|Fifth Ashes Test, Sydney Cricket Ground (day one of five)|
|England 233-5: Root 83, Malan 55*, Cummins 2-44|
|Australia: Yet to bat|
England lost two wickets in the final two overs of the first day to let Australia back into the fifth Ashes Test in Sydney.
In Mitchell Starc’s first over with the second new ball, Joe Root clipped to square leg to depart for 83.
The next man in, Jonny Bairstow, chose not to use a nightwatchman, only to edge Josh Hazlewood behind to leave England 233-5 at the close.
Captain Root had shared a fourth-wicket stand of 133 with Dawid Malan, who remains on 55 not out.
England earlier slipped to 95-3 after winning the toss following a delay of more than two hours because of rain.
Mark Stoneman, Alastair Cook and James Vince all wasted good starts, the latter pair falling in the space of seven runs after a stand of 60.
Following a drawn fourth Test in Melbourne that was played on a lifeless pitch, Sydney has offered true bounce for the batsmen, a hint of seam for the pace bowlers and turn for off-spinner Nathan Lyon – encouraging for debutant Mason Crane, the youngest spinner to play for England in 90 years.
Australia, who have already secured the Ashes, gave little away and it was only towards the end of the day that England, chasing a first Test win down under in 10 attempts, looked to be on top of the game.
Starc’s intervention first left the contest in the balance, before Hazlewood tipped it Australia’s way.
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Late drama undoes England
The dramatic conclusion was the series in microcosm – Australia wresting back the initiative just as England seemed to be gaining control.
Root and Malan had steered England from trouble, Malan returning to his position as England’s leading runscorer in the series, and Root primed to improve on a conversion rate in which he has only reached three hundreds from his last 19 Test half-centuries.
Root made just 17 from the first 50 deliveries he faced but opened up after tea with his most regular methods of scoring – square on the off side and tucks off the pads.
Malan was even more circumspect, scoring 18 from his first 73 balls. His watchfulness outside off stump remained throughout, mixed with cover drives and jabs on the leg side.
They both had slices of luck – Malan could have been run out in a mix-up, then edged Lyon past home captain Steve Smith at slip when on 34. Meanwhile, Root top-edged Pat Cummins in between two fielders on the leg-side boundary when on 67.
With the close in sight, Root loosely turned Starc’s third delivery with the new ball on the leg side, and the diving Mitchell Marsh took a smart catch to leave Root crouched on his haunches in disappointment.
Seven deliveries later, Hazlewood found Bairstow’s edge, which will expose the out-of-form Moeen Ali and England’s elongated tail to the new ball when play resumes at the earlier time of 23:00 GMT on Thursday.
England’s late slip-up was a repeat of what came from the top three when play finally got under way after lunch.
Cook, Stoneman and Vince all missed the chance to cash in after doing the hard work – in the case of the latter two, it was another wasted opportunity to make their place in the side more secure.
Stoneman, who played club cricket in Sydney and met his wife here, raced to a run-a-ball 24 but tamely fenced a short ball from Cummins to the keeper.
Vince once again looked high class, particularly when driving through the off side, only to find another infuriating way to get out, wafting at Cummins to edge behind for 25.
Both men have strong cases to be involved in the two-Test series in New Zealand in March, yet may feel they need significant contributions in the second innings to be absolutely sure of being in the squad that will be named after this match.
Former captain Cook, off the back of an unbeaten 244 in the fourth Test, was loose to begin with, but settled down to accumulate 39 until he played across Hazlewood to be given out lbw on review.
Below-par Starc strengthens Australia
On a slow, unresponsive pitch in Melbourne, Australia had been hampered by the absence of pace spearhead Starc, who missed out with a bruised heel.
In Sydney, aided by a much more helpful surface, the hosts were more potent for his presence, even if the left-armer was slightly down on pace and the most expensive of the four frontline bowlers.
For long periods, Lyon held an end, while the fast bowlers were rotated at the other.
The metronomic Hazlewood was the pick of the attack, examining England’s techniques with accuracy and a hint of movement off the seam. Cummins got rewards by banging away back of a length.
As England scored more freely in the warmth of the evening, Australia looked to have ran out of energy and options, particularly with Starc seeming to indicate a problem with his left calf.
But he still took the new ball and made a telling contribution.
‘It’s a quiet dressing room after that end to the day’
England assistant coach Paul Farbrace, speaking to TMS: “Dawid Malan has shown his quality throughout this series and Rooty was playing the best innings he’s played throughout the series. You could see the disappointment in him. To lose those two wickets in the last five minutes is a massive disappointment.
“It’s a very quiet dressing room tonight, because people know how hard Dawid and Rooty worked to get themselves into that position. To see Rooty get out the way he did, he’s incredibly disappointed and frustrated.
“He knows he wants to convert more 50s into 100s. It’s not something any coach needs to sit him down and say ‘do you realise you need to convert more fifties?'”
Former England batsman Ed Smith: “I think it’s Australia’s day, just by a bit. For much of the day England made a good fist of it but I think those two late wickets will frustrate them.
“The shadow moving across the pitch came in to a difficult zone for the batsmen and it was exactly that moment when Joe Root was out.”