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.
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