England vs Australia: 2nd Test, Day Five

After the fireworks yesterday, today ended with more of a damp squib than anything else. The rain which removed another seventy minutes of play from the game made the draw seem almost inevitable from the start. Stokes and Buttler made it through the truncated morning session unscathed, which made the possibility of an Australian win vanishingly remote. England then declared on a conservatively high total, meaning nothing less than a miraculous spell of bowling would manage to take ten wickets in the space of just 48 overs.

Archer did rise the hopes of England’s fans early on though, taking the early wickets of Warner and Khawaja with his customary quick deliveries. He followed that by hitting Smith’s replacement Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet with just the batsman’s delivery at the crease. The South African substitute batsman recovered though and, together with Cameron Bancroft, steadied the ship until Tea.

Leach struck in the first over after Tea, trapping Bancroft LBW, but Labuschagne again buckled down and defended well. It wasn’t until the last hour that England managed to break through the Austrealians’ defences, with Leach taking the wickets of Labuschagne and Wade in successive balls. But, even with these dismissals, England simply ran out of time to press for a result.

With the next Test starting on Thursday, all eyes are already turning to selection issues. Jason Roy didn’t do himself any favours by dropping a slip chance which bounced off his chest, but it seems unlikely that England would make a change to their batting lineup at such short notice. Perhaps they could swap Denly and Roy’s batting positions, but that seems like a pretty marginal improvement to me. Archer and Leach both made themselves seem indispensible in the game, which raises the headache for England’s selector about who to leave out if Anderson is ‘fit’.

In truth, most of England’s batting lineup should be in the firing line. Other than Rory Burns, who averages 56.50 in the two games so far, it’s been a lacklustre couple of games for the specialist batsmen. Root (24.75), Denly (21.25), Buttler (12.25) and Roy (10.00) should all consider themselves lucky that the quick turnaround and the fact that county batsmen have been playing T20 for the last few weeks makes it unlikely (but not impossible) that England will ring the changes in Leeds.

For Australia, the situation is more serious. Steve Smith was finally diagnosed with a concussion this morning, which left him unable to play today and unlikely to be available for Australia in the next Test too. There would be no guarantees beyond that either, as concussions can last for an indeterminate length of time. Marnus Labuschagne did a fine job filling in for Smith at short notice, but there is also Marcus Harris and Mitch Marsh vying for the open spot. It would be a huge blow for Australia if Smith wasn’t available though, as he virtually won the first Test single-handed for the tourists.

I have what I acknowledge is an unusual viewpoint when it comes to cricket. Whilst I love watching it, I often view it through the prism of being a workplace rather than wholly a source of entertainment and drama. So, for example, I don’t expect a player to be any more ‘loyal’ to his team and fans than someone working behind the counter at McDonalads would be to that huge corporate machine and its customers. Another, more pertinent example would be the low regard with which teams, journalists and fans often regard the health and wellbeing of players when in pursuit of short-term glory.

I missed most of yesterday’s play, and so I didn’t see Smith’s full batting performance personally, but his dismissal to Woakes and his subsequent review did not seem the actions of a batsman with all of his faculties. There is an attitude in cricket (and many other professional sports) that it is necessary for players to ‘man up’ and play through pain, risking further injury. Those who choose to leave the field of play or make themselves unavailable for selection to seek treatment are called ‘weak’ and ‘not team players’ in the press, and can have their card marked in terms of selection.

Concussion is an incredibly serious condition, one which can become significantly more serious if it recurs soon after the initial blow. I cannot imagine any other workplace in the Western world which would even consider allowing an employee to return so soon after taking a blow like Smith received to his unprotected head. It is a decision which should have been out of his hands, regardless of how much he wanted to get on the Lord’s honours board.

Cricket Australia justified their actions in a press release by saying that 30% of concussions don’t show symptoms until 24 hours later. If that is the case, considering the strength of the blow to an exposed part of the head, why didn’t they wait 24 hours before allowing him back on the field? Cricket is just a game, or a job, and not worth risking someone’s life over.

As always, feel free to comment on the game or anything else below.

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