Tell Me About Your Childhood – Preview of Day 4 at the 2nd Ashes Test

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Why Optimism Should Be Banished…..

As I walked to work today, having dropped the beloved border collie off at my brother’s house, I walked down the hill to the station, contemplating the problems England were facing, as at the time we had just lost Woakes. As I strolled to the nirvana of Grove Park Station, the Gateway of Dreams, the Portal to Pressure, so I passed the Favourite Chicken and Ribs fast food emporium on one side of the road. Hmm, glad I’ve never been in there. As I crossed the busy Baring Road, I noticed that the locksmiths were just about to open, and thought, has that always been there? And then it struck. I should use these thoughts in something more constructive. What would Martin Samuel do?

Well, England have proved themselves more than Chicken in this game, even when the ball isn’t tickling their Ribs on what should be their Favourite conditions of the series, and after consuming this, there’s a pain like indigestion at the outcome. And they’ll need a locksmith to get them out of the handcuffs the first innings batting, and their lamentable bowling has put them in. They’ve tied themselves up in chains, and the Ashes will be locked in Australian safe custody if they don’t. Martin would be proud.

OK, I’ve got the Martin Samuel bit out of my head. Let’s do this as I usually do. Or try.

Chris has adroitly summed up the predicament England face in this test match. Unless there is something utterly out of the ordinary, or a ton of rain, England are going 2-0 down. No dressing this up any other way. England will not, in all likelihood, chase down the current lead, let alone the 350 that is much more likely, or the 400+ I suspect we’ll have to. So what tonight was is the equivalent, somewhat, of the moment on the ultimate gameshow, Bullseye, where Jim Bowen shows the crestfallen finalist what they could have won… and we got a bleedin’ speedboat. Sorry, Martin Samuelitis is affecting my brain.

Once again, the batting was a sad state of affairs. Overton top scored with 41 not out, providing some green shoots of new promise, but we all really believe, deep down, he’s another fast-medium trundler who won’t get more than 10 tests. Test match batting is quite often more about temperament than technique (something that should be remembered more often) and Overton and Woakes showed it while their top order colleagues didn’t. The evidence from Brisbane, seized upon by the experts, that our tail would be blown away time after time was made to look the jibberish it was. These are good bowlers, but they are not all time great bowlers. It’s Lyon that’s the difference, the big difference.

The problems with the batting aren’t new. Players come in, are given a few games, and then dropped without any of them sticking. The prettier your shots, the easier on the eye that you are, the more chances you are going to get. See James Vince. England have not produced a batsman that has stuck since Joe Root. Yet he has now gone six tests in Australia without a ton. Alastair Cook remains the best opener in England, but it is now 17 Ashes tests since his last century, or put another way, 33 innings without an Ashes hundred. These are our two “rocks”. We need them to be more igneous and less porous (Samuel, stop it).

I didn’t see the bowling, and nor will I catch the highlights before this goes up. I don’t care much for our bowlers, if truth be told. Stuart Broad can bowl “that spell”. We know, except every time he takes a wicket early in a spell, the twitterati seem to want to think we are at the beginning of one of “those spells”. Word to the wise, wait until he’s taken at least three or you’ll be a Shiny Toy before you know it. Jimmy Anderson has never been my favourite cricketer and seems not to perform far too frequently overseas lately to be given the reverence he has been. Tonight he bowled tightly and nicked a couple of wickets. 48 hours too late. Moeen is the liability with spin we always thought he might be, Woakes has improved for the run out (remember, he missed most of our domestic season) and Overton is this year’s Roland-Jones, even if Roland-Jones is this year’s Roland-Jones. There’s room for more than one.

As always, we really look forward to receiving your views as the day’s play unfolds. There’s the overnight shift from the Tundra and India, aided and abetted by a random insomniac. Then there’s the waking hours, as we react to the horrors that have unfolded in our sleeping hours. I catch up with them all on the commute to the office, and then dip in here and there on the relatively few opportunities. Once play is over, we try to get a report out to comment on the events we’ve seen and react to the comments from those outside our Outside Cricket bubble. An afternoon to digest, and then a preview piece to send you to sleep with all the joys of spring.

As I went up into my loft yesterday to retrieve my Christmas decorations, I noticed on the shelves my parents built up there a whole bunch of those weekly magazines you keep to make up a pseudo encyclopaedia. Mine was the Illustrated History of Aircraft. Also, I opened a box to find some unexpected Halloween decorations. Today’s cricket starts at 3am, or near offer. Will it be a fright night that haunts us all, spells being woven, demons in the wicket, with a horror of an ending? Or will we be flying high, on a jet pace, soaring machine towards the ultimate prize of Ashes glory, a jumbo sized explosion of joy, a Dreamliner of enthusiasm.

Doctors appointment for Samuelitis is at 12 noon. Wish me luck.

Comments below.

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What happens when you are optimistic……
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Ashes 2nd Test: Day Three

When it’s all going hideously wrong, the temptation to cling grimly to any floating wreckage nearby is a strong one, and four wickets for England’s bowlers in the evening session has given rise to curious assertions that England are back in the game, a triumph of hope over experience.  In reality they are, taking the kindest, most sympathetic view possible, not totally out of it.  Since Australia’s lead already far exceeds England’s miserable first innings total, this is taking blind hope to unprecedented levels.

England weren’t in the worst position at the start of play, and a good batting day would have begun to transfer some pressure back onto Australia, with the usual third innings jitters a possibility.  Instead, England collapsed hideously to 142-7, and only got even close to saving the follow on thanks to Craig Overton making an unbeaten 41.  Irony of ironies – the England tail wagged this time around.

The batting order’s insistence on doing the same things and hoping for a different outcome is magnificently stubborn (perhaps the only way that adjective could be used about them) and once again it was poorly executed shots that did for them rather than brilliant bowling.  The pitch didn’t do much, and in the daylight there was little swing.  Only Malan could be said to have been got out, and whatever the merits of Australia’s bowling attack, the same level of carelessness that’s been present in England’s batting for a long time was once again to the fore.  When they come off, it’s certainly thrilling, but an inability to play the situation is becoming a real hallmark of this team and there’s so little evidence they are learning.

It is perhaps this, more than anything else, that justified the pessimism before the start of play, and highlights the increasing fear that this tour could get truly ugly.  Again.

Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow on was perhaps understandable given the time left in the game, but the principle of doing what the opposition would like least must surely apply – England would not have wanted to bat again, under lights, under the pump, and under pressure.  In defence of the decision, it’s unlikely to make that much difference to the outcome either way, for by the close of play a lead of 268 with six wickets remaining is the kind of marvellous position teams dream about, but it did at least offer England the chance to give Australia a bloody nose.  And yet even with the wickets taken, the same old flaws were there:  England still bowled too short, still bowled too wide.  At 53-4 it might seem a peculiar criticism, but both Anderson and Broad were consistently shorter in length than their Australian counterparts, and while it hardly went too badly on the field, it doesn’t suggest that the plans are either thought through, or alternatively that the bowlers want to apply them if they are.  There is no doubt at all that when Broad, Anderson and Woakes kept the length full, they looked extremely dangerous.  They usually do – which is why so much hair is pulled out at their continuing refusal to do it on a consistent basis.

Apparently, tomorrow morning is another “vital” first session.  It really isn’t.  It would need to go catastrophically wrong for Australia to allow England to have any kind of realistic sniff of a win.  It is of course just about possible that England will skittle the hosts and then bat out of their skins to chase down a total almost certain to be in excess of 300, but that’s barely enough to encourage even wildly unreasonable optimism, let alone genuine confidence.

The worst part about England’s predicament is that so much of it this series to date has been self-inflicted.  Australia are some way from being a really good side, but they have, to use the appropriate cliche, executed their skills well so far.  England haven’t.  Assuming they do, and in spades, it means that Australia will be bowled out for around 100 in a magnificent display of attacking bowling, while the English top order compile a couple of centuries to take them home in one of the top 20 run chases of all time in Test cricket.

That’s the miracle scenario.  And that says it all.