Ashes 3rd Test: Preview

Perhaps to begin with, a few words about the sad death of Clive Rice.  Like so many of his generation, he didn’t get to play Test cricket due to South Africa’s banishment from the international game.  With a first class average above forty and nearly a thousand wickets at a bowling average in the low twenties, had he been able to perform at the highest level, he would have been a great addition in the era of the great all rounders that bestrode world cricket in the 1980s. Indeed, such was his ability, he could have been viewed as the best of them all.

An entire generation will remember seeing him play for Nottinghamshire over many years, and the Sunday League matches were required watching on Grandstand for a child rapidly falling in love with the game in the early eighties.  And while that shortened form of the game may not have quite shown him at his peak, he was plainly one of the main men in the sport.  Nor should it be forgotten that Rice brought an unknown 19 year old offspinner over to England, and was instrumental in Kevin Pietersen’s development.  14,000 international runs later, English cricket can be grateful for that too.

His early passing is a deep blow for the game, and it is to be hoped that a suitable tribute to a genuinely great cricketer can be arranged for the fourth Test, so those where he played and coached for so many years can pay tribute.

Turning attention to tomorrow, England have at least one change with Bairstow coming in for Ballance.  The news today is that there could also be disruption to the bowling attack, with Mark Wood’s fitness in question.  Should he not make it, then Steven Finn will be the replacement.  It was notable that in talking about that, Cook said Finn had been “bowling well in one day cricket”, an oblique reminder that the English summer now limits the first class opportunities to excel when the main Test series is on.

The pitch is of course part of the debate, and Australia have lost few opportunities to play mind games, with Mitchell Starc the latest to lob a grenade at England saying they didn’t know what they wanted or what they were doing.  There’s little doubt from the words flying from the Australian camp that they feel on top of England at the moment, it’s been a remarkable turnaround from the uncertainty afflicting them after the defeat at Cardiff.  The Lords pitch unquestionably offered up a lifeline to Australia, a team that were showing signs of fragility after the first Test defeat.  That Australia grabbed it with both hands and then demolished England entirely merely demonstrates that giving a good team a break like that is as daft as it always is.

The recent rain has hampered preparations in Birmingham to the extent that heaters have been used on both pitch and outfield to assist in drying the surface.  What that means is that even if England had wanted it (unlikely) the wicket could not have been prepared with pace in mind.  What is far more obvious is that after the Lords debacle, it will offer something to the seamers, something the Lords track unquestionably didn’t.  However, what this debate around wickets does show is that for all the noble words upon the appointment of Strauss about it being all about the future, the same short term thinking applies.  English wickets have been extremely slow for a few years now, the idea the Australians have that they are specifically slowed down for them is simply wrong.  But it is still true that they are slow, and looked at over a longer period than the last five years, that isn’t typical of English grounds.  That’s largely because of the recent desire to ensure matches go the full five days to ensure a maximisation of earnings, but it’s hardly likely to benefit England’s development in that longer term to keep doing this.

In times past, the pitches offered a much greater level of variety, one that simply isn’t there any more with a uniform turgidness about them.  That Strauss, according to Nick Hoult at the Telegraph, sent an email requesting that the pitches be slower rather than faster as a general rule makes it abundantly clear it’s about the here and now.  The contradictions between what England say and what they do never seem to stop.

England will certainly have to play much better than they did at Lords to even compete, because any kind of similar performance is going to result in another hammering.  Yet there’s no reason they shouldn’t do.  Cricket teams do sometimes have matches where everything seems to go wrong for no apparent reason.  England are not as bad a side as they looked at Lords, and Australia are not as good either.  One of the recent trends in Ashes matches has been for them to be one sided, whoever wins.  Even the narrow Trent Bridge win of two years ago owed more to a freak performance narrowing a gulf between the side than anything else.

What England do have to do is come up with a method to combat the left armers, and that means showing a degree of aggression.  This is the test for England’s brave words about the way they want to play the game, because no side reacts well to being successfully attacked.  An England who try to sit in will play into Australia’s hands, as they rotate the bowlers knowing that wicket will follow.

That said, Australia have to be seen as favourites, and if they get their noses in front in the series, it is hard to see England coming back, especially after two consecutive defeats.  This Test is likely to prove pivotal in the series, how England handle the challenge this time will tell us much about where they are going as a team.


34 thoughts on “Ashes 3rd Test: Preview

  1. Ian Jones Jul 28, 2015 / 4:35 pm

    Well I’m really looking forward to it and I hope that we get an entertaining game.

    I’m thinking it might be a good toss to lose from what’s being reported about the pitch. You would imagine that it would be tempting to win the toss and decide to bowl which can be a dangerous proposition. It could be an exciting morning.


    • escort Jul 28, 2015 / 8:35 pm

      From memory there was talk of a tornado affecting the pitch preparation in 2005 and that that was what clouded Ponting’s judgement at the toss. Either side i think just have to bat if they win the toss don’t they?


  2. OscarDaBosca Jul 28, 2015 / 5:25 pm

    Can’t wait, will be there for the first two days. Even having our accommodation cancelled this morning hasn’t dampened my spirits.

    I agree it sounds like a great toss to lose


  3. SimonH Jul 28, 2015 / 5:38 pm

    Hope England win the toss and the pitch has a tinge of green – to stop the post-match whinging, Hope Bell and Clarke make runs – both are class acts who’ve given me much entertainment and the way some are queuing up to dance on their cricketing graves is pretty sickening. Hope the best team wins.

    Is that too much to ask?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. hatmallet Jul 28, 2015 / 5:54 pm

    I’ll be there tomorrow. Not sure which stand though, need to dig out the tickets.


  5. man in a barrel Jul 28, 2015 / 6:02 pm

    I noticed that Cook(y) talked about Woody but then said Steven Finn. Does this suggest that Finn is seen as outside the camp at the moment? In any case, if the pitch did happen to be seam-friendly, then they should pick an out and out seamer rather than either Wood or Finn…someone like Bopara might be effective. Mind you, I suspect that there will be not a lot of grass on tomorrow’s pitch. It must have spent quite a lot of time under covers in the last week or so and rapid drying under lights etc will surely just kill off the green shoots.


    • SimonH Jul 28, 2015 / 6:21 pm

      England have applied pressure (whether directly or indirectly) to get a slow, seamer of a pitch – and now look likely to select Finn. That’s on top of selecting an all-guns-blazing middle order.

      It isn’t exactly very joined-up thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paulewart Jul 28, 2015 / 6:35 pm

        No. It rather hints at the mindset of a selfish opening batsman. Bit of a doos, I hear.


  6. Rooto Jul 28, 2015 / 6:16 pm

    Clive Rice’s career was one of the small, personal tragedies that came out of the greater good of SA’s apartheid isolation. I particularly remember how he won most of those 80’s all-rounder competitions, up against other legends such as Botham, Hadlee and Imran. RIP.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Mark Jul 28, 2015 / 6:23 pm

    How long before one of the muppets in the media makes a gaffe over the death of Clive Rice?

    I only mention it because of his links with KP. Just listening to KP talking about how he was a father figure to him.

    Knowing what the knuckle draggers are like with anything connected with KP It is only a matter of time before some slight or snark will appear. I would hope I’m wrong, but the viciousness of the anti KP lobby makes me confident that some c… willl have to say something offensive. They can’t help themselves.

    Liked by 3 people

    • LordCanisLupus Jul 28, 2015 / 6:27 pm

      We were called the moonies this afternoon by a fan of the blog.


  8. Ian Jul 28, 2015 / 6:32 pm

    Only remember Rice towards the end of his career but struck me as a cricketer you desperately wish you could have had in your side. Was there any chance of him qualifying to play for England given his long career and residency here?

    Liked by 1 person

    • man in a barrel Jul 29, 2015 / 12:50 am

      I suspect that Rice would have turned down the offer. He always struck me as a guy of integrity.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. paulewart Jul 28, 2015 / 6:33 pm

    Just to flesh out the point about pitch doctoring (for that is what it is) and the nefarious ECB/Director nexus, here’s what Nick Hoult has to say:

    The Telegraph understands that Andrew Strauss, the England team director, sent an email to the Test venues last month asking for what one county source has interpreted as requesting “pitches that are slower rather than faster” – although the England and Wales Cricket Board insisted that it had only requested traditional English Test wickets.

    The first two Tests of this series, at Cardiff and Lord’s, were played on very slow surfaces on which the bounce was minimal from the start of the match. It worked to England’s advantage in Cardiff after they won the toss and Australia struggled to adapt to the conditions. But at Lord’s they were blown away by Australia’s attack, which had enough pace to take the pitch out of the equation.

    Groundstaff at Cardiff and Lord’s were on their hands and knees brushing the surface the day before the start of the Tests, a practice commonly used to enable the mower to take off more grass and thus slow down the surface.
    But Bayliss has now admitted that slow surfaces negate the threat posed by James Anderson and Stuart Broad and he believes pitches should be prepared to help them while backing the batsmen to be good enough to make the necessary runs against Johnson and Co.
    “I’m quite happy for the groundsmen to produce the wicket. I’d like to see a typical English seaming wicket against the Australians,” he said. “To take 20 wickets, that would suit our bowlers. The flatter the wicket is and the slower the wicket is, it actually plays in to the Australians’ hands.
    “We know what style of batters they have in their team and, on the flatter wicket, it is their big, tall fast bowlers who can get good bounce out of the wicket and variations because they hit the deck hard. All the talk about ordering a flat wicket is actually to our detriment.”
    Bayliss refused to blame the pitch for England’s defeat at Lord’s. “It was obviously a good batting wicket [at Lord’s], certainly wasn’t a 103 wicket, that’s for sure. It was a lot better wicket than that. I’m sure the Australians would say there was nothing wrong with it, they were able to get plenty out of it, which with the bowling attack they’ve got, they are able to. Whether that’s a typical English wicket, I’m not really sure.”

    Bayliss has only just started in the job and it is not known if he was consulted on the type of pitches England demanded. But now he has had his first look at the surfaces in England, he is in a stronger position to make his own call. All eyes will be on Edgbaston, the venue for the third Test, and how the groundstaff prepare the pitch.

    The England team can exert far more control over counties and what pitches they produce due to the bidding process for major matches. Some counties fear losing lucrative England internationals if they do not toe the line.
    Australia expect slow pitches to continue, with their head coach, Darren Lehmann, scoffing at Alastair Cook’s claim that the deck for the Lord’s Test was not an English wicket. “We’re in London aren’t we? Lord’s? Where we going next? Birmingham? I don’t know what he means by that,” he said.
    “At the end of the day, there’s been the same wickets since the five Tests in 2013 and the first two here have been exactly the same. It depends on the weather, curators do their job and that’s the way it is.”

    For the record, Aussies were accused of sour grapes after Cardiff and there was a lot of relativising going on here and elsewhere. It seems to me that they have a case, and, given recent history, I’m not sure they have a case to answer themselves. Aren’t half their pitches drop ins, these days?


    • Mark Jul 28, 2015 / 6:49 pm

      I want the grounds that were sent that email to publish it. We need to know what the ECB requested, and who signed off on the Email. Was it Strauss? England fans deserve to be told the truth. At £80 a ticket we should know what type of surface they are trying to create.

      The ECB has lost its right to be trusted over anything. I don’t believe a word they say.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. SimonH Jul 28, 2015 / 6:58 pm

    It’s Tuesday so it’s Ed Smith day over at Cricinfo. His new piece starts, “I wish to apologise for writing such a load of cock about ‘a deeper kind of momentum’ in my previous column. I realise now I’m not half as clever as I thought I was and am taking an extended sabbatical from inflicting any more such nonsense on unfortunate readers. I also now quite like Twitter”.

    It doesn’t, of course. It does however include the stunning insight that cricket isn’t football and uses phrases like “a counter-intuitive pecking order of strategic priorities”.

    Liked by 2 people

    • paulewart Jul 28, 2015 / 7:45 pm

      That’s quite the admission. Because he usually steals ideas about other sports and applies them to cricket. Maybe he’s covering his tracks.


  11. Mark Jul 28, 2015 / 7:17 pm

    Sometimes there is a fine line between genius and idiocy.

    I leave it to others to decide which one is Mr Smith.


    • d'Arthez Jul 28, 2015 / 7:53 pm

      I am not sure if a fine line is involved in such an assessment of Ed Smith to be honest.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. dvyk Jul 28, 2015 / 7:43 pm

    Don’t know when I’ll be able to check scores for this match, as I’m traveling. I hope Bell gets a few. I was hoping Bayliss might give him a bit more support than it appears he may have gotten in the past. (I also wonder what Moores makes of all this. He would have been better off saving up his bile for a moment when England lose, instead of griping to the press immediately after they beat NZ. It suggests that he really doesn’t have much of a strategic brain.)

    I’m not surprised to read of the email from Str4auss which doesn’t exist and which he didn’t send out with his name on it. As soon as I read Selvey blaming the Lord’s groundsman for the wicket, I knew the ECB must be behind it. I also noticed a commentator raving about how Hardy’s were making over 45,000 pounds a day from their wine stall. I’m a bit surpised they haven’t demanded compensation from Mitchell Johnson.

    Depending on when I can check in again, I will probably come here first and read through the comments for each day to get an idea of what is happening. Many thanks to all commenters and hosts!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. paulewart Jul 28, 2015 / 7:52 pm

    Sad to read the news about Clive Rice. From what little I knew of him he seemed a fine cricketer and a fine man. I do worry about the revisionist tone of some of the obits though. Yes it’s unfortunate that an accident of birth denied a good men the chance to play cricket at the highest level. But sanctions were appropriate, we should never lose sight of that. Which only makes the wretched behaviour of Gooch, Gatting et al all the more reprehensible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • d'Arthez Jul 28, 2015 / 8:04 pm

      Rice could not help being born a South African. And neither could the likes of Graeme Pollock, Vince van der Bijl, etc. And many excellent players of colour. But Gooch, Gatting and the other tourists had a choice. And they chose money over country. Money over principle. And the sad thing is, that they have been copiously rewarded for it. Not so much by the Apartheid government, as by the powers that be in English cricket.

      The sheer veneration they’re getting. Gatting went on to become the MCC President. Normally you’d expect a bit of integrity as a requirement to hold such an office. And we all know what Gooch has done since taking the Rand. And some of these tourists still had the audacity to lecture Kevin Pietersen on “being a team player”, and what not.

      Liked by 2 people

      • paulewart Jul 28, 2015 / 9:25 pm



      • SimonH Jul 29, 2015 / 12:18 pm

        Nice to see a mention of Vince van der Bijl – he looked a phenomenal bowler the one season of CC he played in England.


      • SimonH Jul 29, 2015 / 12:27 pm

        Another one who seldom gets mentioned is Lee Irvine. Played one Test series against Australia and averaged fifty. Scored a century in his last Test innings before the ban.


      • SteveT Jul 29, 2015 / 12:53 pm

        Garth Le Roux, Henry Fotheringham, Jimmy Cook….. The list goes on. I remember van der Bijl as well, like a left arm version of Joel Garner


  14. man in a barrel Jul 28, 2015 / 11:23 pm

    Gooch the team player… Discuss this proposition from the perspective of his captain David Gower

    Liked by 1 person

  15. man in a barrel Jul 28, 2015 / 11:26 pm

    Yes it is sad that people like the Pollocks, Richards, Proctor, and Rice did not play Test cricket. Those guys alone would beat England this week.


  16. BoerInAustria Jul 29, 2015 / 12:03 pm

    RIP Clive Rice


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