Ashes 2019: England must not be written off but day two was like torture

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Ashes highlights: Steve Smith scores double ton as Australia dominate

We have been here before and so must measure the response accordingly.

Just under two weeks ago, when England crumbled to 67 all out, there were plenty of us that presented the Ashes to Australia, carried out a messy post-mortem on the home side and ended more careers than the Brexit negotiations.

We know what happened next. In this summer of all summers, England should not be written off.

At Headingley, it needed Ben Stokes to play one of the all-time great Test innings to keep the Ashes alive.

If England are to do the same at Old Trafford, they must follow not his last-hour pyrotechnics, but the self-denial that came before.

However, as always with England, the spectre of potential batting collapse looms large. When Australia have the best part of 500 on the board and three full days to take another 19 wickets, even a mini-slump could prove terminal.

At least a collapse can bring gallows humour. The really spectacular ones are over quickly. The pain dispensed in a short, sharp burst, like ripping off a plaster.

England's misery in Manchester has been built over two days and at times on Thursday afternoon it felt like the drip, drip, drip of water torture.

It left the mood as dark as the sky and turned the warm glow from Headingley into a chill as cold as the wind blowing across Old Trafford.

The party stand was that in name only, the atmosphere more akin to a wake, albeit one with inflatable toys and attended by Morris dancers, bananas and cows.

At the centre of it all were the millimetres between the heel of Jack Leach's right boot and the space behind the popping crease.

If the relief when an edged Steve Smith drive was the collective release of an England team and crowd that have been suffering together, then the replays that revealed Leach had over-stepped stretched credulity.

It was like winning the lottery and hastily spending the money on a mansion, yacht and car, only to realise that your ticket is a week out of date. And your wife has run off. With Steve Smith.

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Smith reprieved after Leach no-ball

It also proved that Smith had not only mastered the art of shoveling any delivery, no matter where it is bowled, behind square on the leg side, but has also conjured a way to be not out when he is out.

Either side of that were the drops. Jofra Archer may have been any of cold, shattered or injured, but he was definitely ineffective.

When his time to make the most telling contribution arrived, he failed to grab the gift returned to him by Smith, who had 65 at the time. He scored another 146 runs.

Australia captain Tim Paine had been bounced out for fun before this game, helping every short ball England delivered into the hands of a waiting fielder.

If his edge off Stuart Broad had been caught by second slip Jason Roy, Australia would have been 246-6 and possibly bowled out for less than 300.

He got another life in his stand of 145 with Smith, by the end of which the tourists were in a position to wreak havoc on a weary attack.

The drops and the no-balls could just about be stomached. The sight of Stokes leaving the field, unable to complete an over because of a shoulder problem, was too much to bear. It was like Batman leaving Gotham City.

Even in the darkest times, there was the comfort that everything would be OK so long as England had their superhero.

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Archer drops Smith on 65

The fear brought by his departure was the worst kind of cricketing nightmare, only ended by his return, even if he didn't bowl for the rest of the innings.

The rarely ruffled Joe Root raised his voice to demand that his team snapped out of their malaise, but it was no good.

Broad punched the turf when his attempt at a diving stop was unsuccessful, Archer stood on the boundary with his hands buried in his pockets.

When the ordeal was ended by the Australia declaration, England would have probably settled for their closing score of 23-1.

Smith had earlier been given a standing ovation by a crowd he had forced into grudging respect. When he led Australia off at the end of the day, the spectators were on their feet for a different reason - heading for the exits.

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'What a catch!' - Denly caught at short leg by Wade

England are not beaten yet and could leave Manchester with the draw that sets up a decider at The Oval.

But they must learn the lessons of Headingley. When they used attack as their first line of defence, their batting was decimated. When they took the time to lay solid foundations, they pulled off the highest run-chase in their history.

Even that needed the individual brilliance from Stokes, the likes of which cannot be expected from him or anyone else again.

It will need a collective pulling together over the coming days.

An improvement on Friday would be a good place to start.

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