Ashes: Can England complete a stunning comeback in the first Test against Australia?

The Ashes: England v Australia, first Test day four
Venue: The Gabba, Brisbane Date: 11 December Time: 23:30 GMT (10 Dec)
Coverage: Daily highlights show on BBC iPlayer from 17:00 GMT, ball-by-ball commentary on Test Match Special, plus live text commentary, UK-only clips, features and analysis on the BBC Sport website and app

Well, this was not part of the script.

The first two days of the Ashes gave England cricket fans very little to cheer about, but on Friday many woke up to some unexpected, albeit welcome, hope.

Australia were bowled out for 425 in reply to England's dismal 147. With a mammoth first-innings deficit of 278, things went from bad to worse as England reached 61-2 with openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed falling.

But then came the most remarkable turnaround as Dawid Malan silenced critics with 80 not out and Joe Root continued his terrific form this year with an unbeaten 86 as they put on an unbroken 159-run partnership at the Gabba in Brisbane to reduce the deficit to 58.

England are back in the game. Dare we dream that a famous win is now a real possibility?

'The miracle is possible'

"There is a long way to go, but the miracle is possible," Test Match Special commentator Simon Mann said on air.

"When Hameed was dismissed there was a feeling of inevitability. But Malan and Root have given some encouragement to the dressing room and England fans at home."

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew agreed, adding: "From a very desperate position, one where defeat looked certain, they've given themselves a chance."

Former captain Alastair Cook said while the hosts "are still heavy favourites," the "momentum is with England" going into the fourth day.

"It was just the day that England and the tour needed. It was all doom and gloom after the first two days," the 2013 and 2015 Ashes winning skipper added on BT Sport.

"At the toss Root said this side had character and they do. The character he and Malan showed with the bat was fantastic."

Australia great Glenn McGrath was also full of praise for the tourists, saying: "Root and Malan are right in control of this match at the moment and are bringing England right back into it."

Shades of 2010 and will Aussies buckle?

Run maps show Dawid Malan favouring leg-side scoring, while Joe Root also scored most runs through the mid-wicket area
Root and Malan have so far batted for 50 overs together in England's second innings

While England fans savour the moment, attention now turns to the fourth day.

"We need one good 100-run partnership to put a good score on the board and then who knows what can happen," Malan said at the close of play.

Shades of England's sensational performance in the drawn Brisbane Test in 2010 are already forming.

Andrew Strauss' team were bowled out for 260 in the first innings of the Ashes opener, before Australia posted 481 - a lead of 221.

In the tourists' memorable second innings, Strauss, Cook and Jonathan Trott all scored centuries as England declared on 517-1, before Australia ended on 106-2.

Agnew says while comparisons from that Test can be made, he sees a different outcome this time round.

"With two full days to play, the one big difference between this game and the famous 2010-11 match is that a draw is not an option," he said.

Cook meanwhile questioned whether Australia - under the new captaincy of Pat Cummins - will buckle under pressure, referencing their fairly recent record of losing winnable matches.

"We know that this Australia side have cracked under pressure - we saw that against India last year and at Headingley in 2019," he said.

Australia bowlers toiled against India in the 2019/20 home series, losing 3-1, while that unforgettable Ben Stokes' innings helped England to a historic win at Headingley.

Dangerous new ball and stats don't lie

Momentum may be with England, but the statistics are not.

Only once before has a team been 278 runs or more behind after the first innings then gone on to win.

Not including the abandoned Oval Test in 2006 when Pakistan did not return to the field against England, the only authentic feat is Australia's victory over Sri Lanka at Colombo in 1992. Australia were 291 runs behind and won by 16 runs.

Travis Head - who scored a scintillating 152 in the first innings - remains hopeful Australia will take a 1-0 lead in the five-match series.

"We're in a great position with a 60-run lead and a new ball round the corner," he said.

"If we can get them five or six down before it is evens we can drive the game."

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell predicts conditions will assist the batters in the fourth innings.

"It looks like the sort of pitch that we saw last season where India had to score 330 to win the game and they managed that. It was a pretty decent fourth-innings wicket," he said on TMS.

"England can't get too far ahead of themselves and they've just got to keep batting."

The Australia seam attack will also have a new ball - on a pitch which has shown uneven bounce - available 11 overs into the day.

Players, pundits and commentators were all in agreement that the first session will be crucial, with Agnew saying the "new ball will be dangerous but another 200 runs will make it interesting".

'Things can still change' - analysis from Australia cricket journalist Geoff Lemon

"Australia will be the tiniest bit apprehensive.

"It's not that Australia's position is bad, but an opposition at 220 for 2 will be feeling pretty good about life. And this is an Australian team that has made a habit of letting sides back into matches after being at substantial disadvantage.

"In Australia's most recent match in January this year, which happened to also be at the Gabba, they were well on top, but didn't quite bat India out of the game in either innings. The end result was India chasing 329 to win.

"The Sydney Test before that was another, with India holding on for a unlikely draw. Then at Headingley in 2019, Australia bowled out England for 67 on the second day of the match before losing to a Ben Stokes century on the fourth.

"Here we are again: England all out for 147 on the first day, Australia piling up 425 in the best of the batting conditions, and yet not being able to turn the screw after dismissing both openers with the lead at 217.

"Of course things can still change, and probably will. One wicket and England can be dismissed with only a modest lead. A proper collapse could still see England lose by an innings.

"But for now, at least, there is the prospect of Root and Malan underpinning something more imposing. Australia will not be comfortable with the fact that even a chance exists."

What they said on #bbccricket

Chris Spratt: Our fightback today is hugely significant. Ashes series are always at their most intriguing when there is a relatively even contest between the two sides. Today's performance suggests there is a better chance of that happening compared to our last two tours.

Jack Rule: I can't believe I'm waking up to see this! We actually have had a decent day's play. Can we class first two days as practice days and start a three day Test?

Ben Lovett: As I woke up this morning I'm sure the first words I heard were "extra half an hour" - feared the worst. Quite an emotional rollercoaster at 6.45am.

Jukebox Jack: That's all I wanted to wake up to, a report that showed England hadn't left all their heart and fight back in blighty.

Rachel T: And this is why Test cricket is just the best form of the game. End of.

Ben Wire: Just when we're comfortable with our impending loss they do this. It's the hope that kills you.

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