Unexpectedly, Day 4 of the Ashes sets up a big finale.

Unexpectedly, Day 4 of the Ashes sets up a big finale.
Unexpectedly, Day 4 of the Ashes sets up a big finale.
On Day 4, Khawaja and Warner added an undefeated partnership of 135 runs, the best of the series across both teams

For Australia, the final day of the most dramatic Ashes match in recent memory will require 249 runs with all ten wickets intact.

For Australia, the final day of the most dramatic Ashes match in recent memory will require 249 runs with all ten wickets intact.

Joe Root was at first slip when Stuart Broad ran in to bowl his first delivery in the final innings of his Test career. He was doing a Broad by rallying the packed Sunday crowd at The Oval to cheer on his great friend and fellow Test great to the bowling crease. And the English fans scattered around the legendary amphitheater reciprocated. As Broad let go of the ball, everyone yelled in unison with the typical oooOOOOHHas.

It was the ideal environment for the retiring fast-bowling legend’s flawless start to his perfect final spell.

The fans had found their voice, his teammates were behind him, and he was on strike with David Warner, whom he’d dismissed on 17 previous occasions. Broad’s morning had already begun at that point. As he stepped down the steps from the England changing room, he received a standing ovation. The Australian squad then presented him with a ceremonial guard of honor. On the 41st birthday of his tag-team partner, James Anderson, he walked up to bat. He’d then hit what would turn out to be Australia’s fastest bowler, Mitchell Starc, for a stunning six over deep midwicket. That was before he returned up the same stairs as Anderson.

This was the moment, with the ball in hand. This was the first setup. This was the buildup to Broad getting rid of Warner for the final time and setting the tone for England in a crucial game. This was the time for Broad to go into ‘warrior mode’ and unleash the kind of Ashes-defining spell he’d been accustomed to.

Instead, the first pitch to Warner bounced off his pads, allowing the left-handed batter to tuck the ball away for a single. The second delivery he delivered to him was wider of leg-stump, which Warner failed to catch, before a half-volley was presented on off-stump, which he slammed through the covers for four.

Broad would bowl nine more deliveries to Warner over the next two innings. Warner would only make his adversary’s life a little more difficult once, when he closed the face of his bat a little too early and nearly got a leading edge through the slip-cordon. That was pretty much the only time Broad came close to creating a chance to go on a roll. After the initial joy of seeing one of their biggest idols bid farewell with the bat, that was pretty much the only time The Oval crowd truly found their voice.

It was short-lived, though, on yet another expectedly unexpected day in this series in which nothing that was intended to happen actually happened. Instead, it was the Australian openers that kept England and Broad at bay. Not to mention that it set up what may be the best possible conclusion to one of the most exciting Test series of the century.

For Australia, the final day of the most dramatic Ashes match in recent memory will require 249 runs with all ten wickets intact. And, while the overall target of 384 is massive and still not as close as it appears for the visitors, this could be Australia’s best chance to set the record straight in run-chases.

The pitch is still very quiet, save for the occasional misbehavior from an off-spinner from the Vauxhall End. After bowling over 100 overs in two days, the English bowlers appear a little fatigued. And questions remain about how many overs Ben Stokes can get out of Moeen Ali and even Mark Wood, who left the field painfully after delivering only three overs after a lengthy delay in his entrance to the attack.

That was not the idea for the fourth day of play at The Oval, at least not for the English fans present. Broad was meant to have his morning and afternoon off. It was also intended to be the day when England would really hammer home their advantage by taking a number of Australian wickets before the inevitable weather wrecked the day.

What we saw, though, was the best opening stand of the series, across both teams, which is now 135 games unbeaten. What we saw, though, was Warner finally being able to not just lay a good foundation for himself but also bloom from it. What we also saw was Khawaja do what he does best: book in for an extended stay in the middle, but this time with greater intent than in the first inning.

It meant that, rather than being the day when England’s bowlers rushed in and put their team up for a 2-2 outcome, giving them the “moral victory” they crave, it was Australia’s senior openers who blunted them further to keep their own team in the game.

It was, if anything, the flattest Anderson, Broad, and even Woakes had looked all series. The English crowds had never been so quiet when their team was in possession of the ball. And that was the most listless Stokes has seemed as captain during the series.

It was evident in some of his bowling variations, beginning with holding the most influential player of the Ashes, Mark Wood, on ice until bringing him on once Warner and Khawaja had their sights set on him. By then, we’d witnessed nearly nine overs of spin from the other end, with the majority of it coming from Root.

Despite striking a powerful blow to the underside of Khawaja’s helmet, which resulted in the ball being altered, Wood did not appear to be at his fastest, raising further concerns about his fitness.

Warner finally avoided making the unforced error that has cost him so many wickets on this tour, even when Woakes threw up a couple of hittable half-volleys outside off-stump and James Anderson bowled one of his rare beamers.

In the meantime, he confidently pushed and prodded to rotate the strike before exploding at Anderson many times, including when he dropped down on one knee and plonked him over mid-off for four. He also appeared to have found the Warner gear that had been lacking from his arsenal for some time, allowing him to press on the advantage and begin dominating the bowlers.

Meanwhile, Khawaja carried on unaffected, despite briefly losing his rhythm after the lunch break. Their collaboration also meant that the narrative surrounding the rain shifted from it purportedly saving Australia to it providing some relief to the English bowlers. It eventually robbed us of about half of the fourth day’s play, which could have a bigger impact on where this Test goes in the long run, especially with further rain forecast on the last day. If rain plays a larger role than projected on Monday, we risk having a 2-1 result in favor of Australia. From both teams’ perspectives, that will almost feel like a compromised finish.

If Australia wins, it will be one of the greatest run chases in Test history. However, it is unlikely to be remembered as one of Australia’s finest Test victories in Ashes history. Despite taking a slim lead in the first inning, they’ve always appeared to be on the back foot. Despite winning the toss and batting first, England appears to have dominated the game. Much like at Edgbaston, where Australia managed to sneak home with Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon in a tight run-chase.

Could this series end in the same way it began, even if cricketing logic dictates that England is still ahead, albeit by a little margin?

Imagine that, especially if Warner provides the dramatic conclusion with a likely maiden Test ton on English soil in his final Test innings, in what will still be a celebration for Broad in his final Test innings.


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