It’s perhaps a measure of the nervousness that England cricket followers have concerning the Test match batting order that Australia’s total of 284 felt imposing. Perhaps a reflection on the recovery that added 162 for the last two wickets was part of that too – Smith’s brilliance, and whatever controversy follows him it is brilliance, taking Australia from a parlous position to one of at least respectability.
But the batting fragility of both sides has been noted in the run up to the series, and with England collapsing in a heap on a regular basis in recent times, mildly facetious comments about first saving the follow on did the rounds, not without some basis in genuine concern.
Instead, today was a throwback to old fashioned Test cricket – attritional, gritty, rarely flashy, with the England top order grinding the Australian bowlers down, another art of Test cricket seemingly lost on these shores recently. Rory Burns was undoubtedly the man of the day, batting throughout – the first England player to do so since Cook in Melbourne, and given the conditions, this was the better effort on the day. He only really started looking in good form when he passed the century mark, his whole demeanour changing to one of a player entirely at home in his role. As with the five previous openers since the retirement of Strauss to score Test hundreds (though Root is obviously a special case) one swallow doesn’t remotely make a summer, but it was pleasing to see how Burns battled himself, placed a high value on his wicket, and fought his way through to a well deserved ton. Who knows, it may even catch on.
His principal support came from first Joe Root and then Ben Stokes, a player whose batting is beginning to hold the upper hand over his bowling. Stokes has arguably the best, most natural technique in the England team; it is a simple one, with the bat coming down straight and him remaining still at the crease, but it is also why he seems generally comfortable facing the second new ball. His career batting record remains no more than passable, which may be a reflection on his workload as much as anything else (all round cricketers split their focus generally slightly to the detriment of the individual discipline), but as he matures, it might start to improve significantly. Few things are certain, but his technique looks one with little to go wrong, while the interrupted nature of his career appears to have given him extra motivation.
As for Root, it was another fifty and out, and judging by his reaction to his dismissal, he’s acutely conscious of his failure to convert half centuries into centuries. Even so, the amount of handwringing that goes on over a player averaging a shade under 50 when he is surrounded by those struggling to get over 30 is remarkable. It might be something that he’s frustrated by, but it’s not the biggest problem in England’s batting line up and hasn’t been for all the time it’s been going on. The only person who can sort it out is him, it’s not an ability issue, but it is one that stands out in a side where runs are at a premium elsewhere.
Denly, Roy and Buttler were the wickets to fall cheaply, of whom Denly looked the most comfortable. Getting out early is a fact of cricketing life, and not especially relevant in the context of a good England total, as long as these others make contributions in other innings. And therein lies the challenge for what is undoubtedly a brittle batting order.
Apart from a period after Australia successfully got the ball changed – provoking outrage from those with incredibly selective memories who seemingly aren’t aware England do this all the time – the movement on offer to the bowlers was limited, as befitting how a day two pitch ought to play. The exception to that was Nathan Lyon, who found significant spin off the surface suggesting the latter part of this Test could become tricky to bat on, and highlighting the importance of England’s first innings. Australia’s seam attack is certainly a potent one, and at some point this series they are highly likely to rampage through England’s batting order. The pleasure in today was the resolute way they were held at bay, even though they certainly bowled with threat.
267-4 represents a fine day for England, and with two set batsmen, albeit against a still new ball, plenty of power to add given England’s middle order. Yet the nagging doubt remains that this is a side that could fall in a heap, in which case parity will hand a major advantage to Australia. Two flawed teams, particularly in the batting, but against all the odds we have a highly promising Test match unfolding. Perhaps it is that above all else that is causing this particular game to become something of a pleasure.
A great day of old fashioned Test cricket. At the start of the morning England needed to bat the day with the loss of as few wickets as possible. Four down is a great effort. It was important for England’s batsman to stand up and give our bowlers a rest.
After 26 overs Burns had 36 and I almost posted saying ….job done. He had seen off the new ball and made some runs. If that sounds like low expectations you haven’t been following England’s top order in recent years. One swallow doesn’t make a summer of course, but that is for another day. Take a bow Mr Burns. Enjoy your moment.
As for tomorrow two things. Batting last on this is going to be tricky, so they need to build a good lead. Again, the approach should be to bat time, and the more sessions the better. Second…. keeping the Aussei bowlers out there and putting miles on their clock is important for the rest of the series.
If you have a ticket for tomorrow you may have a great day of fun.
All of us enjoying an attritional Test match arm wrestle. It’s almost like cricket fans like the game…
We see so little of it that’s the shame. Test matches in England in recent years have been more like ODI games. Batting time is something that has gone out of fashion.
Here’s a question,,,,,What do we think of Butler as a Test match batsman? Should he keep wicket and Bairstow play as a batsman? And what about Roy opening the batting? Anyone can nick off to the new ball but……perhaps today is not the day for these questions.
I’ve really enjoyed the first two days and it does feel like old fashioned test match cricket, which is great. It looks tough for both sides
Buttler as a test batsman? Not convinced and definitely not a keeper. I’d be much happier to see Foakes with the gloves and. Bairstow racing round the boundary.
I’m not sure about Rory Burns’ Barnet.
On such matters, my default response is always that it’s better than Kim Barnett’s barnet.
You just made me think of Wayne Larkins’ perm.
Couldn’t ever compare to Richard Ellison and his swinging curls…..
England have a long and noble tradition of England players with silly hair doing well in the Ashes (Botham, KP etc.) If Bell had been given the full Keith Flint in the Firestarter video treatment, he would never have been dismissed across the whole of 2005.
Well played, Burns and Root. Both took their time, Burns was fortunate a few times, but both didn’t play recklessly.
I didn’t think the Australians bowled particularly well. Lyon in particular seemed to bowl quite negative lines, even though there was turn. Cummins took 15 overs to get going. While Patterson was good, and Siddle was nagging, Hazlewood would have been a good bet.
Apologies to have stimulated some, ahem, discussion on the booing yesterday. As I say, to me the booing was trivial, the offence was trivial…sport is trivial. Didn’t mean to stir any issues.
Debate is good, disagreement is good. No issues here.
I guarantee before the Lords Test match they will issue a statement saying they won’t tolerate any booing. I remember in 1997 when England won the first test match at Birmingham, and then at Lords they hoovered up all the optimism by putting out a tannoy announcement telling excited England fans to applaud both sides.
And there I thought it was the crowd greeting them with a “Bruuuuuuuuuce”…
They should listen to more Springsteen…
A great days cricket I thought (as an England fan that is).
It was a throwback to the days of not throwing your wicket away. It seems the English batting line up are very much aware of the need to grind the Australian bowlers as much as they can given the cricket schedule coming up.
Agreed about Stokes. Such a lovely batting technique. I hope he and Rory can survive the first hour or so tomorrow. If so I think England can do some real damage.
I listened to a lot of the game on the radio today. I have to say the atmosphere sounds great.
The booing doesn’t bother me. Sport is theatre and the crowds are part of it. It always amused me that Ricky Ponting took offence at being booed when he was in England last. In his case it was a back handed compliment. If he wasn’t any good. No one would have bothered to say anything. But I appreciate with Warner and Smith etc. The sentiment is different.
Looking forward to tomorrow. I have to say on the two days so far. What a great advert for test match cricket. It’s been gripping.
Just as there was some confusion around ball sourcing, it seems there’s some confusion around bails. In the WC we were told that the bails were heavier due to the flashing gizmo inside, hence the incidents with bails not coming off.
Seems to me that’s not the case yesterday? Or were they using the heavy bails for windy conditions?
Yes, absurd stroke of luck for Root, but it would be good if we were clear about what happened, were the bails too heavy, or was the touch of ball on wicket just really thin?
There’s a G article about this claiming it’s time to use snicko & hotspot to detect wickets.
And yes, I’d feel gutted if we’d had Smith survive this way. Still:
Obvious objection – what about games without the tech?
Further objection: – are we adding yet another element to reviews without really thinking about it? I think every wicket is checked for a no ball, but it’s not always clear. I could go with a big overhaul of the review system, but not this piecemeal adding stuff. (I loathe the checks on the boundary, for instance, a real waste of time in long form cricket. Lots of wides are not called, they count for runs too… why does turning 4 into 3 get special treatment?)
As for the ball, yes England are just as bad about trying it on, but really the whole thing highlights that the balls in the box are all just in too good a shape. It’s reliably the case that the ball swapped in is better for the bowlers and that’s really not that hard to fix, just get a more battered set of balls in the box. This refusal to fix the simple things infuriates me about cricket and the cricket authorities. (See also the refusal to use a different colour paint for the crease marks in Tests, leading to myopic old 3rd umpires staring at the screen for long minutes trying to see the damn thing.) I’m sure someone has a dog they can volunteer to do a bit of chewing.
My bails comment got swallowed, I think it might be because WordPress doesn’t like it when I use brackets?
Hmm. A couple got stuck in there – yours and and Bob’s.
In passing, Bob used brackets too…
Ooh. Try it again?
This game is more than something of a pleasure, Chris. So far, it’s been a delight. Utterly compelling.