Australia vs England: 1st Test, Day Two Preview

If there’s one statistic from the first day’s play that allows a small degree of optimism about England’s chances this series, it was that the stand of 125 between Stoneman and Vince exceeded anything in the hideous 5-0 thrashing last time out.  For it to have come from two lesser lights is equally promising, though it has to be balanced by the lack of runs in the first innings from the two batsmen most would think need outstanding series for England to have a chance.

Still, 196-4 not only represents a perfectly reasonable position, but it’s also wildly in excess of the generally fearful expectations once England had won the toss.  That in itself was interesting, in that it was probably more of a bowl first pitch than is normal at the Gabba, but given the Nasser Hussain toss decision in 2002, it would be an exceptionally brave captain to make that call, and batting first was probably still the right option.  Root backed his batsmen, as he had to do, and by and large they justified that decision.

The pitch certainly took more spin than expected, and was slower than expected too.  Yet Australia were also able to gain reverse swing as the ball got older, which tends to imply that the slowness wasn’t down to it being damp, at least not excessively so.  But the sight of Nathan Lyon extracting considerable turn on the first morning was rather startling, and raises the interesting question of how this will develop in the coming days.  If it were to quicken up, then Moeen Ali, who very much likes bounce, could become a serious threat with the ball.  This is of course the beauty of Test cricket, that after the first day, all the possibilities and potentialities come to the fore about what will happen.

But the pitch is usually incidental to the central issue of how the teams perform.  England are in a decent, but not strong position, and the new ball is only three balls old, with middle order players in but not set.  That makes the first hour absolutely critical, even taking into account the first hour usually being critical, on a critical second day.  If England survive that intact, they will have hopes of making a decent score, but it’s equally easy to imagine Australian hopes of blowing away the England middle order early on.

As for what a decent score is, that does come back to the pitch.  Having 200 on the board already may yet prove to be a fine start, certainly compared to the surface expected, but 250 all out probably is not.  England are going to need to bat extremely well to turn a solid position overnight into a strong one.  Without Stokes in the middle order, it is a bit weaker than usual, but compared to most around the world, it is still potent, and Chris Woakes is still a very good number eight.

The reality is that this pitch is so atypical of the expected Brisbane that forecasting how it will play for the remainder of the game is a matter of total guesswork.  If it returns to normal tomorrow, then everyone  will sigh and the world is back on its axis, but otherwise, this could be genuinely intriguing, and offers England a real opportunity.  A sluggish pitch, with swing – both conventional and reverse – plus offering turn is something that would fit fairly neatly into the “wildest dreams” category for England’s attack, and thus certainly not what Australia had been hoping for.

For Australia, the build up involved a lot of trash talking, not least about the pace attack bombarding England, so there has been some amusement that only one ball got above 90mph all day, but the slowness of the surface undoubtedly nullified the seamers, and shouldn’t be taken to be representative of the rest of the series.

In summary, we don’t know what the pitch will do, we’re not sure how well England will bat, we’re not sure how Australia will bowl, we’re not sure if spin will be an increasing factor, we’re not sure if it will become uneven, we’re not sure what a good score is, we’re not sure how England will fare against the new ball or how well Australia will bowl with it and we’re not sure where this match is going.

Sounds like perfect Test cricket.  Bring on day two.

Housekeeping note

Periodically, we have to re-state the commenting rules of this blog, so now is as good a time as any.  It’s about cricket, and very occasionally about other sports where there might be felt to be a connection to cricket.  The simplest commenting (and posting) rule is “no politics”, one which we abide by ourselves for the very good reason that the four of us have highly differing political beliefs, and believe me, when we get together, we often argue about them.  But they are my blog colleagues, and over the last couple of years they have become my friends, and I can completely accept that they are unfortunately frequently wrong.  Politics discussion is a no-no because it would descend into acrimony and rancour in no time, and take us away from the purpose of this place.

The second reason we might moderate is if a comment exposes us to potential libel claims.  The same applies to our posts – we have in the past been told information we simply cannot publish because we can’t verify it, and the Ben Stokes affair is a perfect example of tiptoeing around a legal minefield. As I recall, that subject was the last time we moderated a comment, precisely because we were uneasy about it.  It’s us that gets sued you see…

The final reason we might moderate is for persistent trolling. This is difficult for us, and we aren’t perfect, we can get it wrong. The line between strong disagreement and trolling is a fine one.  We try our best.

That’s it.  And for good reason, because any number of issues can have any number of views, and removing something because we might not agree is a terrible reason for doing so.  As Voltaire never said “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”.  You have the right to call me wrong, misguided, stupid, a piss poor writer or whatever else you wish, and while we might not like it, we feel passionately that we can’t ever intervene just because we don’t appreciate the opinion.

The moment we do step in, we are directing the opinion of those who are kind enough to read what we say and more importantly express their views as to why we are right, or why we are wrong.  It’s a hideous, slippery slope leading to an echo chamber, and it would kill this place stone dead.  It would also be somewhat ironic, a blog that gained attention for saying what others wouldn’t, denying people the right to do the same.  We’d have reached full Animal Farm.

Not moderating has it’s own price. We know.

In line with this, any comments on this are absolutely fine – but personally, I’d prefer to talk about the cricket.

Day Two Comments below



Ashes 1st Test Review – Day 1


First of all, I hope you enjoyed the live blog. A special thanks to Danny who stayed up the whole night to bring you his wry observations on the second half of the day’s play. A magnificent effort. I lasted until lunch….

Having watched the highlights and listened to the varying feedback from punters and journos, yes, journos is that the view is we are very evenly placed. 196 for 4, in 80 overs does not, on the face of it, set the pulses racing, but it was a pretty intense, but somewhat odd opening day. England were thankful that Stoneman, and perhaps more surprisingly Vince, stood up to be counted. In the opening session the Surrey/Durham man showed the same aptitudes he had for his county – he has great temperament and has an impression of technical solidity. He can be much more fluent – I saw him make a magnificent 180+ against the county champions this year – but he did a great job. That ton may still be elusive but we were glad to have him today.

James Vince was the surprise, and if the England management genuinely thought this would happen, they can give me the lottery numbers. Vince played his lovely shots, we know he has those, but seemed a little more selective, waiting for the fuller length at times. I saw him up to lunch, although he struggled a little against Lyon, he was just what England needed. Well done, James. The shame, of course, was the suicide run that stopped him getting to a century. Let’s hope he doesn’t live to regret that.

Malan and Moeen will need to get through the new ball before we can start feeling as though we are in with a decent shout. Bairstow and Woakes will follow with the tail being a little more of concern. If England post a 350+ score they are well in the game, but we’ll only be able to judge when we bowl on it. If England do this despite the failures of Cook and Root, it will be a massive boost. 196 for 4 is neither here nor there. Remembering back to Adelaide in 2002, we finished that day at around 280 for 4, and collapsed in a heap. Brisbane in 2010 saw the Aussies five down for not a lot and then Hussey and Haddin put on 300! Many games, many ways. It’s why we watch.

Over the years we have been accused, well I have, of running an anti-Cook blog. It has to be said that our record run scorer does divide opinion, and neither side has the monopoly on accuracy. But there are some stats that stand out for me. As much as his fans revel in his 2010/11, that magnificent one series does not erase what has happened since. In 30 innings since his 180-odd in Sydney he has not posted a hundred. Now, in innings against the two premier pace attacks in the past six years (Australia and South Africa), Cook has an average of less than 30 in 27 test matches, with the one hundred (back in 2012). There has been a lot of responsibility, and not a little praise, heaped upon Cook in advance of this test, but the anticipation of a successful series is based more on the hope than on the expectation. I, once again, must stress, that of course he should be in the team. His dismissal today was something that could happen to any batsman early in a test innings. But when does this become a worrying trend?

And then there is the skipper. He looked a little out of sorts. Until Root makes test runs in Australia there has to be a little bit of doubt – 207 in 9 innings at an average at just over 25, with one score over 26, is a little blemish on his record, albeit with a small sample size. It’s early days, of course it is, but his dismissal plonking his leg in front of off stump and being beaten by Cummins was not something we are that used to. One game, one innings, but again, a little trend that he could do well arresting. His 87 in Adelaide last time out will need to be repeated, and then some.

I wasn’t overly impressed by the Aussies much vaunted pace attack. I have to say I didn’t get to see a lot of Cummins, but many have said how well he bowled. The dismissals seem to vindicate that. Lyon got the ball to turn on Day 1, which might interest Moeen who likes a little bounce in a wicket (and some of Lyon’s balls got some of that) and the pitch is due to speed up according to our pundits. Hazlewood wasn’t anything to write home about, and Starc flattered to deceive. The wicket wasn’t quite what was expected, but this was hardly trial by fire that we were promised.

I think I’ll reserve judgement on BT Sport’s coverage. Except Lovejoy. BT Sport will have to live with giving this man a commentary gig. The two sessions I endured were teeth-itching. He need strong direction from a producer to stop the laddish bantz, the smart arse one liners, and the desire to be the wittiest in the room and do what he’s being paid to do – commentate on the game. Swann always came off as the sort who fell in love the moment he looked in the mirror, and who thought the funniest person was himself. Shiny Toy has a lot of issues with commentary (conflict of interest, the fact it isn’t radio) and BT have got to stop it becoming the Michael Vaughan Show, but Lovejoy just inspires anger around these parts, and beyond. That’s a dangerous combination. I saw many say how much they miss Athers, Nasser, Michael Holding et al, but do you really miss Bumble, Botham and Gower? Really. A pale comedy act, this generation’s Trueman but without the research, and a former rebel turned Establishment stooge who has mailed it in for a few years now? As a debut, BT did OK. They’ve just set a low ceiling, and they are lumbered with Lovejoy – it’s not as if they weren’t warned.

Not sure what we’ll do tonight, but I imagine we’ll do a live blog on the 1st session tomorrow night (Friday), weather permitting.

Comments on tonight either below, or in a live blog if we set one up.