Sorry England’s Ashes hopes hanging by a thread as Cummins strikes twice
England were on the verge of the surrendering the Ashes after Pat Cummins struck a cruel double blow on the penultimate evening of the fourth Test at Old Trafford.
Steve Smith’s latest remarkable innings of 82 allowed Australia to declare for the second time in the match, boasting a lead of 382, 20 more than a Ben Stokes-inspired England managed in their record win at Headingley.
The less fantastical goal was to bat out the remainder of the match and set up a winner-takes-all battle at the Oval next week, but Cummins rendered that an improbable long shot when he dismissed Rory Burns and captain Joe Root in the first over of the reply.
The pair have been responsible for England’s two biggest partnerships of the series, including 141 in the first innings here, but were skittled for ducks by successive Cummins deliveries.
Burns has been easily the most durable opener in the series but lasted only three balls, sending a leading edge looping to short cover. Root strode to the crease with his team’s hopes on his shoulders but was on his way back within a few short seconds, Cummins conjuring something fit for the occasion: demanding attention on a good full length then nipping away to clatter off stump.
Cummins and his team-mates celebrated like they had retained the Ashes and, although Joe Denly and Jason Roy survived to reach 18 for two, they will surely do just that on Sunday.
If they do it will be overwhelmingly down to Smith, whose freewheeling efforts steered Australia to 186 for six and took his total output in just four innings to 671 over the course of a spirit-sapping 998 balls.