OK, hands up: who’s really surprised? Perhaps that England had a pretty decent day up until the last five minutes, yes, but the close of play score? Unlikely. A middling total, encompassing a promising position thrown away, with the prospect of that lengthy tail to come, and a new ball in Australian hands. It’s possible that England will go on to make a fine first innings score, for Dawid Malan is still there, and of all the England batting order is the one who exudes a degree of permanence when at the crease. Equally, Moeen Ali could be said to be due for some runs – forever the last kind of unreasoning hope to be extinguished. But after that, there’s not much at all, and while 350+ is always possible, so is 250 all out, and the probabilities lean closer to the latter than the former.
Of course, much of the comment will be around Root passing fifty and failing to go on to a century yet again. That it’s a problem he’s more than aware of was shown by his despairing reaction to his dismissal, but as ever, it’s something that gets commented on in isolation about him, and never should it be mentioned that Cook has more than a slight issue over the last few years with the same thing; occasional huge scores don’t alter that. England throwing away promising positions is hardly new, but nor is it down to just the captain. Oh, and nor is this conversion problem something that’s afflicted him since he became the skipper, it’s been a problem for a while. Still, it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be mentioned, for Root’s dismissal didn’t look great, and was compounded by Bairstow being quickly dismissed afterwards. In the peculiar way cricket is sometimes looked at, Bairstow’s dismissal is apparently Root’s fault. 228-3 is a decent position, 233-5 is Australia’s day.
The lack of a nightwatchman on Root’s removal also became a topic of debate. As ever, it’s being wise after the event. Given how many times Bairstow has been left marooned as the tail fell apart around him this series, it’s not too surprising he didn’t want to bat any lower than he had to. This time, it just didn’t work out, but Australia went some years having abolished the role entirely. As ever, decisions like that are often only good or bad in retrospect – Bairstow backed himself to get through the last two overs.
The last five minutes apart, England had done fairly well but with all the same flaws they’ve shown all series. Stoneman started well but failed to go on, Vince looked pretty but got out for the same kind of score that he tends to get out for, and Cook was dismissed for 39. Two things about that, firstly the Daily Mail’s description of it as “a convincing 39” is preposterous, and does Cook himself no favours, and nor was his lbw, given on review, in any way controversial, no matter what his number one fan Paul Newman might claim. It was too much to hope that Cook would repeat his Melbourne innings, but it can be said that he looked technically very good here too, which is promising from his perspective as long as he can maintain it. That’s not meant to be dismissive of him at all, Cook when he has his game sorted is a fabulous opener, but he also drops off alarmingly at times in terms of his technique. As he gets older, this will become ever more important, but he remains quite extraordinary in the divergence between when he is fully sorted, and when he isn’t.
Dawid Malan is England’s batsman of the tour, which may seem to damning him with faint praise, but three fifties (including his current one) and a big century represents a better return than anyone else, and if this innings was a careful one, he still very much looked the part. And bringing in batsmen who do look the part has been in fairly short supply recently.
And so we move into day two. Any feelings of impending disaster are entirely to be expected, which is probably just the time they’ll confound us all and bat out of their skins.