Australia and England drew the fourth test in Melbourne, a result that ended the home side’s hopes of a whitewash in the series, whilst England avoided the unwelcome record of having lost nine successive tests down under. Man of the match was England’s Alistair Cook with a double century, as he became the first England player to carry his bat for 20 years.
The first day very much belonged to Australia, as both sides made one enforced change from the previous test, with Jackson Bird replacing the injured Mitchell Starc for the hosts, whilst England gave a surprise debut to Tom Curran in place of Craig Overton ruled out with a rib injury.
Winning the toss and deciding to bat, openers David Warner and Cameron Bancroft looked to play positively from the start, and together they took Australia to 102 without loss at lunch, with Warner very much the dominant partner on 83 not out. England tightened up in the afternoon, and Chris Woakes had Bancroft lbw for 26, and then Warner became becalmed in the 90s. England thought they had their man on 99, when Curran had him caught off a no-ball, but the let-off was not too expensive, as Warner fell four runs later when he was caught behind off James Anderson for 103, having completed his 21st test century.
Further England success came when Usman Khawaja also was caught behind off the bowling of Stuart Broad for 17, but that was as far as it went as Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh enjoyed an unbroken stand of 84, to leave Australia 244 for 3 overnight. Marsh was unbeaten on 31, and, ominously for the visitors, Smith was 65 not out, and threatening to do more damage on the second day.
Few would have predicted the events of the second morning as Australia’s batting collapsed. First to fall was Smith who played on for 76 to give Curran his first test wicket. Then Mitch Marsh was bowled by Woakes for 9. It was then the turn of England’s two senior bowlers, Broad and Anderson, to take charge. Criticised in the run-up to the game, particularly Broad, they set out to prove the doubters wrong, by blowing the Australian tail away. Shaun Marsh had passed his half-century when he was adjudged lbw to Broad, but apart from Tim Paine’s 24, the other batsmen offered little resistance as the hosts subsided to 327 all out, with Broad finishing with 4 for 51, and Anderson 3 for 61.
With Starc absent and Pat Cummins struggling with illness, the Australian bowling attack was shorn of much of its menace. Mark Stoneman was sent back, caught & bowled off the offie Nathan Lyon for 15, and James Vince failed to review an lbw off Josh Hazlewood for 17, despite getting an inside edge.
However, it was the turn of the two other England senior players, Alistair Cook and captain Joe Root, who had received much negative press before the match, to finally make a decisive contribution to the series.
Cook played positively from the start, and, despite being dropped by his opposite captain Smith when he had scored 66, went on to complete his 31st test century, and his first in Ashes tests since 2011. Root also played well as the pair shared an unbeaten stand of 112 for the third wicket. England were 192 for 2 overnight, with Cook on 104 not out and Root undefeated on 49. For the first time in this match, the visitors could claim to have won all three sessions in a day.
Resuming on the third morning, Root passed his 50, but then was caught off the bowling of Hazlewood for 61, with the same bowler accounting for the wicket of Dawid Malan lbw for 14, although later reviews indicated he was both outside the line and had got an inside edge. Jonny Bairstow (22) and Moeen Ali (20) both got a start before falling to Lyon, and Woakes fell to Cummins for 26.
Meanwhile Cook was in supreme form at the other end, and passed the 150 mark, before he was dropped by Smith when he had made 153. It looked like he might run out of partners when Curran was out to Hazlewood for 4, but Broad came to the crease, and survived an early attack of bouncers to share a century stand with his former skipper. Cook reached his double century, and went on 244 not out overnight, with Broad out shortly before the end in slightly controversial circumstances – TV replays suggested that Khawaja’s catch was grounded – for a fine 56.
With England 491-9 overnight, Cook left the field having not only become the sixth highest test run scorer of all time, but with the added satisfaction of having scored the highest score by a visiting batsman at the MCG.
The fourth morning saw Anderson fall off the first ball of the day, to give Cummins 4 wickets in the innings and meaning that England had failed to add to their overnight score, which gave them a 164 run lead on first innings. It also meant Cook had carried his bat, the first Englishman to do so since Michael Atherton 20 years earlier.
Australia began well, although their emphasis was more on occupying the crease rather than scoring runs. Warner and Bancroft put together an opening partnership of 51, before Bancroft edged Woakes on to his stumps for 27. Khawaja was then caught behind off Anderson for 11, but Warner and Smith were determined not to lose a wicket and were grinding their way forward when rain, which had already caused a brief interruption to the day’s play, returned in earnest and caused an early end to the day, with Australia on 103 for 2 overnight, still 61 runs in arrears.
After the play ended, there was still time for a row to erupt about ball-tampering, which the match referee subsequently dismissed, whilst both sides were warned about throwing the ball in on the bounce to aid their seam bowlers.
Resuming on the 5th morning, Warner and Smith added a further 69 runs in patient style, before fell to Root’s occasional off-spin for 86. Shortly afterwards Shaun Marsh fell to Stuart Broad for just 4, and England entertained hopes of snatching victory at that stage. But on a slow, lifeless pitch which offered nothing to either bowlers or batters, Smith ground out another fine innings (102 not out), to score his third test century of the series, whilst Mitch Marsh dug in at the other end to score an unbeaten 29, although it took him 166 balls to reach that figure.
In the end both captains shook hands on the draw with Australia on 263 for 4, 99 runs ahead with no prospect of a result on a pitch which was later condemned by both captains, and acknowledged by MCG officials, as not good enough for a Boxing Day test.