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Australia are turning the screw

Australia’s Josh Hazlewood celebrates after taking the key wicket of England’s captain Joe Root during the fifth day of the second Ashes Test match. (Reuters)
LONDON: Despite a heroic fightback from England on the fourth day, Australia’s potency with the pink ball took them to an ultimately comfortable 120-run victory in Adelaide, and a 2-0 advantage in the Ashes series. Here are five factors that influenced the outcome of the second Test:
It did not take long for the comparisons with Nasser Hussain and the Gabba in 2002 — England put Australia in, and watched them race to 364 for 2 by stumps — to start once Joe Root won the toss and elected to bowl. You could not really fault him though. Both New Zealand and South Africa had batted first in day-night Tests in Adelaide, and been beaten. And the conditions should have been ideal for England’s seam attack. But they did not pitch it up with the new ball, and Australia’s batsmen gutsed their way through the opening day. When Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes got their lengths right in the second innings, Australia were skittled for 138. Root’s decision, and the subsequent loss, will deflect attention from Steve Smith opting not to enforce the follow-on when conditions were ideal for bowling.
They call him Son of Swampy (Geoff Marsh’s nickname). And ever since he made his Test debut in 2011, after having batted himself into contention through the Indian Premier League in 2008, Shaun Marsh has been the most hotly debated of Australian selections. He lost his national contract before the season began, and even a vital half-century in Brisbane did not entirely quieten the critics. But this, his 25th Test, marked his finest hour. Unbeaten on 20 at stumps on the opening day, he saw Peter Handscomb dismissed third ball the next morning. When Tim Paine was dismissed after dominating an 85-run stand, Marsh had made sedate progress to 41 off 114 balls. Off the next 117 he faced, he smashed 85 to take Australia to a match-winning total. Adelaide, a city famed for its pies, may need to bake a few of the humble variety.
England’s batsmen learnt no lessons from Marsh in how to construct an innings. Over their two innings, as many as 11 batsmen faced at least 50 balls. But having got in, they never kicked on for the big scores that win Tests. Craig Overton, with 41 in the first innings, and Joe Root, top scorer in the doomed chase with 67, were the only ones to cross 40. In sharp contrast, Australia’s batsmen ground out two half-centuries and two 40s in addition to Marsh’s epic. Adelaide also witnessed the obligatory English accordion fold, with the last seven wickets falling for 64.
Since his 99 against South Africa at Old Trafford in August, Bairstow — whose unusual greeting methods dominated post-Gabba chatter — has scored just 177 runs in nine innings. He has batted at No.7 in eight of those, and at No.8 in the final knock in Adelaide. With no Stokes in the middle order, surely there is a case for him to bat higher, perhaps even at No.5. The problem is that England have tried Bairstow there before. In 19 innings at No.5, he averages 30.15. The numbers when at No.6 (45.91) or No.7 (40.55) are considerably better. But with England’s tail no match for Australian pace, a promotion is in order in Perth.
Since India’s Erapalli Prasanna took 25 wickets in four Tests exactly 50 years ago, Australia has been no country for off-spinners. Even when England won the Ashes in 2010-11, Graeme Swann’s 15 wickets cost nearly 40 apiece. Moeen Ali has 130 Test wickets, but almost all his best spells have come in English conditions. Away from home, he averages nearly 46, and Australia is proving the toughest assignment of all. After doubts over whether a cut finger would allow him to bowl in Adelaide, he sent down 29 wicket-less overs that cost 99. Nathan Lyon, his opposite number, took 6 for 105 in 49.1 overs. Lyon, who has dismissed Ali in every innings so far, has been as central to Australia’s success as the gifted pace trio. Ali has been peripheral at best.