Equally satisfying was the fact that they punished Cummins, tactically infallible to this point, for basic errors of captaincy. So dominant had Australia looked on the fourth day, with Usman Khawaja and Cameron Green building a seemingly unassailable lead, Cummins allowed his sentimental instincts to occlude his judgment. By letting Khawaja take the applause for twin centuries at the SCG, he was lured into a fateful delay in declaring. A lead of 350 was already more than sufficient. By stretching it out to 387, he ate up valuable time, a mistake compounded when a further seven overs were lost to rain.
England were handed a licence by Cummins to survive and for once, they did not fluff their lines. Zak Crawley was strikingly fluent for his 77, while Stokes gritted his teeth through a side strain for the doughtiest 66. For Root, subpar in his own performance, the collective spirit came as a source of exquisite relief. All his talk of “character, desire and pride” sounded like much more than rhetoric. “It was,” he explained, “a very important step forward.”
Root might have fallen far short in Australia of the greatness he craved. But he has also averted the grisliest ignominy, ensuring he will not be bracketed with Johnny Douglas, Andrew Flintoff and Alastair Cook as England captains who have lost 5-0. After a torrid tour that has challenged even his Job-like patience, this consolation will feel like the sweetest of mercies.