Brittle England on verge of victory despite miserable batting display

England were on the verge of victory over a Cricket Australia XI after day three in Adelaide

It seems mean to quibble when England, a bowler light, rattle through a side to the tune of 25 for seven to sit on the verge of an impressive win. Against the cunning of the new vice-captain, Jimmy Anderson, along with Chris Woakes and Craig Overton, the callow Cricket Australia XI were hard-handed and hapless. Some late resistance – England took the extra half-hour but executed this usually aggressive move with curious passivity – means they will spend Saturday on a cricket field not a golf course although they will return requiring only three wickets.

However, that tells the tale of only seven of the 16 wickets that fell on the third day. England had their own collapse and it was pretty dismal. After the openers Alastair Cook – who remains mighty scratchy – and Mark Stoneman put on 79, the first seven wickets fell for 45, capped by a collapse of four for three. In the first innings, the last five had fallen for 22; wickets can tumble when the ball is pink (this was a cloudy afternoon, rather than dusk), but England looked ruinously brittle. Matt Short, who has had a decent game for the CA XI, reckons they have “found a couple of the batsmen out”, and that Australia’s Test side will make light work of England’s batting.

Short raises a fair point and Darren Lehmann, watching from the coaching box as England folded, must have rather enjoyed himself. Anderson was equally unimpressed. “It’s not ideal is it?” he said of the collapse. “Hopefully we’re getting it out of the way before the Test series but that’s something we’ve got to look at and probably have a chat about after the game. Why it happened and what we could have done differently to stop it happening. And how to stop it happening again.”

Cook’s form must be a concern. He battled hard, being beaten on both edges, and seemed fortunate to survive successive lbw appeals on 16. Just as he was settling he edged Daniel Fallins – the leg-spinner who took five first innings wickets on debut – between keeper and slip on 29, then was caught behind cutting Simon Milenko for 32. The best you could say is that each innings on tour his score has got bigger.

Stoneman, who recorded his third 50 of the tour, chopped on cutting – a strength at home that is being picked on as a weakness here – then Joe Root, who could easily have been run out for 0, was lbw to Gurinder Sandhu for one. The real carnage ensued when Dawid Malan edged a fine ball from Milenko, then James Vince’s skittish innings was ended as the third of three fine lbw shouts in a single Sandhu over proved successful. Milenko, who ended with five for 34 to go with his first innings 50, then had Woakes caught behind and Overton lbw in the same over. The latter had made a pair.

From No6 Jonny Bairstow bailed England out, surely not for the last time on this tour. He was magnificent in upper-cutting and lofting an unbeaten 61 with Mason Crane proving a doughty ally in a stand of 70.

England’s miserable batting meant the bowlers were offered the perfect time – under lights with 25 overs remaining – to strut their stuff. Woakes, playing his first pink-ball game and vastly improved since Perth, was electric. Jake Carder, the leftie, was bowled by one beautifully angled across him in his first over, Nick Larkin was caught low to Bairstow’s right in his third and Will Pucovski drove loosely to gully in his fourth. Woakes ended the day with four for 17. Ryan Gibson was his last, caught at the wicket attempting a very ambitious back-foot drive.

Overton, chest puffed out in Jake Ball’s absence and his pair seeming long-forgotten, jagged a beauty back from Tim Paine, then had Jason Sangha caught high at second slip. Overton is not express, but he boasts enough tools to trouble at Test level. Anderson was worth a wicket and Bairstow gave him one, juggling an edge from Milenko. The stubborn Short and Sandhu put on 45 to drag England back on Saturday.

It is possible England will call for reinforcements regardless of the outcome of Ball’s scan, although Tom Curran is now in situ. Most encouragingly of all, Moeen Ali is back bowling.