England's position going into the final day at Adelaide is tantalising to say the least. Chasing a daunting 354, Joe Root and Chris Woakes reached the close on 176 for 4, needing another 178 for a series-igniting victory. But if you dare to dream, prepare for disappointment, for Ashes history is littered with tantalising moments when England have glimpsed salvation, only to have their dreams crushed by the juggernaut...
Old Trafford 1993
133 for 2 (at close of penultimate day) ... 332 all out
England might as well have been told their fortunes by a cock-eyed necromancer when they were confronted, midway through the second day of the 1993 Ashes, by the most devastating premonition in the history of international cricket. Shane Warne's first delivery in Ashes cricket not only bowled a bewildered Mike Gatting from several light years outside his leg stump, it also confirmed the destiny of the urn for the next decade and more. English brains and techniques were utterly scrambled by the time they had been left with a day and a half to survive in the final innings, although one man had seen enough in the course of his mighty career to stand firm amid the chaos. After making 65 in the first innings, Graham Gooch had sailed serenely through to 82 not out by the close of the fourth day - and made light of Merv Hughes' last-ball dismissal of the hapless Gatting to cruise along to his 19th Test century the following day. But then up popped the pesky Hughes - a short ball caught Gooch on the hop, and as it ricocheted up from the crease and down towards his bails, he stuck out a hand to swat it away. Up went Dickie Bird's finger - Gooch was gone, handled the ball for 133 - and with Warne unleashed on the middle order, England's last seven wickets tumbled for 109 as Australia sealed the match with 9.4 overs remaining.
211 for 2 ... 323 all out
True to expectations, England had been battered from the very first ball of the series - Michael Slater's hyperactive slap through the covers off a Phil DeFreitas long-hop had set the tone - and when a Craig McDermott six-for routed them for 167 in reply to 426, they expected to be handed no quarter whatsoever. But then, shockingly, Mark Taylor pulled off the first quirky call of his then nascent captaincy, and chose to bat again instead of enforcing the follow-on. Eighty-eight meandering overs later, he called his men in with a lead of 507, leaving England's puzzled batsmen some five sessions to survive. By the close of the fourth day, Grah(aeme)s Thorpe and Hick had eased their team along to 211 for 2, and hope truly had sprung eternal. But it was all a dastardly ruse. Unleashed on a fifth-day wicket, Shane Warne picked off both for the addition of nine more runs, en route to match-crushing figures of 8 for 71.
212 for 4 ... 268 all out
It was all up for grabs going into the fourth Test of the 1997 summer. Quite literally in the first innings when, in reply to England's 172, Thorpe at slip dropped Matthew Elliott on 29, a wicket that would have left the Aussies in disarray at 50 for 5 and ripe for another routing, just as they had so shockingly suffered at Edgbaston in the first Test of the series. Instead, Elliott cruised on to a career-best 199, with a young Ricky Ponting adding 268 for the fifth wicket, and all that England could do was cling on for a draw, and take their 1-1 scoreline to Trent Bridge for the next game. Nasser Hussain dug in for a bloody-minded hundred as England closed on 212 for 4, with faint hopes of seeing out the fifth day, or at least asking the Aussies to bat again. But Warne, inevitably, bagged him the following morning, and Paul Reiffel mopped up the resistance.
104 for 2 ... 188 all out
England were breaking new ground as they headed to Sydney for the fifth Test in 1998-99. The Ashes were out of reach for another two years, but the series was there to be squared at 2-2 after a frankly sensational win in the fourth Test at Melbourne. And though England were up against it after conceding a lead of 102, they fought back gallantly in a lop-sided third innings. Peter Such and Dean Headley picked up where Darren Gough had left off, with a hat-trick to end the first innings, by claiming nine wickets between them, but Australia's total of 184 was vastly inflated by a brilliant-if-controversial 123 from Michael Slater - even Slater himself thought he had been run out for 36. Either way, his solo effort left England needing a tantalising, improbable 287 to win - and at 104 for 2 overnight, it couldn't entirely be ruled out. But with Warne for once playing Australia's second fiddle on his return from a broken finger, it was Stuart MacGill who turned up for his finest hour - 7 for 50 in the innings, 12 for 107 in the match, to set the seal on a 98-run
59 for 1 ... nope, never heard of it...