball stay at the crease raised an interesting question whether Starc was best off staying behind the Australian captain or being promoted to No.8 in the order.
“Warnie, you mentioned about Mitchell Starc and the expectation once you start to get promoted up the order, that score of three that he was dismissed on was his first single digit figure score in the series,” Adam Gilchrist astutely pointed out.
Earlier, Warne had mentioned that Starc might benefit from staying lower in the order, so as to allow the free-scoring batsman to play with the usual freedom he displays.
“You know, when he bats down the order at number nine, you can go out and have a bit of a whack at a few,” Warne said.
“We know how good of form he’s in, in this series Mitchell Starc, but the expectation is suddenly on himself and everyone else that he’s moved up to number eight. I’ve got to bat a little bit differently, I’ve got to hang in there, whereas I think Mitchell Starc’s at his best when he goes for it and he can have that freedom at number nine.”
Gilchrist, widely regarded as the greatest wicket-keeper in the game’s history, said he felt the weight of expectation whenever he was asked to bat higher in the order.
“I can relate to what you’re saying Warnie,” Gilchrist said.
“A lot of people used to say, why wasn’t I batting higher up the order? My first comment was that there was a fairly formidable top six ahead of me that didn’t need to be shuffled up elsewhere, but it could open up other options like an extra bowler, but on occasions I did do it and it does just change your mindset.
“My mindset first and foremost was I was a wicket-keeper for our team, that was my number one job and the batting was a bonus. I worked hard at my batting, I wanted to contribute, but I felt as long as I’m doing my job as keeper, I can relax with my batting.
“But one positional change, it can change your own internal expectations in the way you look at yourself as a cricketer.”
Starc’s has shared a number of characteristics with former left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson, which extends to his batting.
Johnson was build as a bowling all-rounder such was his success at one point in his career with the bat, where he scored half-centuries against England and hit a famous ton against South Africa.
But after climbing up the order, Johnson finished with a Test batting average of 22.20 – marginally lower than Starc’s 23.33.