SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia stunned England with two late wickets, including that of Joe Root for 83, to leave the tourists wobbling on 233 for five at the end of the rain-disrupted opening day of the fifth and final Ashes test on Thursday.
A day that started with rain washing out the first session had looked like ending with a packed Sydney Cricket Ground bathed in summer sunshine and England’s Barmy Army of fans in full triumphant voice.
Root and Dawid Malan had combined for a 133-run partnership to help steer the tourists to 228 for three when Australia took the second new ball with two or three overs of play remaining.
First, Mitchell Starc, back after missing the fourth test with a bruised heel, induced Root into a half volley to square leg where Mitchell Marsh took a superb catch.
Then Jonny Bairstow, who had eschewed a nightwatchman, was removed caught behind by Josh Hazlewood with what turned out to be the last ball of the day.
“It was great to get the late reward as a bowling group for our hard toil,” said Marsh.
“Two three-hour sessions really took it out of us, certainly in that last hour, it felt pretty long. So to get those two wickets was great for our confidence and we’ve got a two-over new ball tomorrow, so hopefully we can get stuck into them.”
Despite the Ashes already having been relinquished after the loss of the first three tests in the series, the tourists had been determined to build on their performance in the drawn fourth test and secure a consolation win.
Malan, who survived a few scares to notch up his fifth test half century and reached stumps unbeaten on 55, said England were obviously disappointed.
“It sort of sums up where we’ve been in on this tour, we’ve been on top for so long in games and then make a couple of mistakes and let the Aussies back in,” he said.
“I thought Rooty played fantastically well to get to that position, obviously he was disappointed to get out and to be five down after the hard work we put in today is obviously not ideal.”
Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Alastair Cook departed relatively cheaply before tea but Australia’s bowlers were unable to drive home their advantage until the dramatic climax.
Both Root and Malan scored slowly - the captain had six boundaries in his half century and his partner five - and there were chances to dismiss the latter in particular.
Root had just reached the 50 mark when he called for a single off Nathan Lyon only for Malan, who was on 28, to stand his ground and then set off very late.
Marsh fielded the ball but fired it to the striker’s end and Tim Paine’s throw to Lyon caused the spinner to spill the ball, allowing Malan to make his ground.
Malan had eked his tally to 34 when he got an edge off to a Lyon delivery that eluded both wicketkeeper Paine and captain Steve Smith at first slip.
They were chances that Australia would have rued had the day not ended as well for them as it had started.
Stoneman and Vince had got starts under brightening skies but departed for 24 and 25 respectively, both caught behind off Pat Cummins.
Cook made 244 not out in Melbourne last week and looked to be creeping assiduously towards another big tally when Hazlewood intervened to remove him lbw for 39, a review leaving the former England captain five runs short of 12,000 test runs.
Editing by John O'Brien/Amlan Chakraborty