Joe Root hailed a "small step forward" for his injury-hit England team after they clung on for a heart-stopping draw in Sydney, nine wickets down, and avoided the ignominy of an Ashes whitewash in Australia.
The rescue mission was not without casualties. Jos Buttler is set to fly home with a fractured finger while Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes are both doubts for Friday’s pink-ball fifth Test in Hobart due to respective thumb and side injuries picked up over the course of five gruelling days.
But on seeing Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad block out the final 12 balls in fading light, capping a 102-over rearguard that also featured a 77-minute vigil from Jack Leach at number nine and kept the series scoreline to 3-0, Root's previous sombre mood lifted slightly.
“It’s a small step forward,” said the visibly drained England captain. “Coming into the game I spoke a lot about putting pride back into English cricket and into our Test performances.
“I think the fight and the desire and the character shown here in these five days has done that in a small way. We never make it easy for ourselves, do we? But we found a way to get it done today and it was very much a team effort.”
The result is unlikely to ease much of the pressure on Root, Ashley Giles – the director of cricket – and Chris Silverwood, the head coach who will rejoin the squad in Tasmania after contracting Covid-19 at the end of the St Stephen’s Day Test.
Nevertheless, a performance that included scores of 113 and 41 from Bairstow, a 19th five-wicket haul for Broad and a promising 77 from Zak Crawley on the fifth day still represented progress after the 68 all out in Melbourne that saw Australia claim the series win within 12 days.
Root said: “It’s hugely important, especially on the back of the previous Test which was a really dark day for English Test cricket. It would have been easy to roll over and feel sorry for ourselves.
“[But] the guys were trying to put some pride back in the badge and show how much they care about playing for England. We didn’t win the Test match and were a very long way behind the game but we found a way to get a draw and that shows the character, the pride and the desire the guys feel when they put on an England shirt.”
On the injuries to Buttler, Bairstow and Stokes, the first of which could pave the way for Sam Billings’s Test debut at Bellerive Oval, Root added: “Jos won’t take any further part in the tour. It’s quite a serious injury. For him to front up as he did from the moment he took that knock shows how much it means for him to play in this Test team.
“The guys could all see a number of the players hurting physically and still putting in a huge amount. In many ways it lifted the rest of the group and I’m really proud of the way they stood at times while clearly in a lot of pain, to produce for England.”
Pat Cummins, meanwhile, defended a declaration 24 hours earlier that set England an improbable 388 to win or, more realistically, 109 overs to survive. Seven overs were then lost to rain on the final day, with Shane Warne saying Cummins "probably won't sleep" stewing over the missed opportunities to go 4-0 up.
Cummins said: “I’ve learned the weather forecasts are hopeless. The wicket was still not playing too many tricks and I thought if they batted really well 350 was pretty achievable out there. I thought 110 overs was enough time. They fought hard and that’s why we love the game.”
On the prospect of Usman Khawaja keeping his spot in the team after making a century in both innings as a stand-in while Travis Head sat out with Covid-19, Cummins added: “I’m not a selector, but when someone comes out and hits twin hundreds, it’s pretty hard to go past them for the week after.”