Spirited England avoided the infamy of an embarrassing 5-0 Ashes whitewash as they clung on for a dramatic draw in a tense finish to the fourth Test in Sydney.
In scenes reminiscent of Cardiff in 2009 when the unlikeliest of heroes James Anderson and Monty Panesar survived, the visitors somehow batted out the final day to avoid defeat at the SCG.
It was Anderson again as he kept out the final over of the game to frustrate the Australians, with his teammates barely able to watch.
Jack Leach and Stuart Broad withstood some hostile fast-bowling from the Aussies’ pumped-up quicks before the former edged part-time leg-spinner Steve Smith to slip with a nervy 13 balls remaining.
The field placements reminded you of playing on the Playstation as a kid with every fielder smothering the final pair, with worse chat than you’d hear down the local green on a Saturday afternoon. But Broad and Anderson stood firm for a hard-fought draw in fading light.
The result doesn’t mean anything in the context of the series, that was done and dusted with the miserable Melbourne defeat, but the hosts’ hopes of an Ashes cleansweep were blunted by a brave rearguard.
This calamitous England side won’t follow in the footsteps of the teams of 1920/21, 2006/07 and 2013/14 to lose 5-0 down under despite their failings since landing in Australia. And there were positives to take from this gritty performance.
England came into the game in disarray with Covid chaos accounting for a number of support staff, including head coach Chris Silverwood as well as the turmoil of the dismal tour so far.
But the bruised and battered tourists showed great courage and determination to keep determined Australia at bay on the final day.
Haseed Hameed fell for a sixth successive single-figure score before Dawid Malan was bowled by Nathan Lyon.
Zak Crawley scored a fluent 77 before being trapped by a searing Cameron Green yorker. And when captain Joe Root edged ever-present Scott Boland, who took 3/30, behind it was down to England’s walking wounded middle order.
Dosed up on painkillers, Ben Stokes (60) — with a serious side strain — and Jonny Bairstow (41) — with a heavily bruised thumb — kept out 228 balls between them in a stoic showing.
"It's nice to see us get something from it. It's not what everyone wants, but it's a small step in the right direction."
Joe Root, as thoughtful as ever 👏
Stokes was removed by off-spinner Lyon, but when Australia took the new ball England had five wickets remaining with 22 overs remaining and looked set to ease to a draw.
But captain Pat Cummins blew the game wide open with two great in-swingers in three balls to first dismiss Jos Buttler before a foot-crunching yorker accounted for Mark Wood.
When first-innings centurion Bairstow was caught at bat-pad England had 64 balls to survive with just Leach, Broad and Anderson in the way of hungry Australia going 4-0 up.
Leach made 26 off 34 balls before David Warner took a sharp catch which deflected off keeper Alex Carey’s leg after Smith landed one in the rough. But 39-year-old Anderson used all of his experience to cling on.
Captain Root, who revealed wicket-keeper Buttler will fly home after the hand injury he suffered in this game, said: “It was really important. It’s been a difficult tour until now. We’ve obviously found it really tough at times.
“I’m proud of the determination and character we showed to get a result. It’s a small step in the right direction after three tough games for this team.”
Disappointed Australian captain Cummins “It was a great game of Test cricket. We got close, a little bit less weather and we could be 4-0 up. It was a hard-fought game of Test cricket and that’s why we love it.”