Same Game, Different Bat – 1st Test Defeat

In the build up to the series, there was little doubt that England’s batting fragility was going to be a factor in the outcome of the series.  Australia’s too for that matter, though while the quality of Smith was well known, it might not have been factored in that he’d score nearly 300 runs in this Test.  The difference between the two teams can in no small part be put down to his performance.

Coming into the final day, it might well have been the case that there was no reason England couldn’t bat the day to save the game, but that didn’t mean there was any confidence they would do so.  The batting line up of a few years back would specialise in rearguard actions, and while they didn’t always succeed, they gave it a damn good go on most occasions, and pulled it off more times than their fair share.

Not this lot.

Hardly anyone can have had confidence England could bat a full day, just based on recent history.  The number of batsmen who can be counted on to graft session after session is very few, and one of the most likely candidates can be found down at number nine in the order – and in the event was top scorer.  The moment the first wicket went down, the sense of inevitability was already there, while Jason Roy’s skip down the track and abysmal hack at the ball was indicative of the inability to play traditional Test cricket.  Four down by lunch, all out mid way through the afternoon session.  It wasn’t even close.  It didn’t threaten to be close at any stage.

While Australia (or Smith, specifically) deserve huge credit for digging themselves out of the mire at 122-8, England still had a chance to put themselves in a powerful position when they were 282-4.  Their eventual lead of 90 was useful, but not overwhelming, and it should have been more.  It only got to that many because of Woakes and Broad, and England’s collapse otherwise presaged what would happen in the second innings.

There will be the usual handwringing about what went wrong, and why it went wrong, plus the calls for selectorial changes.  Moeen Ali will likely be dropped, as much for his own good as anything else, so shorn of confidence did he look.  Denly too might be removed, but it won’t alter the fundamental problems that apply, and which can be laid squarely at the door of the ECB and their determination to sideline first class cricket to the margins of the season.  Not only is it that a focus on white ball cricket leads to a white ball cricket style of batting, it’s that those who do play red ball cricket are playing in conditions that don’t suit long innings.  That’s not to say it’s a direct cause of a collapse today, but a line can be drawn from it to a diminishing number of players who might be deemed specialists in long form cricket, and the subsequent selection of white ball cricketers to play in the Test team.  Roy and Buttler are fabulous players on the attack, not so much in today’s circumstances, or indeed the circumstances Australia found themselves in the second innings where they too needed to grind down the bowlers rather than play as many shots as possible.

Root afterwards said that England had been got out today rather it being a poor batting display, and while that’s true to a degree, England certainly didn’t sell their wickets especially dearly.  Lyon bowled well on a fifth day pitch that played as a fifth day pitch should, taking spin, and even had England batted well, it might have proved too much to resist.  But England batted only half a day here – 45 overs.  Even in challenging conditions, against a good bowler, it’s pretty poor.  And it’s not even an outlier.  Would it be expected that England would have done so even if the pitch hadn’t been taking spin?  Not really.

Root himself seems to be suffering from declining performances – from an admittedly very high level to a still good level overall – whether due to the captaincy, due to the batting fragility around him, or some other reason.  Bairstow can barely buy a run currently, nor can Moeen.  Only Stokes and Woakes appear to have the nous to bat long in the middle order.  Rory Burns at the top showed he could do it and if he manages that a couple more times this series, that at least will be one position filled.  Cook never did manage the fourth innings saviour act in his career, but at least you thought he might do.

It’s hard to be angry about a batting collapse several years in the making, and repeated on a regular basis.  This is where England are, and if they are to get back into the series at Lords, it will likely be on the back of Australia being every bit as flaky, bar one player.

Defeat is disappointing.  The entirely predictable nature of it irritates.

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Day 5 Open Thread…..

Day 5. 10 Wickets. Rain. 90 Overs. Draw needed. Let’s all pray. If you care about England that is. Australia had the best day of the test and are now in the command seats. A day of tension looks like ensuing, although the weather may well play a role. There is some rain forecast.

Statwatch

Steve Smith became the fifth Australian to make a hundred in each innings of an Ashes test – following Warren Bardsley, Arthur Morris, Steve Waugh and Matthew Hayden (I was there). While the media, the press, the social media and pretty much all of the sentient world has fallen into believing he’s some form of mythical beast that cannot be tamed, Smith has dutifully maintained the rate of average not seen since Bradman, who, of course, had to have short-pitched fast bowling banned to maintain his never-to-be-matched statistics. Smith has had to persuade the world he cannot be dismissed, the Keyser Soze of batting.

His 142 was the equal 106th highest individual score by an Australian in matches against England. His 144 is the 98th equal highest. Both Ponting and Smith have 142 and 144 scores v England, but in the case of Punter, obviously not in the same match. Smith has a 141, 142, 143 and 144 in tests v England – a neat statistical quirk (he has a 138 as well). His was the 315th hundred for Australia against England, his tenth, and Matthew Wade followed soon after with a century of his own. Smith’s is the 16th highest score by an Aussie in the 3rd innings of an Ashes test.

Wade’s hundred ranks 239th equal in high scores for Australia v England. It was the seventh score of 110 by an Australian, bringing him alongside Rodney Marsh in the Centenary Test at Melbourne (the only not out 110), Bill Ponsford (twice), Geoff Marsh (in a losing cause in Brisbane ’86), Marcus North and Chris Rogers (at Chester-le-Street in 2015).

Australia’s innings of 487 for 7 ranks as the seventh highest 3rd innings by Australia in Ashes tests (note this includes Centenary and other assorted match-ups between the teams). The highest this century is the 527/5 butchering the roasted England players endured (as did I) at Perth in 2006. Just the one total above 487 in the third innings has not resulted in a win. This was in a six day test in 1947 at Melbourne, which England started the final day on 91/0 and finished 310/7. The 536 included one of Ray Lindwall’s two test centuries. England’s hero in the fourth innings was Cyril Washbrook, who made 112.

ConnWatch

Sing When You’re Winning, You Only Sing When You’re Winning

Shiny Toy Watch

It was Jonathan Liew who said of Robbie Savage “he always have an opinion, and if you hang around long enough, you’ll get one opposite to his original one” (or something like that). We lose if Smith stays in, we draw if we keep left handers away from Lyon (simple).

File this under “only an opinion” as long as it’s mine…

Oh…Greatest Ever Watch

SelfeyWatch

We Read Paul So You Don’t Have To…

Scapegoat Wanted!

The ball pitched outside off-stump, spat off the worn and ultra-dry Edgbaston surface and turned sharply to bowl Tim Paine through the gate. It was the perfect off-spinner’s dismissal but it was the moment that summed up England’s desperate first Test plight.

Even Moeen Ali could barely summon up the energy to celebrate a classic example of his art to dismiss the Australian captain because it was far too little and far too late to stop England facing nothing but a monumental fight for survival at their Birmingham fortress.

If only Moeen had been able to conjure up something similar much, much earlier to the man who has produced one of the great Ashes performances here in Steve Smith, then perhaps this first Ashes episode might have been following a very different script.

Paul’s feeling a bit down…

Any plan for England to capitalise on green pitches in this Ashes with last year’s batch of seaming Dukes balls, just as they did in the 2015 series, has gone up in a puff of dust from an Edgbaston surface that instead has been tailor-made for spin.

It has hardly helped that England have been a bowler down since Jimmy Anderson limped off on the first morning while Chris Woakes was mysteriously restricted to just seven overs as Australia piled on the misery and runs.

There is no mention of Root’s captaincy, and there’s a bizarre claim that Root and Denly both out-bowled Moeen, and some old waffle about Smith and the crowd. It’s a crestfallen piece of what might have been.

Max Edroom

How many times are Sky going to focus their cameras on Ed Smith during the day’s play? It’s getting beyond a joke. I saw very little of the play on Sunday, but there he was, on screen, on three occasions. There with his dutiful little helper, James Taylor, sometimes, but in this test, more often with other of the hob-nob top strata. I would like to be notified by anyone watching when he gets on screen on the final day.

Now count the times James Whitaker, Geoff Miller and David Graveney were on the screens during play. The ego has landed alright. FICJAM. About to be shown the futility of his brilliance.

Comments on Day 5 below.