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Adelaide Oval’s Ashes Spectacular

What a bumper Test!

The day-night Ashes clash at Adelaide Oval in December always loomed as something special but the historic pink-ball Test exceeded all expectations in a stunning cricket showcase that was one for the ages.

Records tumbled as crowds flocked to the ground, the majority of fans delighted the home side claimed a crucial 120-run win – but only after the plot twists and sudden swings of momentum you expect in a pink-ball Test.

Despite the opening two days being affected by rain – something you never associate with an Adelaide Test – more than 50,000 fans packed the ground on each of those days. Adelaide Oval’s long-standing record for a day of Test cricket crashed on the opening Saturday when 55,317 fans packed the newly-upgraded but still uniquely charming and picturesque ground.

The previous record of 50,962 was set at the infamous Bodyline Test between Australia and England in January 1933. The packed crowd was baying for blood that day when express bowler Harold Larwood hit Australian skipper Bill Woodfull over the heart with a short, rising delivery. It was fitting the stunning Bodyline Bar was opened at the historic ground at this summer’s Test, a magnificent tribute to the most remarkable clash the Oval has seen.

The second day also beat the mark set almost 85 years earlier. A crowd of 52,201 again provided an electric atmosphere on the Sunday, England’s visiting fans – the Barmy Army in particular – making a hullabaloo to almost match the massive Aussie support.

Adelaide Oval at capacity during the day one of the Ashes Test. 

The record total attendance was smashed. The Bodyline Test had held the previous mark – 172,361. But a staggering 199,147 flocked to the second Test between Steve Smith’s Aussies and Joe Root’s English side.

One-nil up after the Test opener at the Gabba in Brisbane, Smith’s men, desperate to regain the Ashes Australia lost in England in 2015, dug in after Root had won the toss and surprisingly sent them in.

Most of the Aussies’ top-order got starts, keeper-batsman Tim Paine making 57, Usman Khawaja 53, David Warner 47 and Smith 40, while paceman Pat Cummins hit a crucial 44. But it was left-handed No. 6 Shaun Marsh who went on with the job, stroking 15 fours and a six in a superb unbeaten 126, enabling Smith to declare late on day two at 8/442.

Australia was right on top as off-spinner and former Adelaide Oval groundsman Nathan Lyon, fiery left-armer Mitchell Starc and his pace bowling mates Cummins and Josh Hazlewood had England reeling at 7/142. Some late resistance from English pacemen Chris Woakes and Test debutant Craig Overton, who top-scored with an unbeaten 41, left Smith with a difficult decision.

With a lead of 215, should he enforced the follow-on and force his attack to back-up with another bowling stint or should he bat a second time and face up to the difficulties of a night session against England’s swingmen? Experienced paceman Jimmy Anderson, hooping the ball around under the lights, probably had Smith regretting his decision – at least for a time – as Australia collapsed to 4/53 by stumps on day three. And the Aussie skipper, the player of the series, was one of the dismissals, for just six.

Josh Hazlewood celebrates after taking the wicket of England’s Joe Root. 

It remained a struggle the next day, no Australian making more than 20. Anderson picked up 5/43 and Woakes 4/36 as they restricted the Aussies to a total of just 138. Historically, though, England’s hopes of making 354 for victory weren’t great.

But, as England reached 3/169, with Root looking set with a half-century to his name, a boilover loomed as a distinct possibility. A 1-1 series scoreline would have the Ashes right on the line again.

But late on the fourth night, Cummins struck, clean bowling Dawid Malan for 29 to end a 78-run stand with Root and put the Aussies back on top.

When Hazlewood had dangerman Root caught behind for 67 early the next morning the Aussies had a crucial victory firmly in their sights.

Big Starc finished it off in style with his fifth wicket for the innings when he knocked Jonny Bairstow’s middle stump out of the ground for 36, England bowled out for 233 and the Aussies home by 120 runs.

After the game, Smith admitted the stress of the Aussies’ second-innings collapse and England’s fighting start to its run chase had taken its toll.

But by the time Australia had thumped England in the third Test at the WACA Ground, the swansong for the Test arena, Australia had retained the Ashes. Smith’s men eventually won the five-Test series 4-0.

Australia has now won five of its past six Ashes Tests at Adelaide Oval. The 32nd Test between the oldest and greatest rivals at the iconic ground saw the Aussies stretch their advantage to 18 wins and nine losses, with five draws. And, more importantly, the series win put Australia in front 33-32.

SACA Members enjoy the atmosphere of the Village Green during the day-night Test. 

Adelaide Oval Tests, meanwhile, continue to come out in front. Cricket celebrities such as Greg Chappell, Shane Warne, Greg Blewett and Jonathan Agnew backed the Test’s unique social atmosphere. They tell people world-wide this Test is a must-see, it having extra appeal now it’s being played as a day-nighter. Esteemed English commentator Agnew said he still loved Adelaide even after being booked for jay-walking across a deserted city street after midnight!

They came from far and wide for this Adelaide Oval Test – and they will continue to do so.

By Peter Cornwall