How To Make A Crisis In Four Easy Steps

In the past few weeks, all of the cricket media in England and Australia have been talking about England’s behaviour off the field. Two incredibly minor events, coincidentally in the same Perth nightclub, have overshadowed coverage of the actual Ashes.

I would argue that this whole situation has been caused by the ECB’s chronic failures in PR and management. Time and time again, they act in a way which actively hurts the team’s perception with fans and the media. It’s incredibly predictable, unfortunately, and here’s how they do it:

Step 1: Wait until the reporting hits fever pitch before releasing the full story

This allows the journalists to build up speculation through the day, ideally whilst England are playing cricket. Some people might suggest that this would distract the English players from performing at their best, but the management still want to perform a thorough investigation of any incident before they release it to the press.

So if we look at how the Bairstow incident was revealed, the Aussies were sledging England over the incident through the game and after hearing about it through the stump mics the Aussie media published the story on their back pages on Sunday. Speculation continued running through Monday, the fifth day of the Test, with a vague statement from Strauss confusing matters even more. Apparently it was “playfulness, no malice, blown out of all proportion.”

It wasn’t until after the game had finished that the full story came out, and then only because the Australian opener Cameron Bancroft explained it in great and amusing detail whilst Steve Smith was laughing his ass off beside him.

With Ben Duckett, the news came just before the toss in England’s two-day warmup game in Perth that he had been replaced by Joe Clarke. There was nothing else released, which led the assembled journalists to investigate the matter and about halfway through the day’s play the ECB finally released a statement. Even then, it only described the situation as an “alcohol related incident” with no details included. It was only through “good journalism” that the full facts of the matter came out later.

Step 2: After “investigating” the matter, declare the players involved as both simultaneously innocent and guilty

As we know on this blog, the ECB are not unfamiliar with the concept of confusing statements. The name “Being Outside Cricket” comes from a joint ECB/PCA press release (still available on the PCA’s website) surrounding KP’s expulsion from the England team in 2014, where they appeared to suggest that no one outside of the ECB had any right to question their decisions.

So in Brisbane, Trevor Bayliss described the Bairstow ‘headbutt’ as “blown out of all proportion” but also said that the players have “got to be smarter” away from the pitch. The Director Comma England Cricket also came out of hiding to talk about it, declaring that “It’s a minor issue but it highlights the fact that minor issues can become major issues.” I think that certainly is the case when the ECB are in charge.

Trevor Bayliss’s statement on Ben Duckett is a thing of beauty, if you find contradiction and incompetence beautiful that is.

“To be quite honest it’s fairly trivial but in the current climate it’s not acceptable. Everyone’s been warned about [how] even small things can be blown out of all proportion. The ECB has also been quite strict to the boys with their message, and it’s quite simply unacceptable.”

So let’s break that down. Duckett’s actions were simultaneously both “trivial” and “not acceptable”, to the point where his possible England future is being written off. Again, this seems fairly familiar to fans of the blog, with its regular references to staring out of windows and whistling being sacking offences. How would this affect a team’s morale, when they know that their team’s management will actively attack them over incredibly minor issues.

Step 3: Severely punish the innocent players

What would be the absolute worst thing to do after a team’s management categorically denied their players had issues related to drinking after the Brisbane Test? How could they utterly undermine themselves and put all of the team under huge pressure? If there was one surefire way to suggest that England are a team of violent drunken thugs who can’t be trusted, it was forcing a curfew and other restrictions on the players. So that’s what their management did.

Certainly I enjoyed the irony when Bayliss said that “even small things can be blown out of all proportion” about Ben Duckett, since the whole media circus was created by the ECB overreacting to a “trivial” incident and dropping the batsmen for the tour match and possibly the rest of the Lions series. As far as I’m aware no journalists had heard about Jimmy Anderson’s unscheduled shower before the warmup game, and so there’s no reason to suspect that it would have come out. Even if it did, without the ECB promising a full investigation from Andy Flower it would be a fairly minor and amusing story rather than another alcohol-fuelled crisis.

Step 4: Repeat

If there’s one thing you might admire about the ECB, they certainly have the courage of their convictions. Despite screwing up in the same ways over and over again, they never change. They never admit they were wrong. They never apologise. So it keeps happening, as regular as an England batting collapse and just as much fun for the fans.

No doubt this won’t be the last of this sorry saga. At this point, anything could become a full-blown international incident and many England players should contemplate not leaving their hotel rooms for the rest of the tour lest they risk their careers in some way. There are already reports that Bayliss wants to get rid of the people he considers troublemakers from the squad to face New Zealand, which certainly offers some interesting parallels to Andy Flower’s actions four years ago.

And… that’s it. Hopefully England can make it through to Wednesday night without another self-inflicted wound, but I wouldn’t bet on it. As always, feel free to share your views below.

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Enjoy It, It’s Your Last Chance Anyhow

With England already down 2-0 with only 3 games left to play, it’s fair to say that they’re currently drinking at the last chance saloon. Metaphorically speaking, of course. After the Stokes and Bairstow incidents, they’re probably all teetotal and in bed well before their curfews. But they need to win at least 2 games, and probably 3 since a drawn game seems somewhat unlikely. Looking at the team’s performances so far doesn’t instil us with confidence that they can achieve this, but perhaps they can bring some new blood from outside the current team to turn things around

On a related note, an England XI led by Moeen Ali will play a 2 day game against a Cricket Australia XI in Perth starting tonight. Apart from the England spinner, the 12-man squad for the match contains the 4 players who didn’t play in Adelaide from the senior squad plus 7 from the Lions squad which is also touring Australia. It could be England’s last opportunity to make changes to the squad while it can still make a difference, so the performances in this nonsense game could still make a massive impact.

It’s fair to say that I know almost nothing about county cricket. This could be a problem, because 6 of these players haven’t played for England’s Test team. But seeing as I’m on the internet, I figure I can just bluff it out with 5 minutes of research and, so long as I act confidently enough, I’ll get away with it. So here’s my profile of England’s hopefuls:

Mark Wood – Probably the one player mentioned most from the Lions squad, Wood can reach speeds of 90+mph when he puts his back into it. Never seems to be fully fit, as he’s either injured or returning from injury at any given point. His current Test bowling average of 40.65 doesn’t really suggest that he’s going to blow Australia away, and I’d doubt he’s up to full speed yet.

Mason Crane – Being managed by ISM, there seems a fairly realistic chance that Crane might be selected. A First Class bowling average of 43.98 doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but he’s only 20 so does have youth on his side. He does have the advantage of having played Shield cricket in Australia last year though.

Jake Ball – A current Test bowling average of 114.33. Match figures of 1/115 against Australia. If Finn was considered “unselectable” in the previous Ashes series, Ball has to be somewhere beyond that now. “Banished from cricket”, perhaps?

Gary Ballance – I’m a big fan of Ballance, I thought it was massively unfair when England dropped him for the first time. But in the 8 Tests he’s played since then, he averages 20.26. On top of that he’s a left-handed batsman, so is presumably vulnerable to Lyon’s off spin.

Ben Duckett – Another left-handed batsman, he averaged 15.71 in his 4 Test innings in India and Bangladesh. Obviously there’s a very different playing surface in Australia, but he lost his wicket all 7 times against spin bowling and was clean bowled 3 times.

Keaton Jennings – Left-handed batsman? Check. Test average under 25 in the last 2 years? Check. Shouldn’t be within a million miles of the England team when they have to face Lyon? Check.

Tom Curran – The only “pace” bowler in the senior squad not to get a game so far, his time will probably come after England are beyond saving the series.

Ben Foakes – His First Class batting average is 41.84, which is higher than 3 of England’s current top 5 batsmen. He’s right-handed. His being in the side would allow Bairstow to bat higher in the order and probably cause a net increase in both England’s batting and fielding. On paper, I cannot fathom why he isn’t in the side.

Dan Lawrence – Also with a career First Class batting average over 40, and right-handed, surely he could replace Malan or Vince in the middle order?

Jack Leach – Just looking at his figures, I wonder why he’s not in the team already. And then I remember that he’s bowled most of his games in the Somerset fortress of spin, Ciderabad. I think I’d need to see what his figures are like away from home before I jumped on this particular bandwagon.

Liam Livingstone – I’ve maybe left the best for last here. His First Class batting average is the second highest in this squad to Ballance, he’s right-handed, and he presumably can’t be any worse than Vince or Malan. Get him in the team already!

So, who would you bring in from this game into the Ashes? Or would you go for someone else who isn’t in this squad? As always, comments welcome below.

Ashes 2nd Test: Day 5 Review

“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

Not my words, but those of Morgan Freeman’s character in The Shawshank Redemption. Day 4 ended in perhaps the cruelest manner possible for English fans, with some ‘expert’ analysts estimating that England had a 20% chance of winning the game. Not anywhere near high enough to expect a win, but more than enough to raise the hopes of any but the most hard-bitten cynic.

It may not surprise you to learn that the writers at Being Outside Cricket are all very much in the cynical camp. We’ve seen England through the past four years, and indeed through the 90s, and it takes a lot more than someone saying England have a 1-in-5 chance for us to start believing. If anything, we were too harsh on the tourists. Dmitri said 220. Sean said 225. England proved them both wrong and amassed a grand total of 233 runs, just 120 short of their target.

The collapse began on just the second ball of the day. Chris Woakes played inside the line to a ball from Hazlewood and was given out caught behind. Woakes reviewed the decision and there was a tiny noise shown on the snickometer, which was all the evidence the TV umpire needed to show the English allrounder the door.

And there begun the familiar procession. Root followed 2 overs later with another edge from Hazlewood’s bowling to the Aussie keeper. That was surely the end of any optimism the England fans had when they woke up at 3.30am hoping to watch or listen to a potential sporting miracle.

Moeen Ali was next to go, 6 overs later to an LBW decision when facing Nathan Lyon. He reviewed it and it was shown to be umpire’s call for both pitching in line and hitting the wickets. Moeen could consider himself unlucky, and England fans left to wonder whether the fact Australia had no reviews remaining might have led the umpire into giving a marginal decision in the host’s favour.

Bairstow and Overton both soldiered on another 10 overs, but when Australia took the new ball it was all over for England. Starc struck on the very first ball with the new Kookaburra, pinning Overton in front of the wickets with a fast, swinging delivery. Starc also dismissed Broad and then Bairstow in his next two overs, and the game was over.

This loss leaves England 2-0 down with three to play. It would be a monumental feat for them to turn the series around and actually win or even just retain the Ashes with a draw. The more realistic members of England’s fanbase are now talking about avoiding a second consecutive whitewash in Australia. The most pessimistic supporters are looking beyond what they consider the inevitable humiliation of not winning a single game and trying to consider how the team and management will respond. As I said before, we at Being Outside Cricket are very much in the latter group. Already the writers are planning their post-whitewash posts.

Adelaide was considered by many to be England’s best opportunity to win a game down under. A pink ball which might be more inclined to swing, more grass left on the pitch and twilight being an equalising factor which could come to favour England. This loss will hurt the team and their fans, perhaps even more than the 10-wicket drubbing in Brisbane. It’s hard to see how England can change their fortunes for the next Test in Perth, with no real alternatives sitting on the bench. Ballance, being left-handed, is likely too vulnerable to Nathan Lyon’s off spin for England to risk. Tom Curran and Mason Crane seem like they have been taken to assess in the dressing room rather than as realistic picks. Wood and Stokes (if made available) are short of match fitness and practice, which makes either having an immediate impact at best a huge gamble.

And speaking of gambling, Sean and I have each placed a bet on this series with a cricket trader via Twitter. Sean’s bet is that Cook will average below 25 in the Ashes and, with the former golden boy of English cricket residing on an average of 15.50 after two games, it’s looking good for us at BOC receiving a round of drinks from the lucky chap with his winnings.  Whilst Sean wagered with the rather more impressive stake of money you can fold, I took the more cautious approach and bet 10p that no England player would manage a score of 160 in the whole series. This was in reference to Bayliss saying after an England warmup game that they needed to score 160s and not just 60s. My money is also looking pretty safe right now, with 40% of the series gone and James Vince is the closest so far with his high score of 83 in Brisbane. It’s fair to say I’m not worried that I might lose this one.

As always, feel free to comment below!

Australia vs. England: 2nd Test Day 2 Live Blog

Well we’ve just woke up here at BOC, and it appears that England have just had a nightmare. Having been put in to bat, Australia have declared on 442/8 and leaving England with a tricky 28 overs to face tonight. And without further ado, here’s the live blog:

0906 Starc bowls the first over, getting over 93mph. Bowling very full, but no swing and England play it safely with two singles.

0910 Hazlewood from the other end. Again fast and full from Australia, England score 5 runs and no real drama for England.

0916 Starc’s second over, and it looks like he’s warmed up. Stoneman gets a leading edge on the first ball and it goes in the air past backward point for four. Stoneman also plays and misses on the third ball before getting off strike with a single. Cook blocks out a yorker to finish the over.

0921 Hazlewood’s second over, and there’s an LBW shout first ball despite it pitching outside leg. Stoneman’s bat splinters whilst blocking out another yorker. Another LBW appeal whilst pitching outside leg on the last ball, which will always happen until the ball swings or Hazlewood bowls from the other side of the wicket.

0927 Starc’s second ball of the over and Cook plays and misses at a swinging ball well outside off stump. Some light relief at the end of the over as an Aussie fielder is wrongfooted by a ball hitting the edge of the square and gifting Stoneman a couple of runs.

0931 Cook gets a four off his legs on the first ball of Hazlewood’s over, then Stoneman flashes hard at a wide delivery which goes over the fielders at point all the way to the boundary. 11 runs from the over.

0936 I’m surprised Australia haven’t tried any bouncers so far. Whilst obviously bowling full is a good tactic, I’m curious how well  players can pick up the short ball under lights. That said, Cook comfortably guides a waist-high delivery with a controlled pull.

WICKET Starc bowls a full delivery at Stoneman’s leg stump, and the batsman is trapped deep in the crease playing across the ball. He goes for a DRS appeal, but unfortunately for England it shows 3 reds so they lose a review. England 29/1.

0940 Quiet over from Hazlewood at the other end. A shout for caught behind from the keeper after a glance from Cook’s pads. Vince to face his first ball from Starc at the other end…

0944 Vince blocks out the first ball, a full yorker on the stumps. Starc draws him into a play and miss outside off stump, but Vince survives with six dot balls.

0946 Cummins replaces Hazlewood, and it’s a huge appeal from Australia first ball as Cook is squared up and the ball glances off his back thigh guard to the keeper. Before another delivery can be bowled, RAIN STOPS PLAY!

0957 Bad news for England, the covers are coming off.

1003 And they’re back on again.

1018 And back off again…

BT Sport had a feature on Ben Stokes in New Zealand, which seems like a moot point. Also a mute point, as Graeme Swann was talking in the studio during the rain break so I had turned off the sound. It seemed like they were seriously talking about his return and hyping him, but with his lacklustre performance in his first game and the legal process dragging on I doubt he’ll be ready in time for an Ashes return.

1027 Umpires have just inspected the field. Apparently play has to resume by 1040 am in order to play again today. Fingers crossed!

STUMPS England are 29/1 and 413 runs behind. Presumably play will begin 30 minutes earlier tomorrow, personally I think I’ll just have another lie-in.

Ashes First Test Review – Day Five

With Australia only needing another 56 runs to secure victory with all 10 wickets remaining, the result was never in doubt. The only question was whether England could take a few wickets and sow doubts in the minds of the Australian batsmen for the next game. England opened with Broad and Anderson bowling to the Aussies, but like their previous spells they were economical and unthreatening. After a few overs each, Ball and Woakes replaced them and that seemed to signal the last of England’s resolve. Cameron Bancroft did edge a wide Jake Ball delivery through a vacant second slip, but that was the only mishit in the day. Bancroft finished the chase with three fours in a Chris Woakes over.

This will be a frustrating loss for the England team and its fans. This pitch was the best case scenario for them at the Gabba, they won the toss, and they even had a pretty good first day. Although the record books will show a 10 Australian victory, it was genuinely tight for much of the game.

Indeed, England’s batsmen had several opportunities to put themselves in the driving seat which they failed to take advantage of. 6 of England’s top 7 managed an innings of at least 40 runs, Cook being the only exception. Unfortunately, none of them converted their promising starts into a big score and Vince was the only one to get more than 56.

England’s bowling attack didn’t cover itself in glory either, and certainly looked inferior to their Australian counterparts, but I think that holding Australia to 326 runs when Steve Smith scored 141* was a remarkable achievement. They relied heavily on Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson to take the wickets, which makes Anderson’s possible side and shoulder injury even more concerning.

Jake Ball was particularly expensive in the first innings, which might tempt England to replace him with Craig Overton or Tom Curran. Woakes was economical in the first innings but largely without being threatening, and only scoring 17 runs in two innings won’t boost his credentials as an allrounder either. Moeen Ali was not at his best with the ball, perhaps due to a finger injury he suffered early in the game or the injury which kept him out of one of the warmup games, but he was strong with the bat. The most worrying thing for England in the series is that none of the 5 bowlers ever really looked like they had Steve Smith in trouble.

Honestly I’ve avoided looking at England’s bowling in the second innings too closely. With a complete absence of scoreboard pressure, the batsmen have taken apart England’s bowling. It quite honestly seemed like England weren’t especially focussed on either keeping things tight or forcing a wicket, and in the situation I can’t blame them. Their minds are already on the next game, there’s nothing left for them in this one.

Perhaps the most difficult thing for England’s fans and management is trying to avoid judging the players on a single game. Sometimes people just have a bad day at the office. Certainly the first Test of an Ashes series is not without its distractions and diversions. For the experienced players, Australians have tried to remind them as much as possible about the 2013/14 whitewash. For the newer players to the team, the barrage of media attention and fan interest will be something completely alien to them. Maybe the smartest thing for England to do would be to pick the same eleven players and trust their selection?

Or maybe not. Why not post what you would do in the comments below.

Ashes First Test Review – Day 4

The day began with England 26 runs ahead but two wickets down, and the start was promising as Hazlewood and Starc didn’t seem as threatening as they had the day before. The ball was a little older, the deliveries a bit slower, and although Stoneman and Root had some nervous moments they seemed relatively comfortable.

When Nathan Lyon came in to bowl, it was a different story. The left-handed opener Stoneman in particular had problems facing him, and on Lyon’s third over of the day Stoneman edged one to Steve Smith at slip. Dawid Malan, another left-hander, didn’t seem much more comfortable playing the offspinner, and whilst Malan blocked out a few overs he fell to a similar dismissal soon after.

This brought together Joe Root and England’s #6 Moeen Ali, and for a while things looked rosy for England. Both batsmen were positive, they rotated the strike well and caused Australia no end of problems. Both handled Lyon relatively comfortably too, with Moeen moving his feet and forcing the bowler to vary his lines and lengths. Root coasted to his first fifty of the series, but the very next ball he was given out LBW to a quick seamer from Hazlewood. The manner of his dismissal will worry England, as he was out in a similar fashion in the first innings.

When Bairstow came to the crease, the scoring continued at a high rate and England fans might have entertained the hope that their team could create a lead in excess of 250. Of course true England fans know well the dangers of such hope, and Moeen Ali demonstrated this when he played inside the line of a Lyon offspinner only to get stumped. It was an incredibly tight decision which went to the third umpire, and the TV pictures seemed to suggest that the line had been painted in a particularly haphazard way, but at the end of the day the fault lies with Moeen rather than the groundsman.

With Moeen Ali gone, the scoring stalled again as Bairstow played more defensively and Woakes struggled to pierce the field. They managed to put together a partnership of 30 before Woakes edged a Starc bouncer to second slip, which triggered the second collapse for England’s lower order in the game. Within 3 overs the last 3 wickets fell, and the tourists had set Australia a modest target of 170. Bairstow’s dismissal in particular was disappointing, as the shot seemed more like catching practice than a scoring opportunity.

Australian openers started slowly and patiently, seeing off Anderson and Broad with the new ball. Once they were facing the other three bowlers, they really started accelerating to the point that it seemed possible they might reach their target today. Moeen Ali in particular was expensive, with Australia scoring 23 off his 4 overs.

It was at this point that I decided to go to sleep, as an inevitable march to a low total really isn’t interesting enough to hold my attention at 6.30am. At least the previous 3 days had some balance and competition. A quick look at Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball suggests I didn’t miss any action. No wickets, no drops, no DRS appeals, nothing to suggest that England even made a pretense of competing.

At the close of play Australia ended on 114/0, needing another 56 runs to win. If you are a colossal optimist, which basically just means Sri. Grins at this point, England need to take 10 wickets. Or they’d certainly settle for a rainstorm to come out of nowhere. It seems likely that the game will be over by 1am, which will at least help get my sleeping back on a regular schedule.

After play ended, there were reports coming from Australia’s Fox Sports that Jonny Bairstow might have been involved in an incident with Cameron Bancroft at a Perth nightclub. Recalling both Dave Warner in 2013 as well as Ben Stokes, you’ve got to wonder why cricketers go to nightclubs at all.

Comments are welcome below, unless they’re potentially libellous about players fighting in nightclubs in which case they are very much not welcome.

Ashes First Test Review – Day 3

The day started with Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh continuing their form from the previous day. After a couple of loose overs to begin both Broad and Anderson managed to build some pressure with consecutive maidens, and on Broad’s third over of the day he managed to draw Marsh into playing a drive on the up from a slower ball. Anderson at mid off caught the looping ball, and England were off to a great start.

After Tim Paine came in, England settled down into a routine to bowl out the 12 remaining overs to the new ball. Jake Ball bowled bouncers outside off the Steve Smith whilst Moeen Ali bowled from the other end to rest the other bowlers in advance of the new ball. It worked to a point, restraining Australia’s strike rate when they might otherwise have been looking to cash in, but didn’t generate any clear chances. One bouncer did cause Smith some discomfort, hitting the shoulder of the bat, but it fell well short of England’s fielders in the ring.

Anderson made a breakthrough in the first over with the new Kookaburra, Tim Paine edging a quick outswinger to Bairstow. This wicket brought Mitchell Starc in, and England sensed the chance to run through the Aussie tail with the new ball. Starc raised the crowd’s hopes with a six smashed straight down the ground from Stuart Broad’s first over in the spell, but those hopes were dashed two balls laters as a leading edge floated back down the wicket where Broad caught it. Pat Cummins and Steve Smith safely negotiated the remaining 6 overs to Lunch, where England fans worried about Anderson’s fitness as the bowler ended his bowling after just three overs in the spell whilst holding his left side.

The second session began poorly for England, with Smith and Cummins slowly accumulating runs through the first hour against Ball, Woakes and Moeen. Broad and Anderson returned to bring a bit more control to proceedings, but couldn’t pierce the Australian defences. Eventually Smith reached his century with an off drive against Broad. It took until the end of the session for England to take another wicket, with Cummins eventually edging a ball to Cook at first slip.

The evening session didn’t go much better for England, although Moeen did bowl Hazlewood early in the session. Smith and Lyon kept going, with Smith taking Australia into the lead by guiding a short delivery from Jake Ball for four. It took an hour for England to take the final Australian wicket, with Lyon edging an offspinner from Root to leg slip.

It didn’t get any better for England when they started batting either. Cook fell in the 4th over after top-edging a pull to long leg, which will disappoint him as he has a good reputation against the short ball. Vince nicked one to slip two overs later, reverting back to his more familiar form. A quick bouncer hit Root on the head, breaking a part of his helmet clean off, but he carried on after a quick inspection from England’s team doctor. Root and Stoneman survived the onslaught, and England ended on 33/2 with a lead of 7.

It’s notable how much better the Australian tail played compared to England’s, especially since that is supposed to be a strength of the tourists. Of course Australia was helped by the fact that they had Smith batting through the innings, but Australia added 153 for their last five wickets whilst England’s tail only managed 56. A lot of that seems to be not a weakness in England’s batting but in their bowling. Australia’s bowlers were able to successfully bounce out England’s tail, or Lyon confused them with his spin. England’s bowlers seemed unable to reliably trouble the Aussies, particularly Ball, Woakes and Moeen.

As always, please comment below. I’m off to bed now!

Ashes First Test Review – Day 2

As the only one of the group to actually watch last night’s play (bloody part-timers), it falls to me to write the review after a few hours sleep. I’m still suffering a bit, so please forgive me if I missed something.

The day began with England on 196/4, and with England hoping to really cash in and keep the Aussie bowlers toiling for most of the day. Those plans seemed to be working through the first hour, as Malan and Moeen looked fairly comfortable at the crease facing the second new ball. There was also an injury scare for Australia as Shaun Marsh ran his spikes across Mitchell Starc’s knee in the field, causing the bowler to leave the field for some treatment and a new pair of  trousers. Starc returned to the field quickly though, as it was just a scratch.

At some point during the hour Australia switched up their tactics and went from bowling full to short as they peppered Dawid Malan and Moeen Ali with bouncers, whilst Lyon targeted the two left-handers from the other end. Neither batsman seemed comfortable with the aggressive bowling, particularly Moeen, but it was Malan who fell to it after top edging a pull from a Mitchell Starc bouncer to deep square leg. It was a disappointing dismissal in some ways as the field was clearly set for that shot, but before the match started I’d have snapped your hand off if you offered me Malan scoring 56.

The very next over, Nathan Lyon dismissed Moeen Ali LBW as the batsman played for spin that wasn’t there. In a matter of minutes, England had gone from two set batsmen at the crease to there been two bits of fresh meat at the crease for the Aussies to attack. Two overs later Lyon bowled Woakes through the gate to a very loose drive, and the familiar England Test collapse was on.

Jonny Bairstow had been pushed down the order to “bat with the tail”, and after having faced only 7 balls for no runs that’s exactly what he was doing. With Broad at the other end and two number 11s to come in, Bairstow took the not unreasonable choice of attacking the Aussie bowlers at every opportunity. Unfortunately for him (and us), he skied a short ball from Cummins and wicketkeeper Paine collected it.

Jake Ball then came in, and actually looked pretty good as he seemed to time the ball better than the other England batsmen. He hit 3 boundaries before glancing a ball from Starc off his hip and straight into the hands of David Warner at second slip. Anderson and Broad added another 13 runs between them before Broad pulled a short ball from Hazlewood to deep square leg, and the innings was over with England finishing on 302.

Australia’s innings began broadly how you’d expect, with the experienced David Warner looking fairly comfortable whilst the debutant Cameron Bancroft looked more hesitant and nervous. The nerves clearly got to him, as Bancroft edged a full Stuart Broad outside the off stump low to the wicketkeeper. This brought in Usman Khawaja, who is considered weak against spin bowling. Joe Root switched to Moeen early, and in just the 11th over, Moeen trapped Khawaja plumb LBW as the Aussie played for spin that wasn’t there.

This dismissal brought Steve Smith to partner David Warner, and this seemed like the most crucial partnership for England to break. The early signs didn’t look good for England, as Smith seemed able to score singles at will and the set Warner looking comfortable facing England’s bowling. If anything Warner became too confident, as he got himself out playing a loose shot to a shortish delivery from Jake Ball straight to Malan at short midwicket. This was a massive blow for Australia, as this partnership had the very real potential to bat England out of the game.

This brought in Peter Handscomb, whose stance deep in the crease caused problems for Anderson and especially Ball as they struggled to bowl the fuller line required to drag him onto the front foot. Anderson did get a few on target though and one got through Handscomb’s defences to hit him on the pads just inches in front of the wicket. The umpire gave it not out, but England reviewed it straight away and it was successful.

This wicket left Australia on the ropes at 76/4, and in real danger of conceding a 100-150 run first innings lead. The next batsman in was Shaun Marsh, who has been dropped more times than a slip chance to Ian Bell and has a Test average of just 36.00. Unfortunately for England, he looked in good form and they seemed to have no answers. Australia were helped by loose bowling which meant that Moeen Ali wasn’t able to concentrate his bowling against the left-handed Marsh.

The other significant factor is that England have not shown the ability to take wickets with the old Kookaburra ball so far in this tour. Even against very inexperienced “Cricket Australia XI” teams, the bowlers couldn’t make frequent breakthroughs. Against the highest rated batsman in the world (and Shaun Marsh), those difficulties seem even more acute. Unless England coax some reverse swing from the ball, they appear to be waiting for the second new ball to actually make some progress in the game.

And so it went that Smith and Marsh batted for 37 overs through the evening session, all the way through to Stumps. England managed to rein the scoring in at least after the Australians started scoring quite quickly early on in the partnership.

The day ended with Australia 165/4. On paper they’d still be considered behind England, especially with their relatively weak tail, but I won’t feel in any way confident until England can get Steve Smith out. He looked in awesome form today, and that will worry England for the series ahead. Apparently Smith averages 95 once he passes 20 runs, so England have to find a way to get him out early several times this series to keep Australia’s talismanic batsman out of the picture. It’s not looking good for that plan so far…

As always, please add your comments below:

All Talk Of Circadian Rhythm

In just a few hours, the time for talking will have come to an end and the time for action will have begun. Until then, boy has there been a lot of talking.

The primary aggressor has been the unlikely figure of Australia’s offspinner Nathan Lyon. He looks like a cross between the least effective person at the office and a weasel, and he is the slowest bowler in the Australian team. Nevertheless, on Monday he declared his hope that Australia would “end the careers” of English batsmen. He also suggested that Australia were trying to get Root out of the side, that Australia’s fast bowlers were the best in the world, and that England have no chance of winning.

This follows Josh Hazlewood talking about Australia trying to “open up a few scars” for the England players who toured in 2013/14. Before that, David Warner said that England should expect “war”, and that he would make himself “hate” them during the series. In all honesty, the build up has been less like a cricket match and more like Wrestlemania.

I suppose that I should be annoyed by this kind of behaviour, but in truth I can understand why they feel the need to do it. This Ashes series is not a clash of the giants. It’s not even a clash of two particularly good teams. Divorced from the historical significance of a small urn and centuries of colonial rivalry, this matchup has very little going for it. Both batting lineups have gaping holes in them and both bowling lineups are good but lacking in depth should anything happen to the starters. And in England’s case, things have already started happening to their starters.

With this in mind, I don’t begrudge the Australians trying to drum up a little interest in the game. Are they using outdated and quite frankly offensive language when doing it? Yes, of course they are. They’re Australian. But the series does need promoting and people are talking about all these ridiculous statements, so mission accomplished I guess?

Looking forward to the actual cricket match tonight, the big question seemed to be about England’s fourth fast bowler. In the warmups, the position was Craig Overton’s to lose. After having managed three consecutive ducks with the bat, and good but not great figures with the ball, he has indeed lost out to Jake Ball. Ball claims to have fully recovered from his ankle injury, although England are certainly not without form when it comes to bringing injured players back prematurely.

On the Australian side of things, Warner and Marsh both have minor injury worries, causing CA to draft Glenn Maxwell in as late cover. I’m sure I speak for all England fans when I wish Shaun Marsh a very speedy recovery.

Which brings me to our big announcement: We at Being Outside Cricket will be running a live blog through the first day’s play. The post will begin around 9.30pm and go through the night as we take turns talking about the game and whatever else comes up. It’s a whole new experience for us, so please join us if you can.

And Another One Gone…

It is now just two weeks until the men’s Ashes begins, and it’s fair to say that things aren’t going to plan for England. In fact, it’s hard to see any realistic scenario in which things could be worse for the tourists.

This morning Jake Ball apparently suffered an ankle strain whilst bowling, the latest bowling casualty before the series even begins. Wood, Roland-Jones and Finn are all unavailable, as of course is Ben Stokes for an entirely different reason. Moeen Ali is expected to be fit in time for the first game, but the way England’s luck is going you’d be a fool to guarantee that.

None of these players are on their own irreplaceable (even Stokes), but having 5 fast bowlers with international experience all missing at the same time would tax any country’s reserves. Tom Curran is already travelling to Australia to replace Finn in the squad, and it seems likely another bowler will be called up to join him. There are no obvious substitutes waiting in the wings for England, who already have three uncapped bowlers in their squad.

Liam Plunkett, perhaps the first thought for most people who follow the England team, has apparently been focussing on playing limited overs cricket this summer. His most recent Test match was against India in 2014, and he only played 2 championship games this season. The only other fast bowler with international experience who might be available is Chris Jordan, but with an average of 32.83 in Division 2 this summer he isn’t knocking the door down.

The more likely alternative is another uncapped bowler. Saqib Mahmood and Tom Helm are the two fast bowlers in the Lions squad which will be touring Australia this winter, but neither has much first class experience to draw on. For all of the candidates, I feel massively underqualified to judge them as I don’t follow county cricket very closely. Whoever is selected, it’s a tough ask for such an inexperienced bowling attack to do well in Australia.

The performance of the current bowling attack today against Cricket Australia XI hardly filled me with optimism about the upcoming series either. After taking 5 wickets in the first 33 overs of the innings, England then seemed unable to dismiss the tail with an older ball. I don’t think it bodes well for when England have to face the full Australian side, although of course Broad was not playing in this game.

All of which doom and gloom leads me to England’s batting. Stoneman, Vince and Malan have all had very good tours so far, but it’s hard to look past their performances this summer when guessing how they will play against Australia. Meanwhile, Cook is currently averaging 8.00 on this tour and Root has been good but not great. With Stokes almost certain to be replaced by a bowler, England have much less margin for error from their specialist batsmen than they have enjoyed in recent times.

One point I noted about England’s batting yesterday was how much trouble they had against Australian legspinner Daniel Fallins in his debut first class game. He finished with figures of 5-73, and if he can manage something similar in the second innings then perhaps Australia might be tempted to call Mitchell Swepson or another legspinner into their squad. England’s failings against spin have been clearly evident in recent years, and Nathan Lyon is no doubt looking forward to facing them.

At least the fielding seems pretty good though. That’s something to hold on to.

As a sidenote, BT Sport have been showing the game against Cricket Australia XI for free on their Facebook page, as well as the women’s Ashes Test on their Youtube channel. Free English cricket is so rare nowadays, please enjoy it while you can.

As always, comments are welcome below. If you can give me some small scrap of hope about England’s chances this winter, that would be especially welcome.