In particular, England’s spinner, Moeen Ali – ( bangladesh chat room )his spinning finger glued together after being lacerated by the Kookaburra seam in the first innings – was unable to replicate either the turn or the bounce generated by Australia’s own offspinner, Nathan Lyon. Emboldened by his lack of threat, the debutant Cameron Bancroft pumped him over long-off for six en route to a maiden half-century, as Moeen’s contribution was limited to four unthreatening overs.
A contest in which the momentum has not so much swung as vibrated from session to session took another series of violent lurches one way, and then the other, on the fourth afternoon at the Gabba. By tea, Australia had re-affirmed their grip on the contest, reducing England to 195, a lead of 169, with Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins bowling away the tail with four wickets for 10 in the space of 17 balls.
However, the talking point of the session was a moment of controversy that is sure to rage for days if it proves to be decisive, when England’s most fluent batsman, Moeen Ali, was adjudged stumped for 40 off the bowling of Nathan Lyon – the very definition of a line call as the third umpire Chris Gaffaney adjudged his toe to be on the crease but not behind it as wicketkeeper Tim Paine whipped off the bails.
It was a crucial moment of a gripping Test, for Moeen’s positive attitude to England’s adversity had taken the attack back to Australia in the first hour of the afternoon, after their hopes of posting a defendable total had taken a big hit in the final moments before lunch, when Josh Hazlewood had pinned Joe Root lbw for 51 to undermine the foundations of their innings.
But, with Bairstow alongside him to chivvy the ones into twos and force Australia to keep an eye on the scoring rate as well as the wickets column, Moeen came out swinging after lunch. From the outset, he used his feet against Lyon where his fellow left-handers, Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan, had been caught on the crease, dumping a four over long-on in the first over of the resumption before nailing a sweep through midwicket two balls later.
His approach did not trigger a deluge of runs by current Test standards, but in the context of an atypically low-scoring contest, it provided England with crucial breathing space, after they had lost five wickets for 113 in a frenetic start to their second innings. But, Lyon – such a threat in both innings – eventually got his revenge, ripping a sharp turner past Moeen’s long stretch down the wicket, and Paine, whose glovework has been maligned since his drop of James Vince on the first day, showed lightning reflexes to whip off the bails before Moeen could ensure his foot was fully grounded.
Chris Woakes, on a pair, endured a skittish start to his innings, and might have fallen for 0 once again when a firm clip to leg off Lyon burst through Cameron Bancroft’s hands at short leg. But, with Bairstow showing once again his fighting qualities, England’s seventh-wicket pair had added 30 important runs, and taken the lead past 150, when Starc struck with a vengeance in the closing moments of the session.
Despite appearing to feel pain in his right ankle on a couple of occasions, Starc summoned the fury that had served Australia so well on the third evening to extract three wickets in ten balls – another example of his matchless ability to dock Test-match tails.
Woakes was the first to go, caught fencing in the cordon as he was shocked by the short ball, and sent on his way for 17. But it was Bairstow’s departure, one over later, that truly wrecked England’s hopes. Another sharp short ball lured Bairstow into a ramp to third man, but Peter Handscomb had just been brought into a catching position and gleefully accepted the offering to send Bairstow on his way for 42.
At 194 for 8 with just the bowlers to come, England’s prospects were looking bleak. But even so, their next wicket came as a surprise to both Starc and the batsman, Stuart Broad, who appeared to have been beaten by a full-length snorter outside off. However, Paine was adamant he had heard a noise, and with little to lose, Steve Smith opted for a review. Sure enough, a thin nick showed up on Hotspot, and Broad was gone for 2.
And it was left to Cummins to head-hunt the final wicket, as Jake Ball flapped another fierce bouncer over the cordon to Handscomb at a well positioned fly slip. Australia need 170 to win. England need to come out after tea with all guns blazing.