Paradise Lost – By Maxie Allen

Would you like to know my dirty little secret?

It might shock you. It could well annoy you. It may make you think less of me.

The thing is, I’m English, we’re in the middle of the Ashes, and I have an inconvenient cricketing truth, gnawing away at me.

Shall I just go ahead and spit it out? Well…here goes. I couldn’t care less whether England win or lose the Ashes. In fact, given a choice, and hand on heart, I’d rather Australia won.

Perhaps I’m not being completely honest with you. I want Australia to win.

So now you know.

I am a heretic. An apostate. A traitor.

I used to support England. Oh yes, I followed England with great passion and loyalty. And I did so for more than three decades, dating back to 1983, when I was eight years old.

For all those years, I hung on England’s every move. Every run, every wicket, every result. I cared. I mean, I really cared. If England were hurting, I was hurting. If England triumphed, so did I.  I was a part of the England team, and the team was a part of me. We were indivisible.

In the days before Sky and the internet, I’d watch entire sessions via Ceefax. I flew to Australia to watch the 2002/3 Ashes. I attended test matches as often as I could. And when this happened, I hugged a series of total strangers. But I also supported England unquestioningly and uncomplainingly through all the bad times, and there were plenty of those in the 1980s and 1990s. No one could have accused me of being a fairweather-fan or a Johnny-Come-Lately. I was the real deal.

So what changed? Some of you may already know, or can guess, as you might remember me from another blog, which I used to jointly run, or indeed saw this piece which I wrote in early 2016. In essence, it boils down to a series of events between February 2014 and May 2015 which left me alienated from, and disgusted by, English cricket.

Now, don’t worry – I’m not going to rehash all of that again. I won’t exhume the details.  The point is, nearly four years later, I’m still unable to move on.

But why? Am I being completely ridiculous? Aren’t I taking nose-cutting to spite-facing to an absurd level of masochism? Haven’t I taken these old events so monstrously out of proportion that I now regard one player and one press release as more important than my country winning the Ashes? I fistpump when Cook gets out: am I mad/twisted/deliberately obtuse? Or just too stubborn to let bygones be bygones? Have I thrown out a huge baby with a drop of bathwater?

The answer to all of these questions is – maybe. Perhaps. Arguably. But I can’t help it. It’s just the way I feel.

I’ve been thinking recently about how this looks to my friends. Or to any third party, especially casual cricket followers. They would see my position thus: I have abandoned my national team, the one I passionately followed, as man and boy, and now want their oldest enemy to beat them, and beat them in the Ashes, of all things. And the reason? A few backstage shenanigans which the majority of cricketer followers were barely aware of and have now entirely forgotten. By any rational analysis, my position is absurd. To any England supporter, it must seem insane. But as I say – I can’t help it. And to me at least, it makes sense.

It all began with the very first Test England played after February 2014. As the match reached a dramatic denouement, I found myself – despite being at work – in front of a TV showing the coverage on Sky.

With the first ball of the final over, Stuart Broad took Sri Lanka’s ninth wicket, and a strange thing happened: instead of punching the air in delight and excitement, my heart sank.”Oh God, England are going to bloody win”, I found myself thinking. With the fifth ball, Nuwan Pradeep was given out LBW, and as Broad and Cook celebrated wildly, I felt forlorn and bitter, as if ‘we’ had lost, not won. There was a twist in the tale, however, because Pradeep then called for a DRS review which revealed a inside edge. Reprieved, he narrowly survived the final ball and Sri Lanka saved the game. I was delighted.

This was my epiphany: the moment I realised my cricketing life was transformed. Unconsciously, and instinctively, I now wanted England to lose, not win. A total reversal of the position I’d held so ardently for the previous three decades. And as the months passed and Test matches came and went, my feelings only hardened in that direction. I supported the opposition, because my enemy’s enemy was now my friend.

It wasn’t that I’d calmly formulated my new position by deductive reasoning on grounds of principle. I hadn’t sat down with a pen and paper and sketched it out. I didn’t say to myself “well, as I think x and y about such-and-such, this regrettably but logically means I must oppose England”. No, it was an instinctive emotional response. But the more I reflected on it, the more it made sense, and the more I saw that it was underpinned by a solid rationale.

In a nutshell – and I’m trying desperately not to reheat old material – my view was the people who ran English cricket had made something very clear: the England team belonged to them, and to them only. The team existed purely as a cricketing representation of their corporate entity. Added to that was my sense of betrayal, and also of outrage at a great injustice. This all combined to corrode and nullify any pleasure I could draw from the actual cricket on the field of play. By extension several of the key individuals became opponents. In sport, opponents become enemies, and you want your enemies to lose. Boy, did I want my enemies to lose.

This might not seem very rational to you. Chiefly, my position appears obtuse because of my apparent sense of priorities. I’ve taken a one-off personnel issue, and a few comments by officials, and made them more important than the team itself – and more important even than England beating Australia in, all of things, the Ashes, with all its history and significance. I’ve abandoned thirty years of passionate support to start cheering on the opposition.

That sounds irrational, to put it mildly, but in sport all support or opposition is fundamentally irrational. Is it rational for Arsenal and Spurs to hate each other? Is is rational to cheer on Mo Farah at the Olympics? Is it rational to want to beat Australia at cricket?

The thing is, I didn’t want any of this to happen in the first place. None of what happened was my doing. I mainly feel sad and regretful about it. I wish things were different. And I had hoped for resolution, as I wrote in April 2015 when it looked like the tide might turn, only for those hopes to be dashed.

It would have helped enormously if England had been hammered in the 2015 Ashes, which I know is an odd thing to say. I longed for the defeat of the Cook/Strauss regime, and what it stood for, but despite Australia’s emphatic victories in the second and fifth tests, it wasn’t to be. Australia’s collapse at Trent Bridge cost me dear, because an England defeat would have lanced the boil and cleared the way for a new start.

I now find myself in very strange and lonely place. I am probably the only person in the world who holds my position, and I certainly don’t know anyone else in everyday life who thinks as I do. My friends don’t understand it, and they definitely don’t like it. They think I’m mad, or being a self-martyr, or being deliberately provocative. But I just can’t help feeling the way I do.

When I talk along these lines on Twitter or Facebook I might come across as a troll, trying to wind people up. I’m not really, I’m just saying what I think. And face-to-face, especially when I meet new people, I’m rather coy about not supporting England – embarrassed to admit it. I’ll be talking to a new acquaintance and the subject of the Ashes comes up, and they assume I’m gutted that England are two-nil down. What do I say? How can I explain where I’m coming from, in the space of a normal conversation? How do I make sense of this to someone with a casual, patriotic attachment to the England cricket team, someone who watches just for fun, who has little idea what I’m talking about, who’s never heard of Giles Clarke, and who believes, quite understandably, that England beating Australia is more fun than obsessing about a four-year-old press release?

Speaking of fun…I don’t find cricket much fun any more, and I derive little enjoyment from watching it save the hollow satisfaction of an England setback. I sorely miss what I used to have – not just a team to support, but a community, a family, of fellow supporters. I miss that camaraderie and fellowship, the sharing of mutual experience. I used to be a part of those conversations, but now I inhabit an alien land.

Nor do I even get much enjoyment from memories of supporting England pre-2014. I can’t dig out the 2005 DVDs and relive that series with joy and pride, because I know what happened later, and that has tarnished everything. With the exception of my village team, my whole life in cricket has been a waste. Every England success I rejoiced in now means nothing.

Now, to you this must sound incredibly self-important and self-pitying. You’ll feel that I am whinging about wounds which are entirely self-inflicted. I don’t believe that’s the case, but I’ll understand why you might think that. People tell me to snap out of it. I can’t. People tell me to move on. I can’t. How can you move on when nothing has changed, and nothing been resolved?

One argument in particular is often put to me. Most sports have bad administrators, and most clubs have bad owners. But everyone else puts that aside and supports the players – and so should I. Regrettably, that analysis doesn’t hold true when it comes to English cricket. The ECB aren’t like the Glazers – they’re not outsiders who barge their way in but eventually sell up and move on. It’s the other way around.

Why? Because the only permanent and irreducible thing about the England team is the ECB. Players come and go but the board and its ethos remain, and the ECB configure the team as a representation of its values and philosophy. The England team is a show they’re putting on. Supporting England means supporting the ECB, and I don’t think you can separate them. I’m open to persuasion, but I’ll need a lot of convincing.

What’s interesting, though, is I now watch cricket in a very different way from how I did in the past. England are a much better team when you’re not supporting them. Seriously. Before, if England were batting, I’d fear a wicket every ball. The batsmen looked like sitting ducks. Now I don’t want them do well, England’s batsmen look composed and authoritative, hard to remove. I used to think Australia’s bowlers were unplayable and their batsmen invincible. Now, to my eye, they often look flawed and unconvincing. From my unusual perspective, beating England looks much more difficult than it used to do.

Will I ever have a change of heart? One of my best friends said to me: “when we’re in our seventies, and we go to the cricket together, will you still be supporting the opposition because of something which happened thirty years ago?”. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not quite sure what could realistically happen which would change the way I feel. Nor do I know what approach to take should my daughter, currently aged two, develop an interest in international cricket. Pretend to support England, for her sake? Is that actually a beneficial thing to do anyway?

Now and again I get the odd England twinge, the occasional conflicted moment, when I forget myself briefly, and feel a brief pang of connection or empathy with the England players and what they’re trying to achieve. For a beat or two I feel English again. It’s usually to do with players. I’m fond of Jonny Bairstow and when he’s batting there’s a part of me that’s pleased to see him do well. Dawid Malan, too.

Every now and again I slip and refer to England as ‘we’, but by using the word ‘slip’ I don’t mean to say there’s a pretence, or that I’m deliberately trying to subvert my instincts through stubborness. It’s just the old rhythms and cadences of my past life breaking through.

These little ‘twinges’, though – they pass quite quickly and leave me back where I started. What do I do? Do I try to force myself to support England again? Or do I convince myself that I’m just being pointlessly bloody-minded and that if I could only eat humble pie, move on, and support England again, life would be much more rewarding? Again, I don’t know.

I can imagine my hostility fading with the passing of time. But not opposing something isn’t the same as supporting it. Can I ever feel excited about England again? What would it take for my heart to leap with joy, as for so many years it did, at the sight of an England bowler taking a wicket? What might inspire me to cheer when Alastair Cook reaches a century?

I’ll finish by making an important point. Whatever my own position. I’m not trying to convert others. I’m not telling you or anyone else what to do. I’m not scolding England supporters for their adherence to the regime. If you support England, good luck to you, and I hope you enjoy the team’s successes. A part of me wishes I could join you. But for now, at least, I cannot.

Maxie Allen co-founded The Full Toss and has written on cricket ever since, family permitting.

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Australia vs England: 2nd Test, Day Four

Let’s be clear here, Australia should still win this match, and comfortably so.  But England played with skill, tenacity and demonstrated considerable bottle for the first time this series, and gave cause for some small degree of hope that they could pull of the remarkable.  As has been said on so many occasions, it’s never the despair, it’s the hope that gets you.

England needed everything to go right with the ball, and it more or less did.  Anderson post play admitted that England had bowled too short in the first innings – which more than anything else is the reason why England have been in trouble in this match – and both he and Woakes in particular probed away, swung the ball and got their rewards.  Praise for their efforts will of course be tempered with frustration that they didn’t do it first time around, as the position of this game could have been entirely different.  C’est la vie.

So 354 was the target, which would be the tenth highest run chase in Test history.  It was indicative of England’s position that the 85 added by Australia for their last six wickets from their overnight position was both an outstanding performance from England, and still about 50 more runs than they realistically could afford in order to have a decent shot at winning the game.  Still, given where they were, this represented a huge improvement from having no chance at all, to a slim one.

That slim chance improved fractionally further with a decent opening stand between Cook and Stoneman, passing 50 with relatively few alarms and doing the vital work of seeing off the new Kookaburra ball.  Cook got away with an lbw that wasn’t referred by Steve Smith – the beginning of his tribulations with the system today – before falling to Lyon again, playing round one and once more getting too far across to the offside and falling over somewhat.

The dismissal on review did cause a fair few people to query the predictive ball tracking.  The most important point is that if the system is being used, then you go with it.  DRS showed Cook to be out, and that’s the end of that.  However, it doesn’t mean a specific instance can’t raise eyebrows.

Before the ball tracking overlay, the ball looked to be heading far more to the legside than was then shown.  Probably showing it hitting, but on the inside of the leg stump looked like a far greater degree of turn than appeared the case.  Now, the eye can be fooled very easily, and it is certainly possible, even likely, that it was an optical illusion, and some didn’t see it that way at all anyway.  However, acknowledging that doesn’t mean DRS was unquestionably right either, and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be queried – not on the basis of some kind of objection to the wicket, but more the reliance on the technology as being somehow infallible.

The problems here aren’t necessarily with the technology, but it should to be noted that “odd” ball tracking decisions are much more prevalent in Australia and New Zealand than in England.  In England Hawkeye is used; it’s a purpose built ball tracking technology designed specifically for this purpose, and a lot more expensive.  In Australia, Virtual Eye is used instead.  That has its origins in a graphical representation software suite, and the designer has said it wasn’t designed for predictive tracking, while the creator of Hawkeye (who would say this wouldn’t he?) has called it up to nine times less accurate.  Now, this was a few years ago, and technology must be expected to have moved on and be better, but it is important to note that all systems are not created equal.

Of course, whenever something questionable arises, the responses tend to be along the lines of pointing out that umpires are more fallible, and that is probably true, but headscratching over one particular decision isn’t to decry the entire system, or wish it scrapped, but it always invites things like this:

Except that it wasn’t designed for this specific purpose at all.  Hawkeye was though, perhaps why there are far fewer occasions when there is cause for a debate using that system.

Ball tracking is right because it says so, and because it says so, it’s right.  There’s no reason to doubt its general accuracy, albeit with the proviso that some systems will inevitably be more accurate than others, but it’s also absolutely the case that as far as cricket goes and the predictive element of DRS, there’s little information available.  There has been a formal test of its accuracy done, by the ICC, but unfortunately they’ve never seen fit to release the results and we simply do not know the outcome.  It’s entirely reasonable to assume that they wouldn’t have gone with it had it been unsatisfactory, but not knowing the detail is always going to leave scope for doubt.

The most vital points of all are that it’s not for a second suggesting the system is wrong, and not suggesting human umpires are better; but assuming all systems are right all the time given the enormous variables in both outcome and in sampling size is as dogmatic as assuming it gets it wrong on a frequent basis, for which there’s no reason to make such a case.  Being puzzled over a single piece of ball tracking doesn’t for a second mean either that the questioner is right, nor that there’s anything inherently wrong with DRS but responses on that basis are simply an exercise in trying to shut down discussion.  Maybe it was entirely correct in its prediction, and it’s most definitely not about Cook’s dismissal per se, not least because anyone objecting to it on partisan grounds would have to note Root being rescued by the same system.  It just looked slightly peculiar.

In terms of Cook himself, he had battled away, but still looks out of sorts, to the point where some of the journalists are now querying whether this might be his last tour.  It is somewhat ironic that he appears to have gone from genius to liability in the eyes of some within two Tests – it surely has to be more nuanced than that.

Shortly after Cook, Stoneman followed, having made another bright start.  For England to be confident of victory, two wickets down was probably about the limit of what they could afford to lose but Vince soon followed, again caught behind as he has been in 10 of his last 12 innings.  It was a poor shot, and not for the first time.

Joe Root at least was batting well, if not without lbw related alarms.  He padded up to one far too close to leave and was given out on the field, only to be reprieved by the ball tracking showing it going over the top.  Thereafter, Australia’s determination to get him out led them to burn both their reviews on highly speculative appeals, much to the delight of the Barmy Army who gestured for a review each time subsequent lbws were turned down.  He received valuable support from Dawid Malan, who batted maturely for a 29 that in other circumstances would have been perceived as infinitely more valuable than it will probably be.  His late dismissal to a superb ball from Cummins was a blow England could not afford.

Four days down, and a superb fifth day in prospect.  As ever in these circumstances, it’s worth highlighting that there are some who would wish to make Tests a four day game.

Only one captain in history has lost a Test after failing to enforce a follow on, South Africa’s Dudley Nourse in this game and it remains highly unlikely England will add to that very short list.  But they have at least properly competed at last, and if it requires Joe Root to make a big century, and for everyone else to support him, then that’s still a situation England would have taken before play started today.   Unlikely is not impossible, a slight chance is vastly better than no chance.

It is most likely that waking tomorrow will see the last rites of the Test being performed.  England need to get through the first session without loss, and then, well just maybe.  And sometimes that’s enough.

Ashes 2nd Test: Day Three

When it’s all going hideously wrong, the temptation to cling grimly to any floating wreckage nearby is a strong one, and four wickets for England’s bowlers in the evening session has given rise to curious assertions that England are back in the game, a triumph of hope over experience.  In reality they are, taking the kindest, most sympathetic view possible, not totally out of it.  Since Australia’s lead already far exceeds England’s miserable first innings total, this is taking blind hope to unprecedented levels.

England weren’t in the worst position at the start of play, and a good batting day would have begun to transfer some pressure back onto Australia, with the usual third innings jitters a possibility.  Instead, England collapsed hideously to 142-7, and only got even close to saving the follow on thanks to Craig Overton making an unbeaten 41.  Irony of ironies – the England tail wagged this time around.

The batting order’s insistence on doing the same things and hoping for a different outcome is magnificently stubborn (perhaps the only way that adjective could be used about them) and once again it was poorly executed shots that did for them rather than brilliant bowling.  The pitch didn’t do much, and in the daylight there was little swing.  Only Malan could be said to have been got out, and whatever the merits of Australia’s bowling attack, the same level of carelessness that’s been present in England’s batting for a long time was once again to the fore.  When they come off, it’s certainly thrilling, but an inability to play the situation is becoming a real hallmark of this team and there’s so little evidence they are learning.

It is perhaps this, more than anything else, that justified the pessimism before the start of play, and highlights the increasing fear that this tour could get truly ugly.  Again.

Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow on was perhaps understandable given the time left in the game, but the principle of doing what the opposition would like least must surely apply – England would not have wanted to bat again, under lights, under the pump, and under pressure.  In defence of the decision, it’s unlikely to make that much difference to the outcome either way, for by the close of play a lead of 268 with six wickets remaining is the kind of marvellous position teams dream about, but it did at least offer England the chance to give Australia a bloody nose.  And yet even with the wickets taken, the same old flaws were there:  England still bowled too short, still bowled too wide.  At 53-4 it might seem a peculiar criticism, but both Anderson and Broad were consistently shorter in length than their Australian counterparts, and while it hardly went too badly on the field, it doesn’t suggest that the plans are either thought through, or alternatively that the bowlers want to apply them if they are.  There is no doubt at all that when Broad, Anderson and Woakes kept the length full, they looked extremely dangerous.  They usually do – which is why so much hair is pulled out at their continuing refusal to do it on a consistent basis.

Apparently, tomorrow morning is another “vital” first session.  It really isn’t.  It would need to go catastrophically wrong for Australia to allow England to have any kind of realistic sniff of a win.  It is of course just about possible that England will skittle the hosts and then bat out of their skins to chase down a total almost certain to be in excess of 300, but that’s barely enough to encourage even wildly unreasonable optimism, let alone genuine confidence.

The worst part about England’s predicament is that so much of it this series to date has been self-inflicted.  Australia are some way from being a really good side, but they have, to use the appropriate cliche, executed their skills well so far.  England haven’t.  Assuming they do, and in spades, it means that Australia will be bowled out for around 100 in a magnificent display of attacking bowling, while the English top order compile a couple of centuries to take them home in one of the top 20 run chases of all time in Test cricket.

That’s the miracle scenario.  And that says it all.

 

 

Australia vs England: 2nd Test, Day One

It seems to be a tradition these days to make definitive statements after the opening salvos as to who is on top and which way a game is going.  It’s obviously somewhat dull and trying to repeat almost every game that at this stage no one really knows who has the upper hand, but it’s nevertheless still true much of the time, and it’s true here too.  209-4 is a nothing sort of score that could be a good foundation, or it could fall away to as little as 250 depending on how the “crucial” (yes, again) first session goes.

Of course, if you put a side in to bat, you’re hoping for better, but this was a marginal decision either way, and it’s at least possible Australia would have batted anyway, in which case they’d hardly be shouting their delight from the rooftops at this point, particularly when the two most obviously dangerous batsmen – Warner and Smith – are already back in the hutch.

England took only four wickets, one of them a run out,  but they also maintained decent control, with Australia managing only 2.5 runs an over.  Clearly the Australian media will be piling into their batsmen for being negative.  Then again perhaps not.  England definitely bowled poorly early on, and given the limited shelf life of the Kookaburra ball, red or pink, they probably threw away their best chance of making serious early inroads.  It’s an age old story of England bowlers being at their most effective when they pitch it up and keep it tight on off stump, yet instead bang it in short and wide.  Given the 900 Test wickets between the two attack leaders, it is ever the most inexplicable weakness of England in the field.

Post rain break they were much better, forcing the batsmen to play, and inviting them to drive rather more often, and thus looking vastly more dangerous.  England lacked a little luck, beating the bat often, turning around Smith in the crease before, finally, taking wickets.  They could easily have had more too; Marsh looked reasonably secure late on, but Handscomb led a charmed life, and it is immensely to his credit he survived to the close while looking all at sea.

There is some swing, but not a prodigious amount, and there is some lateral movement, but it’s not jagging about by any means – in other words, a not untypical Adelaide wicket.  England have slightly missed an opportunity to really put a dent in Australia, but they’ve not had an appalling day, and a good one tomorrow will put them in a strong position.

It was highly noticeable that England piled in to Australia verbally all day.  Good on them too, Australia have been quick to sledge England both on and off the field, so England giving it back is exactly the right approach, and one the hosts shouldn’t be surprised at.  It indicates that England have been genuinely annoyed by how much has come their way.  It may yet become unedifying, but unless England are to supinely accept the so called banter that’s intended to undermine them then this is exactly what’s going to happen.  Any handwringing about it should have happened at Brisbane, and since it appeared to cause Smith some discomfort, more will unquestionably follow.

The new ball is only one over old.  England do need to strike early, and strike hard, but they are quite capable of doing that, and if they do then Australia will find themselves under pressure.  That’s not being over-optimistic, it’s a recognition that England’s position is far from the disastrous one some would have people believe.  

It’s game on, and it’s fairly even.  It could have been better, but it could have been worse.  Test cricket: it’s not played over one day.

Day Two Comments from all Insomniacs Below

Unsung Hero

Getting older is crap. It’s better than the alternative, no doubt, but you start to lose people and that’s desperately upsetting. Today I lost a brother, a teacher, an icon – a man I played with, drank with, had fun with. It wasn’t unexpected, but then it wasn’t his time either, it was years before it should have happened. 

Here’s the thing: his name doesn’t matter to those who didn’t know him, but it does to those who did. And that matters immensely. So I’m not going to name him. Those that know, well you are honoured. Those that didn’t, you have your own people you honour. Tell them. 

The bald facts: there are probably no other cricket clubs in the world but his who can work out their statistics back to the 18th century. Not even the MCC can calculate averages back to 1771 – for the very good reason that they weren’t even formed. But this club can. This club knows its first centurion in the early 1800s, this club had the challenge of analysing 200 year old scorecards to try to work out who wickets should go to in the era where only the catcher was referenced. This particular club has a greater statistical record than any on the planet, and oddly enough, barely anyone realises, and God knows Wisden should be paying attention. 

Every club has its greatest run scorer, and its greatest wicket taker. But when that record stretches back 250 years, then people should damn well pay attention. Because this guy holds a record that means something.  He knew he wasn’t far off, even before it was worked out, but some few had done the history and organised the spreadsheets.  The day he broke that record is one that Sky Sports didn’t cover, nor one that the ECB recognised. But for those in the club, and actually those in the county,  they knew they were in the presence of someone who had a place in cricket’s history, because he’d done something remarkable, somewhere that had been there long enough to make it more than just exceptional.

He’s not on Cricinfo, he’s not a Cricketer of the Year, but he’s one of the finest cricketers I ever played with. And more than that, he’s one of the finest people I’ve ever known. The reason his name doesn’t matter is absolutely not because it doesn’t matter to me, because I will treasure it forever, it’s because there are equivalents who matter to you. And that is the name that really counts – the one you played with, or watched, or shared a beer with. 

They count. They are our fabric of life, and he was part of the fabric of mine. I am ever richer for having known him, ever better a cricketer for having played with him. 

I think that’s the tribute I’d want. 

1900 wickets @18. A gentleman.  And some are truly blessed to know who this is about.

No Ifs, No Butts

Disaster.  Doomed.  5-0 on the cards…

Ah yes, the usual kneejerk response to any England Test result.  And it might even be that is what transpires; but it should not be deemed inevitable.  A 10 wicket defeat is ultimately something of a hammering, but England did compete for the first three days, and more than that, they were on slightly in the ascendant.  Had they managed to get Steve Smith early, and gone on to win the match, as they surely would have done, then doubtless the press would have been full of thoroughly premature articles about the Ashes coming home.

Of course, it goes without saying that winning or losing colours the coverage completely, it couldn’t be anything else, but a five Test series allows for fluctuations after all – one bad Test doesn’t mean things can’t change.  England’s weaknesses were on full display in this match, a bowling attack that struggled to take wickets without the new ball, a brittle batting order, and sans Stokes, a tail that rolls over in the face of fast bowling.  In contrast, Australia did a good job of covering up their own weaknesses – their less than outstanding tail performed well, the top order batted well in one of the two innings – while making use of their strengths, the fast bowling to some extent, the superior spinner to a greater one.  It’s never the worst idea to look at what went right for the winning side just as much as what went wrong for the losing one, and ask whether that’s likely to continue, especially given Australia’s unusually strong record at the Gabba.

Although England’s inability to take a wicket second time round is troubling, it’s also the case that the primary reason for defeat was failing to set any kind of reasonable target.  The mentality of a run chase is very different when a side is completely confident of success; it’s certainly not terribly surprising to see a team romping to a small target even if they struggled in the first innings.

The difficulty arises in trying to sift England’s structural problems and those that sit in the “one of those things” category, and a single Test doesn’t always offer insight into which is which, and to what degree.  Many of England’s failings in this game aren’t new at all, but the matter of degree might be.

If England were to win this series, so the wisdom went, Cook and Root would have to have successful series given the inexperience of the rest of the top order.  True as that might be, that inexperience is a self-inflicted wound given England have messed around with their batting for so long.  It is entirely their own fault they’ve arrived in Australia with so many question marks around positions 2, 3 and 5; at least two more Test novices than is normal.  Yet as it turned out, those inexperienced ones did reasonably well, albeit without any going on to make a really defining score.  That too has been a hallmark of England recently, and the inability to make big hundreds is always going to make it hard for England to put real pressure on Australia.  Cook failed twice in this Test, which can happen to any batsman, but in his case the greater concern is how he appears to be batting.  He looks adrift technically, much closer to the Bad Cook than the Good Cook of recent years and a live Test series is no time to be trying to put a technique right.  England will certainly be hoping that it is just a small adjustment, or that he merely felt out of sorts, but his recent record is one of diminishing returns – a statement that has been dismissed repeatedly, but which even his media supporters are starting to mention, albeit to to deny it.  There has never been a better time for him to prove the doubters wrong.

Root on the other hand was dismissed twice in similar fashion, lbw to a ball swinging in to him.  This could be a vulnerability, or it could just be getting out to a decent ball on two occasions.  He remains England’s best batsman by a distance, just like his Australian counterpart.  England need him to show that next time out.

Where England are certainly wasting a batsman is in the number seven position.  In both innings Jonny Bairstow found himself with the tail, and on both occasions got out trying to force runs.  It’s obviously the case that England miss Ben Stokes, but that doesn’t mean England have gone from the strongest lower middle order to the weakest overnight – England’s number seven will be a highly capable batsman irrespective. Before the Test England swapped Moeen and Bairstow around, saying that the latter would bat better with the tail, to seemingly almost universal approval from the great and the good.  Perhaps it is the case that such appreciation ought to be a warning sign, for the arguments in favour seemed weak at the time.  Moeen has been quite adept at smashing bowling around the park and farming the strike late on in an innings, in contrast to Bairstow who has been most effective in building longer innings.  He’s never shown too much aptitude as a late order hitter, at least.  It may be a waste of Moeen’s talents to have him throw the bat given minimal support, but it seems an even greater waste of Bairstow’s.  This will surely be corrected next time out, effectively conceding the error.

Whichever way around it might be, runs from the tail are always sought after, but England’s isn’t especially appalling, not with someone as capable at eight as Chris Woakes, nor someone who does score runs (however ungainly they may be) at nine as Stuart Broad.  But few would be talking about the tail if the batsmen had done a better job.  There is one thing that shouldn’t take up any more time, and that’s Moeen’s “controversial” dismissal in the second innings.  The thickness of the damn line is neither here nor there, and no batsman pays any attention to it.  What they do know is they have to keep a part of their foot behind it.  He didn’t, he was out.  Move on.

On the bowling side, first time around at least, Anderson and Broad did reasonably well, maintaining control and taking wickets.  In the second, they didn’t even look like taking any.  The match position may go some way towards explaining that, but not entirely, and certainly they looked far less effective with the old ball than the new in either innings.  But a bowling attack cannot rely on just two bowlers, no matter how good they might be, and England’s support bowling was relatively poor, which creates a vicious circle of making the better bowlers look poor too.  Again, it may be wise not to read too much into a single game – Moeen for one frankly described his bowling performance as “rubbish” when he was asked about it, and raising the performance levels is more than possible for any of them.

One thing that shouldn’t be thrown at them is the problem of the similarity in style of England’s seamers, given was always going to be the case anyway.  Woakes is a first choice seamer, and only Jake Ball is in there in place of Stokes, who even though might be a very good bowler, is still a right arm, fast medium one, just like the others.  The loss of bowling options before the series was a blow, but they were all right arm, fast medium too, even Finn these days.

In contrast, if England’s bowling is not completely hopeless, Australia’s pace attack is not the West Indies circa 1984 either, no matter how much the Australian press want to claim it is so, and nor were they even dramatically faster than their England counterparts in this match.  It was Nathan Lyon who really excelled, and who really made the difference, on a surface surprisingly suited to him.  Moeen’s disgust at his own performance can unquestionably be seen in the context of how Lyon did.

With the 2nd Test in Adelaide a day/night one, much is being made of the potential for England to gain swing, particularly James Anderson.  This may prove a vain hope, for recent matches there in the same conditions have been high scoring and with a flat pitch, but it is also quite probably England’s best chance of winning. At 1-0 down, there’s nothing wrong with targeting this one, and backing themselves to get more out of it than Australia do.  The alternative is to assume Australia would beat England in all conditions, which seems unduly defeatist, even for England supporters expecting the worst.

What can be said is that the 2nd Test is pivotal.  Lose that one, especially if they lose it badly, and a hammering is well and truly on the cards.  But win it, and we have a proper series.  England can undoubtedly play better than they did in Brisbane, Australia can undoubtedly play worse.  The nagging worry is the obverse is equally true.

 

 

 

 

Australia vs England: 1st Test, Day Four – Preview and Live Blog

After three days of largely attritional cricket, this match remains in the balance heading into the fourth day.  Yet if England were fractionally ahead before yesterday, Australia are a little further in front today.  Steve Smith’s patient century ground down England’s bowlers, before Josh Hazlewood bowled with more intent and hostility than anyone else has managed on this still placid surface to rip out a couple of wickets before England had wiped off the deficit.

England are effectively 7-2, and the third innings of a tight contest is the one where all the pressure is on the batting side – particularly as time begins to run out in the game.  It is impossible to see England getting into a position where they could declare with any reasonable expectation of winning, and so their best chance is to be bowled out.  But being bowled out will be forefront of their minds, which is why the third knock becomes so pressurised – score runs, don’t get becalmed, don’t take risks and don’t get out.  England have got stuck on many an occasion when faced with that conundrum, reducing themselves to a strokeless defence that brings defeat anyway.  Quite simply, they have to score runs.

The loss of Cook in the gloaming was probably more symbolic than anything else.  He hasn’t looked in good form, and his record away from home over the last couple of years has been modest to say the least.  Yet his wicket, along with Root’s, is still the most prized by opponents, and still the one that sends the most tremors through supporters in a position such as this one.  The manner of his dismissal has been criticised by some, excused by others, but as ever the problem with Cook is not the cricket, it is the double standards applied.  The hook shot was on, and there was absolutely nothing reckless about him playing it.  He just played it poorly, and was caught.  That happens to every player, where many get annoyed is that others doing the same thing receive bucketloads of opprobrium where Cook does not.

Even so, being out hooking is certainly no worse than the leaden footed push to which he was out in the first innings.  He appears to once again be struggling with his technique – the familiar problem of his head going too far across, his front foot taking a step rather than a stride, and his back leg coming round to prevent himself toppling over.  That’s why he ends up front on rather than side on and is so prone to being caught behind.  He’s a player who spends his time battling his technique constantly, and has been here before, managing to put it right.  The worry is that being in this place at the start of a series doesn’t bode well for the rest of it.  He knows his game, and England will be praying he can make the adjustment, otherwise this is going to prove a very long tour.

That’s in the past as far as this game is concerned.  The reality is that the ever critical first session here is one in which Australia can win the game.  But last night’s hostility was with a new ball, one which will just be starting to lose its shine and hardness.  The pitch remains slow, and the demons can only be in English minds.  England are more than capable of getting a score here, and more than capable of putting Australia under real stress.  The doubts surround England’s ability to withstand the pressure, rather than their ability to bat on this pitch.  There is certainly the batting depth needed, and if Smith is an exceptional batsman, then so is Joe Root, and England badly need him to show it.

One fly in the ointment concerns the fitness of James Anderson – something that won’t remotely matter unless England bat well – given he was seen to be touching his side before taking a painkiller and seeming to limit his bowling the rest of the day.  England insist he’s fine, but they do have a track record of not telling the whole truth (rightly so, in a match situation where there’s no need to give the opposition reason to cheer), and if Anderson really is struggling, it dramatically affects England’s chances, even if they do get a half reasonable total.  Add to that the whispers about Moeen Ali’s fitness and if there’s anything in that, then a draw might represent the best England can hope for.

If England have a good day, then this game is well and truly on.  But if they have so much as a bad hour, then it’s probably game over.  There is some bad weather around, particularly tomorrow, which could also change the dynamic.

One last point about this game, just imagine for a moment that some of those who should know better had got their way and this was a four day Test.

As with yesterday, we’ll be live blogging the events for as long as we stay awake.  The “we” refers to three of us, the other is showing worrying signs of being a vampire, and Danny will undoubtedly be the last one standing.  As ever, come and join us for as long as you are able, and as long as we can keep our eyes open.

19:43 I don’t know about you lot, but I’m going to the pub…

19:58 Dmitri on his own as his beloved is going back to her homeland to meet her relatives. So, I look wistfully towards Brisbane for your now regular early evening snapshot from the Bureau of Meteorology:

20:03 Anyone a Telegraph subscriber to let us know the latest stunning insight from Shiny Toy?

21:11 While watching the Iron Bowl (look it up, and also check out the youtube clip of the Kick Six), let’s think back to some Day 4s at the Gabba. First up, and you are probably getting fed up with me going on about it, 2002. Matthew Hayden completed his second century of the match (it’s the picture in today’s header) and below. There’s a moment where Sir Peter is filming me for his tour video (no release) where I am reviewing the papers and you hear a huge crack of bat on ball. It’s Hayden hitting the first ball Craig White bowls for six. We left at lunchtime to meet Sir Peter’s mate down at the Gold Coast, and England collapsed. Our Day 5 tickets never mattered.

21:21 2006 and it’s a tale of missing it all. I was on a Singapore Airlines flight on the way to Adelaide to see the second test, and the first I heard of the day’s play came on the walkway at Changi. Four wickets lost at the end of play. 90 odd for Collingwood, KP in the 90s. Maybe the first three days were just a figment of our imagination or a rusty start. We might lose, but at least not without a fight. Good signs. Well, that’s what we thought.

21:31 Ah. Day 4 in 2010. One wicket lost all day, centuries for Strauss and Cook, the game made safe. I watched pretty much all of it that night. You actually never felt the Aussies were going to take a wicket. I have the whole of that day on DVD. Actually the whole series. It gets aired a bit.

21:37 It is pretty interesting to me that I have virtually no recollections of the early parts of the 2013/14 Ashes. None. So we may have taken the Brisbane test to the 4th day, but I just don’t remember. Now, if I were a member of some of the punditry that would be enough. But we don’t do that here. I have the highlights on my portable hard drive. We started at 24/2 with Cook and KP at the crease. They took it to 72/2 before KP holed out to long leg, so we’ll be looking up some of the match reports on that! England were bowled out for 179, Johnson took five wickets. We lost by a distance. You know the rest.

21:44 John Etheridge has noticed.

A “slow decline”. Well, it’s better for them to acknowledge it now, I suppose. And man alive, I smiled at this:

“Cook has three centuries in his last 54 Test innings spread across two years. If you want to look further, it is six hundreds in 105 innings stretching back to the summer of 2013.”

They don’t read us. Try the no centuries in 31 Ashes innings while you are at it, John.

21:52 Iron Bowl looks a great game – 7-7. #WarEagle . Back at the cricket, the fourth day in 1986 was one of attrition and at the end, worry for England. Having made Australia follow on, England took half of the wickets they needed, but at 243/5, the Aussies were in the lead and had an unbeaten centurion (Geoff Marsh) still there. Contrary to some people who said overseas cricket was never on terrestrial, Day 5 was covered live in the UK on BBC (introduced, if I recall correctly by David Icke).

22:22 Day 4 in 1982/3, and Graeme Fowler bats for just shy of six hours to make 83 and at least give England an opportunity to set the Aussies a meaningful target. 279 for 7, 208 runs in a day, Thomson taking five wickets. We may talk about Day 5 tomorrow.

22:50 The pre-match hour will be taken over by Sean, who has assured us his levels of light refreshment were not at last night’s level. That’s nice. Meanwhile there’s a Maxie sighting in the comments. He’s also been all over Twitter. Follow him. The Mentor.

22:53 Dmitri leaves you with memories of 1994. On the 4th day of Brisbane I woke up and England were 211 for 2. Thorpe and Hick with a really good partnership to give us a chance of saving the game. What we wouldn’t give for such resistance today. I’m pessimistic. Of course I am. Anyway, take it away Sean……

22:56 Good evening everyone (said in my best Richie Benaud accent). Apologies for my absence yesterday, I had one too many light refreshments at a leaving do and could only manage ‘pitch the fecking ball up you feckers’ by way of insight…

22:59 Not that i promise to that much more insightful this evening before you get your hopes up…

23:05 So what does everyone think we need? My own personal opinion is that a lead of 280 is the minimum requirement especially with fitness doubts over Jimmy and Moeen. If we lose a couple of wickets in the first hour, we could be cannon fodder.

23:18 Could be a bit of weather around today, wonder if that might juice up the pitch..

23:25 In other news, Danny should be just waking up now..

23:27:Really interesting comment from Maxie BTL re: BT Sport production. I think in general (from the small bits I’ve seen) is that it’s pretty slick; unfortunately it’s let down by poor personnel choices. I dare anyone to listen to Graeme Swann for half an hour and not feel slightly homicidal. It also shows how good Ian Ward is in my opinion.

23:37 I do have to concede having watched the highlights this afternoon that the Steve Smith innings was something special. With the technique he has honed, it really doesn’t seem logical that he can score runs, let alone be so consistently good but fair play to him, he was a class apart yesterday. Even if he has a tiny head..

23:49 I still randomly like Boycott’s commentary. There I’ve said it, it feels like a dirty secret…

23:58 Here we go then, can England get through the first session unscathed…

00:00 FIRST BALL and left alone

00:02 Alison Mitchell & Punter heading up the commentary. Perhaps Lovejoy has tonsillitis (says a little prayer)..

00:09 I’ve genuinely been amazed that Starc has been identified as the key Australian threat with the ball. For me Hazlewood is their gun bowler, despite his poor show in the first innings. His spell last night was unplayable at times.

00:13 This pitch doesn’t look like it has any demons in it, Root looks in decent touch too. I wonder how much spin might play a part later on. Lyon outbowled Moeen big time in the first innings.

00:18 Ricky Ponting is a very good commentator, no laddish jokes, just insightful opinion. He’ll never get a job on Channel 9 mind.

00:25 Australia’s attack looks a little toothless this morning. The pitch is still slow, but equally England have silenced the crowd in the first half hour. I wonder how long before Cummins is bought into the attack?

00:27 Oh feck, Swann is alive and well and joined by Shiny Toy. Might have to put the TV on mute…

00:32 An update on TLG, he’s just finished his Lambrini in the local park in Sussex and is off for a dirty donner. More on that later…

00:36 First over from Lyon, no real spin so far. Cummins at the other looks far more of a threat. If you’d have offered me this at the start of the day’s play, I’d have snapped your hand off

00:47 Some discontent about scoring rates BTL. I must admit that I’m delighted by this start. We all know that Kookaburra ball goes soft after 20 overs and there’s the option of increasing the scoring rate. I’d be very happy if England batted all day, but then i did worry we’d be blown away in the 3rd innings…

00:49 WICKET: Stoneman edges one off Lyon to slip. Australia’s bowling has looked innocuous all morning, but that was a decent delivery

00:52 TBF to Swann, he has got it spot on there. It was the arm ball at the end of the last over that led to some doubt in Stoneman’s mind. I just wish Swann would concentrate on commentating based on his own experience as a spinner. Rather than trying to be the funniest man in the world.

00:57 England looking nervous after that wicket. Cummins and Lyon both bowling well.

00:59, TLG is back from the park and is ready to take over. He has informed me that he wouldn’t feed Lambrini to his butler but the bottle of Blue Nun was lovely. Anyway, over to Chris…

01:00 Where I live we don’t have parks; we have countryside.  Anyway…

Even with the loss of Stoneman, this has been a positive start from England today.  They’re pushing for runs, being busy.  The point about Root is that if he stays in, he will score.  That’s probably the most striking thing about him.  Lyon does look dangerous to the lefties though.

01:03 I need to ask a question.  Who is reading the updates?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Bueller?

01:12 Bueller’s taken a day off it seems. 70-3, a lead of 44.  At what point will Australia start to get twitchy I wonder.  If they put on 50 for this wicket, I suspect they’ll start getting concerned.  In a compacted second half of the game like this, smaller numbers count for more.

01:15 Awww Trev….

01:18 WICKET!  Malan goes to Lyon.  One of those with loop and bounce and turn, that is so hard for the left hander.  No blame, but England are 48 ahead and now four wickets down.  Root is still there, but someone needs to stay with him.

01:21 Given how hard it is, I suspect Moeen might try and counter attack.  Probably not the worst idea either.  There are stories going around that he has a problem with his finger, hampering his bowling.  The official line is that he was a blister.

01:29  England’s lead is now up to 57, but of course they’ve lost two wickets this morning.  Not enough runs, clearly, but neither have they collapsed (yet) so far.  Another 100 gives England a slight chance, another 150 and it’s game on.  England are well in the game, but it would probably be an idea to build a partnership sooner rather than later.

01:42 Runs are flowing a touch.  Both Root and Moeen are playing a few shots – not recklessly, but they’re looking to score.  This partnership is 28 from 33 balls, and that has to be what England need to do.  It might not come off, but it’s more than worth a go.

01:48 Watching the groundstaff smack down the bowlers’ footmarks reminds me of how we used to wind up the bowlers about their preference for one end.  “Oh I can’t bat at that end, it just doesn’t feel right.  No, no, I can only bat at the other end.  You don’t understand, it’s totally different”.

01:51 I don’t want to tempt fate, but Moeen is starting to tick here….

01:52 50!  WICKET! Joe Root out in similar fashion to the first innings, and it looked very, very out on first viewing.

02:01 And that’ll be lunch.  119-5 means a lead of 93, and frankly, it’s not remotely enough.  Still two frontline batsmen in of course, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, the latter of which is clearly itching to go after the Australians.  But another 100 would be needed to really make the hosts sweat a little, and that seems a long way off yet.  It’s possible mind, it really is possible.  But it’s heading towards the outer edge of what’s possible.  Hope is the last thing to die…

02:11 Truly joyous moment in the lunch break where Swann berated the England left handers for not formulating a plan against Nathan Lyon while Geoff Boycott adopted his ‘You’re talking total shit, Swann’ expression.  “I’m not sure I agree with that….” he politely said.

Keep your eye on Boycott’s expression.

02:30 There’s something particularly endearing about hearing Australians describe the Gabba as the fairest cricket wicket in the world, given how it’s 30 years since they’ve lost a Test there.  Irony deficiency is entertaining to watch.

02:38 Players coming back out.  This next session is crucial.  Crucial I tell you!  Or maybe vital.  Definitely crucial though.

02:43 Moeen isn’t going to die wondering.  First he comes down the track and belts Lyon over long on for four, then he goes down on one knee and nails a sweep through square leg.  And the lead goes over 100.

02:55 Interesting to see Australia move a little on the defensive after a flurry of runs after lunch.  Fielders disappearing out to the boundary suggests that the hosts are a tiny bit nervous about chasing any kind of reasonable total. 112 ahead.

03:06 This is good stuff from these two.  Rotating the strike, picking up the singles, and then Bairstow sashays down the track and plants Lyon over deep midwicket for six.  The lead goes to 123, and if Australia aren’t getting nervous yet, there’s definitely a bit of a twitch going on.

03:15 This Test is just starting to get fascinating.  These two have turned a disastrous position into one of, well not promise exactly, but possibilities certainly.  I’m going to quit while I’m ahead, and leave you in Danny’s company…

0319 Danny here, taking you through the graveyard shift. Promising session so far from England, but years of supporting them has told me that it’s the hope that make it hurt more…

0322 WICKET I think we can all agree that this was thelegglance’s fault. Moeen Ali plays forwards to a Lyon delivery which goes past the bat, and Tim Paine removes the stumps. Australia appeal, and after several replays the 3rd umpire gives him out as his back foot was on but not behind the line.

0335 Woakes is in, but not looking confident so far. England’s lead is just 132 and I fear this game might be over tonight.

0407 Australia keeping England very quiet, but no more wickets have fallen. Smith comes on to bowl, the first time he’s done so in a Test since January this year, which is surprising because Australia have toured both India and Bangladesh since then.

0427 WICKET Woakes attempts to defend a short ball from Mitchell Starc, but it slides off the shoulder of his bat to Smith at second slip. England lead by 159 with 7 wickets down.

0438 WICKET You understand that when batting with the tail, perhaps you should be more attacking. There is such a thing as too attacking though, and a prime example is this shot by Bairstow. Apparently looking to guide a short, wide ball from Starc over the slips, he instead sends it straight to third man with a shot more reminiscent of catching practice than Test cricket. England lead by 168 with 2 wickets remaining.

0444 WICKET 4 balls later from Starc and he bowls a full one outside off stump to Stuart Broad. The batsman plays inside it, and gets the faintest of nicks to the wicketkeeper. The umpire gave it not out, but Australia used a DRS appeal and both there was both a sound and a faint mark on HotSpot so he had to go.

0449 WICKET A bouncer from Cummins to tailender Jake Ball, who gets a glove on it and the ball loops behind the wicketkeeper where Handscomb catches it. England lost their last 4 wickets for just 4 runs, and Australia have a target of 169 runs with a minimum of 32 left in the day.

0509 All that typing has tired me out, so here’s Dmitri to open the Australian 2nd innings.

0510 Cheers Danny. 90 minutes sleep woken up by an absolute turd cold calling my number. I tried to get back to sleep, but gave up and am now assisting our night owl.  Anderson’s first over is a maiden.

0513 Mitchell on comms says Warner can make any small total look inadequate through aggressive batting. That’s because that attitude is encouraged. I’ve not seen YJB’s dismissal yet, but he’s being crucified on social media as Cook was last night and all through Saturday. Warner off the mark 1st ball. Bancroft follows him second ball. Warner takes a single third ball. All runs we should not be conceding. A boundary off the 5th ball and you can almost sense a slump in the shoulders. 7/0

0518 I remember the Gabba run chase in 1990. When they won by 10 wickets after we chucked away a decent position. The only time the team with a first innings lead has lost at Brisbane. A beauty fifth ball does not catch the edge. England need an early breakthrough, if that ain’t stating the bloody obvious. 8/0 after the third over.

0524 Better over so far, with a play and miss (and hopeful appeal) by Warner. They know they need to see off Broad and Anderson because the support bowling is a massive drop-off. Maiden for Broad. 8/0. As Mitchell just said.

0527 I’m not sure I can put up with KP’s commentary at this time of the morning. Bancroft squirts one through the gully for a four off the fourth ball. Anderson throws the ball at the opener the following ball but no fuss. End of the over and it is 12/0.

0531 Warner dinks one into the offside off the second ball of Broad’s third over for one. In Nagpur Virat Kohli has just gone through to his 19th test ton and you sense pulling away from Root (with Smith) at the top table of world batting. Broad’s over goes for 1, and it is 13/0. And I have to listen to Ray Winstone missing nuffink.

0535 and if that deep cover wasn’t there it would be 20/0. But anyway, no alarms so far. As i write that there is an LBW appeal fourth ball is too high and isn’t reviewed. One run from the over and it is 14/0.

0539 Bowling well without threatening, and some odd field placings so far, as Warner drops one into the leg side for a single off the second ball. One off that one, 15 for 0. Looks like, at this rate, we’ll be back tomorrow.

0545 Vaughan states the effing obvious that England need a wicket – we need 10 Shiny Toy. Warner takes a single off the third ball. He seems to have rumbled, Shiny, that is that the Aussies don’t rate our change bowlers and are just seeing off the openers. Bancroft takes a sharp single off the last ball to take Australia to 17/0.

0549 Another sharp single off the second ball of Broad’s over. This is annoying me more than anything, as it releases the pressure the bowlers are building, such as it is. A leg bye off the fifth with an appeal that was, sadly, nonsense. And the final ball of the over has another one of those bloody singles. 20/0, Anderson off and Moeen Ali on.

0553: Ali’s first ball is nudged for a single by Bancroft. Plus ca change. KP says Cook is the main concern. Another single off the third ball. Another bloody single off the 5th ball. KP is intimating Cook’s lost his mojo and his drive. Moeen’s first over ends, three runs from it. 23/0.

0557 PUJARA GONE FOR 143. Is that real?

0558 Woakes on for Broad. I don’t think it is a matter of Cook (who they are talking about) not caring, it’s that he is in decline. Appeal from behind the wicket off the fourth ball, but it’s not out. Maiden from Woakes. 23/0 from 12 overs. Minimum 22 to go. Sod off Kamara.

0602 Another bloody single off the third ball, again straight to a fielder. This is like the Old Jos, and no-one is mentioning it. After saying that Bancroft doesn’t know whether to stick or twist, Swann is made to look a little silly as the opener smacks a straight six. 30/0.

0606 Warner pulls the second ball of the over for a couple. He might not have hit a boundary but looks very comfortable to me. Nicks/glides the next one for four through third man. Actually probably a great shot. Cook “won’t say boo to a goose” says Lovejoy, which, I am sure, is why he should have remained captain for all those years. Warner has another single to point. I see it is the Buckethead Army this year as a promotion – it was Boony Army when I was out there. I love Aussie advertising. 37/0

0610 Excitement Machine Warner is tied down, but then cuffs a shot down the ground for four. I can sense the Moeen debate resurfacing. A single off the last ball and it is 41/0. And after my typing torrent, it is the more measured words of Danny for the rest of the day’s play. Get me a wicket Danny!

0615 I have to say that my last spell was terrible for England, so I wouldn’t expect anything.

0626 8 runs off the last Moeen Ali over, but it looks like Australia are happy to play steadily and come back tomorrow to finish things off.

0640 Nope, that’s all I can stand tonight, I’m off to bed.

1010 Dmitri back again with the end of play / chronic lack of sleep round-up. Danny will be producing a more full review of the day, so I thought I’d get in my twopenny worth.

This was stunningly predictable. I think something, a little bit, should be made about the lack of preparation on suitable playing surfaces and oppositions, because the team came in cold. That only goes so far. The players want shorter tours, they are on a treadmill and so on. The second, and much more important point, is that the team picked was so predictably going to pull up short. There’s not a lot that can be done about that either. The new intake are not as good as the old stagers, and it is showing. Stoneman, for instance, is getting praised to the hilt for basically giving us Michael Carberry returns. Vince makes 83, but that second innings dismissal didn’t look like a number 3 to me. Malan is going to tempt us, but fall short. We are greeting 50s like hundreds. And the world and his wife can see four right arm seamers is not the greatest variety. But let’s have the full inquest on another day.

Australia played really sensibly and not a lot could have changed the outcome once chasing a small total like this. What ground my gears is the way the two openers early in the innings were allowed to milk singles straight to fielders with no real chance of a run out. If we did that at schoolboy cricket we’d be told off. Come in a few paces. It’s just me, then.

Also, pace made the difference? I’m not totally buying that. The tail have taken to Starc and Hazlewood before so why worry now? One silly shot from YJB and everyone is in meltdown about the tail? Small sample size. Let us judge at the end of the tour.

So, in the words of Norwegian electronic music stars Royksopp, the Inevitable End will take place within an hour of the start of play and Australia will go 1-0 up. After the lack of sleep, was it all worth it. Of course it was, because for 3 and a half days it was a thoroughly absorbing test match. That’s the really important thing. There’s not a lot better in sport. The result is probably the cricket equivalent of the rugby international the week before. The better team won, the margin of victory could look a little flattering.

Wake up Danny (actually don’t, stay asleep). You review is awaited. I know I share my co-editors’ views that we owe our new man a lot for staying up through the night and producing the updates. Live blogging seems to have gone down well. We will see what we can do in the next tests.

 

 

Australia vs England: 1st Test, Day Two Preview

If there’s one statistic from the first day’s play that allows a small degree of optimism about England’s chances this series, it was that the stand of 125 between Stoneman and Vince exceeded anything in the hideous 5-0 thrashing last time out.  For it to have come from two lesser lights is equally promising, though it has to be balanced by the lack of runs in the first innings from the two batsmen most would think need outstanding series for England to have a chance.

Still, 196-4 not only represents a perfectly reasonable position, but it’s also wildly in excess of the generally fearful expectations once England had won the toss.  That in itself was interesting, in that it was probably more of a bowl first pitch than is normal at the Gabba, but given the Nasser Hussain toss decision in 2002, it would be an exceptionally brave captain to make that call, and batting first was probably still the right option.  Root backed his batsmen, as he had to do, and by and large they justified that decision.

The pitch certainly took more spin than expected, and was slower than expected too.  Yet Australia were also able to gain reverse swing as the ball got older, which tends to imply that the slowness wasn’t down to it being damp, at least not excessively so.  But the sight of Nathan Lyon extracting considerable turn on the first morning was rather startling, and raises the interesting question of how this will develop in the coming days.  If it were to quicken up, then Moeen Ali, who very much likes bounce, could become a serious threat with the ball.  This is of course the beauty of Test cricket, that after the first day, all the possibilities and potentialities come to the fore about what will happen.

But the pitch is usually incidental to the central issue of how the teams perform.  England are in a decent, but not strong position, and the new ball is only three balls old, with middle order players in but not set.  That makes the first hour absolutely critical, even taking into account the first hour usually being critical, on a critical second day.  If England survive that intact, they will have hopes of making a decent score, but it’s equally easy to imagine Australian hopes of blowing away the England middle order early on.

As for what a decent score is, that does come back to the pitch.  Having 200 on the board already may yet prove to be a fine start, certainly compared to the surface expected, but 250 all out probably is not.  England are going to need to bat extremely well to turn a solid position overnight into a strong one.  Without Stokes in the middle order, it is a bit weaker than usual, but compared to most around the world, it is still potent, and Chris Woakes is still a very good number eight.

The reality is that this pitch is so atypical of the expected Brisbane that forecasting how it will play for the remainder of the game is a matter of total guesswork.  If it returns to normal tomorrow, then everyone  will sigh and the world is back on its axis, but otherwise, this could be genuinely intriguing, and offers England a real opportunity.  A sluggish pitch, with swing – both conventional and reverse – plus offering turn is something that would fit fairly neatly into the “wildest dreams” category for England’s attack, and thus certainly not what Australia had been hoping for.

For Australia, the build up involved a lot of trash talking, not least about the pace attack bombarding England, so there has been some amusement that only one ball got above 90mph all day, but the slowness of the surface undoubtedly nullified the seamers, and shouldn’t be taken to be representative of the rest of the series.

In summary, we don’t know what the pitch will do, we’re not sure how well England will bat, we’re not sure how Australia will bowl, we’re not sure if spin will be an increasing factor, we’re not sure if it will become uneven, we’re not sure what a good score is, we’re not sure how England will fare against the new ball or how well Australia will bowl with it and we’re not sure where this match is going.

Sounds like perfect Test cricket.  Bring on day two.

Housekeeping note

Periodically, we have to re-state the commenting rules of this blog, so now is as good a time as any.  It’s about cricket, and very occasionally about other sports where there might be felt to be a connection to cricket.  The simplest commenting (and posting) rule is “no politics”, one which we abide by ourselves for the very good reason that the four of us have highly differing political beliefs, and believe me, when we get together, we often argue about them.  But they are my blog colleagues, and over the last couple of years they have become my friends, and I can completely accept that they are unfortunately frequently wrong.  Politics discussion is a no-no because it would descend into acrimony and rancour in no time, and take us away from the purpose of this place.

The second reason we might moderate is if a comment exposes us to potential libel claims.  The same applies to our posts – we have in the past been told information we simply cannot publish because we can’t verify it, and the Ben Stokes affair is a perfect example of tiptoeing around a legal minefield. As I recall, that subject was the last time we moderated a comment, precisely because we were uneasy about it.  It’s us that gets sued you see…

The final reason we might moderate is for persistent trolling. This is difficult for us, and we aren’t perfect, we can get it wrong. The line between strong disagreement and trolling is a fine one.  We try our best.

That’s it.  And for good reason, because any number of issues can have any number of views, and removing something because we might not agree is a terrible reason for doing so.  As Voltaire never said “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”.  You have the right to call me wrong, misguided, stupid, a piss poor writer or whatever else you wish, and while we might not like it, we feel passionately that we can’t ever intervene just because we don’t appreciate the opinion.

The moment we do step in, we are directing the opinion of those who are kind enough to read what we say and more importantly express their views as to why we are right, or why we are wrong.  It’s a hideous, slippery slope leading to an echo chamber, and it would kill this place stone dead.  It would also be somewhat ironic, a blog that gained attention for saying what others wouldn’t, denying people the right to do the same.  We’d have reached full Animal Farm.

Not moderating has it’s own price. We know.

In line with this, any comments on this are absolutely fine – but personally, I’d prefer to talk about the cricket.

Day Two Comments below

 

Australia vs England: 1st Test, Day One – And it’s Live (ish)!

So here we are, the day has arrived and the Ashes gets underway.  And we’re going to be blogging the first day’s play, you lucky people.  Now, you should be aware there are a few house notes for this, namely:

1) We all work for a living.  So it’s entirely possible that at some point during the night the updates will stop.  This will be because we’ve fallen asleep*

2) We won’t be tweeting the hell out of this every two minutes to desperately get people to come and talk to us.  That’s because the total absence of any advertising revenue derived from clicks makes it rather pointless, and it’s also annoying enough to cause anyone with a normal patience threshold to hit the mute button.  It’s for this reason too that any references by Danny to Red Bull and hoping for supplies is sheer desperation on his part, and representative of nothing but terrible taste.

3) Any hopes for incisive over by over commentary are a complete waste of time.  The BBC is over there.

4) Page refreshes are completely manual.  To the surprise of most of you no doubt, we did actually look into this, but the plug ins looked complicated, and the suggestion of using html page coding resulted in a long silence given none of had the first idea how to do it.  So hit the F5 button, and consider yourself part of the team.

*Not together.  This needs to made clear.

2145:  TLG here, to guide you through the build up.  I saw build up, but half of you are watching The Apprentice, most of the others are watching I’m a Celebrity, and a very few are wondering how to find a decent stream.  I’ve got BT Sport, so I can be smug.

2146:  I’m a Celebrity is that programme where a bunch of nonentity Brits head down to Australia to be ritually humiliated.  Seems appropriate. Presumably when Graeme Swann goes on it he’ll be asking them to get him out of there sometime after his third miserable experience.

2148:  Are we excited?  In a funny way the bit just before the start is the best bit.  All things are possible, and neither English or Australian are wondering why on earth they’re watching this disaster.  That feeling usually starts around the third Test.  And the truth is there’s nothing quite like an Ashes series, and an away Ashes series in particular, for pushing the feelings of cynicism aside.  It’s cricket, it’s the very best type of cricket, and it’s wonderful.

Sure, England are going to miss Ben Stokes, and the top order looks brittle.  But Australia aren’t that great a team, and seem to have got themselves in a tangle over selection.  It hasn’t stopped them sledging England even before it starts, while England have pretty much kept their counsel.  And have had their team talk already done for them.  Australia have form for this kind of thing, and while some may decide take great offence at it, for me it’s simply somewhat odd, and certainly unnecessary.   Hardly a huge issue, but it keeps the press corps occupied at least.

2153:  A bit of a timetable of upcoming events.  BT Sport are currently playing their “behind the scenes” documentary, that tells us rather little, but there’s lots of bantz, while the programme properly gets under way at 11pm.  Test Match Special begins the build up a little earlier, at 10pm on Radio 5 Live.

2210:  Weather forecast for Brisbane is a little bit iffy, with the prospect of showers for the first few days.  The trouble with Brisbane is that a shower can mean a biblical deluge some of the time

2216:  Ben Stokes has issued a good luck tweet:

In his absence, and given the somewhat fragile batting, this series is a big one for Alastair Cook.  For England to have a chance, the 2011/12 Cook is going to be required.  Can he do that?

2232:  With showers around, and with a pitch looking a bit green, is anyone thinking of bowling first?

2247: Some rumours that Shaun Marsh will be in the Australian XI.  Whenever you feel like panicking about the England top order, just keep saying that to yourself.  Shaun Marsh.

2256:  Has anyone out there enjoyed BT’s No Filter Ashes?  Anyone at all?

It’s time for some Sean, while I go and make a cup of tea…

2258: Sean on the decks for the next hour, that no filter Ashes was shite wasn’t it

2302: Talking about shite, this is fairly ironic:

2305: ooh Shiny Toy, what a surprise. Haven’t heard from him for ages…

23:07: Anyone else feeling insanely negative? If we lose this Gabba Test i feel it will be at least a 3-1 job to the Aussies. Anyone else fancy making me feel more confident?

2318: BTW, we are not sponsored by any betting companies, just 4 blokes who should know better live blogging (it seemed like a great idea at the time)

2320: Still I’ve heard William Hill have cracking odds on Joe Root being top scorer *promoted post*

2323: If i were Ricky Ponting, i’d get the machine gun out now and save us all from wanting to sew our ears together

2326: TOSS COMING UP…

23:29: ENGLAND WIN THE TOSS AND BAT

2231: Mark Nicholas is such a bore. Anyone disagree with Root’s decision to bat? I personally think its the right choice; however we could easily be 30/4

2334: Shiny Toy ‘Stoneman needs to admire Alastair Cook’ WTF??

2336: Everyone is going on about Starc as the Aussie spearhead, I still think Hazlewood is the main threat. Still think he can do a Ryan Harris job from winter of 2013….

2341: I give it 10 minutes before he starts blaming Eoin Morgan….

https://mobile.twitter.com/ollieholt22/status/933475671908802566

2349: Anyone got any money on a Cook golden duck 🦆?

2350: Annoyingly I have a work a meeting with a German chap early tomorrow morning, so can’t stay up late to watch the cricket tonight. Danny is now taking over on the decks. Night all

2351: Hello everyone, Danny here. I’ve been given the honour of hosting the first hour. Or the poisoned chalice. Depends how England bat, I suppose. Root’s obviously confident as he doesn’t have his pads on for the anthems.

England’s anthem was I think better than Australia’s, although that might be coloured by the Aussie singer murdering “You’re The Voice” earlier…

0000: Cook survives the first ball. Don’t know what I was so worried about.

0004: Cook only needed to play at two balls in the first over from Mitchell Starc. Maybe Starc has been overhyped? At this rate, England should be 180-0 at the end of the day. I’d take that.

0009: Hazlewood also offering 4 sighters to Stoneman before getting one near the wicket. Dare I say it, the Australian bowling has been underwhelming to start?

0012: I think this is my first instance of commentator’s curse. Cook edged Starc to Handscomb at first slip. Didn’t look very comfortable once Starc started aiming at the stumps, and not a lot of footwork (to my very inexpert eye).

0021: Vince scores the first boundary of the day. Vince looks in good touch and could easily get 30-40 in this innings…

0027: Bad news for Australia’s plans for Bodyline 2: The Revenge. The pitch does not seem to be conducive to short bowling, with the ball not getting high and slightly slow bounce. I guess they’ll just have to rely on Plan B, England’s batsmen getting themselves out.

0035: First change for Australia as Cummins begins bowling in his first home Test, taking over from Hazlewood. Neither of them seem that threatening so far.

0050: A boring few overs, which is good news for England fans. Vince hitting the last two balls from Hazlewood for four, he might make it into the 40s today!

0100: TMS stalwarts Alison Mitchell and Geoffrey Boycott have taken over on BT Sport, and they’re talking a little less than the last two pairs. Still a little too chatty for my liking, but a definite improvement I think.

0105: As I metaphorically boot Danny off the keyboard, even though he’s nearly 200 miles away, England reach the first drinks session at 39 for 1. Dmitri taking you through to lunch and then we’ll see who remains in the land of the living. Feel like Smashy and Nicey on Radio Quiet.

01:10: Remains 39 for 1. Australia’s bowling certainly not giving off the aura of four years ago, but, and it is a big but, we were 80 for 2 in that first innings at Brisbane.

01:13: Boycott doesn’t do it for me. We have a big appeal on Stoneman, but they don’t choose to review. Back to Boycott – it’s a bit stating of the obvious, combined with a bit of mouth and not a lot else. He’s had his day, but I can see why BT Sport have gone for him. Alison Mitchell always impresses me and in a day and age when you have to be an ex-pro to get a gig, it’s welcome to see a professional broadcaster doing great work.

0119: 44 for 1 and things are quite quiet. When I was at Brisbane in 2002 they weren’t that noisy throughout the game, as I recall. Maybe the Aussies thought it was a matter of showing up, but they didn’t strike me as being particularly intimidating. Even the goon who just shouted abuse at Hoggard day was to be pitied, not to be intimidated by. Anyway, here comes Lyon. Where’s me man, Pontiac?

0123: One off that Lyon over with a hint of turn.

0125: Ponting and Fleming on commentary. Not sure many other countries would have two commentators from the opposition on at the same time, but definitely not a problem for me. BT Sport got off to a bad start, with Vaughan and Ponting telling us what we’d seen and not shutting up. But Punter is a good commentator, and Fleming is also no-one’s fool. Put it this way, I’d rather these two than Bumble and Botham.

0130: Two off Lyon’s second over. Stoneman giving us some cause for hope as an opener, and yes, I’m probably cursing him. Carberry made 40 at the Gabba first time up.

0133: This looks like a pudding of a pitch, relatively speaking. A real pudding. Malcolm Conn hasn’t tweeted yet.

0136: Lyon gets one to bounce a little and the Aussies have an appeal. No joy. Lyon exerting some pressure. A maiden.

0140: 50 up and a 50 partnership too between Stoneman and Vince. We’d take that given the bad start.

0144: Spared the Shiny Toy/Lovejoy partnership. For now.

0146: Hell on Earth. Holt and Samuel are both out there.

0148: Vaughan rabbiting on about football. As if we haven’t had enough of that. 55 for 1 at the end of the 25th over.

0153: Starc coming around the wicket to Stoneman. Vaughan mentions Mitchell Johnson. Over ends up being utterly underwhelming. And judging by the ebbing away of our visitor count, it might be time to head off to bed!

0159: Not quite lunch. An edgy, but safe, boundary from Vince, the first for 17 overs takes England to 59/1. Last over before lunch to be bowled by Starc.

0203: LUNCH. 59 for 1. Last April I went to the Oval to watch the post-tea session and a certain Mark Stoneman was the star of the show. I don’t think anyone thought he’d be the opener to go out at the Gabba with Cook to start the Ashes. He’s 25 not out. James Vince has been very solid, in his 32 after England lost Cook early on for 2. We could point out that hoping for Cook to come good in the Ashes is something we’ve been doing since 2010/11, but this is not a Gabba wicket to provide terrors in English hearts. Cook is one man we need to come through, or so received wisdom says.

BT Sport got off to a shocker, with Vaughan and Ponting acting as if they were radio commentators on speed. Things went further downhill when Lovejoy took the mic, and that’s something BT will really have to answer for. It’s calmed down with experienced TV and radio broadcasters in the chair, and I’m not in paroxysms of rage. They just need to get into the flow.

I’m having a nap, and might be back a little later. Chris and Danny will be taking you in their loving arms. England have had a pretty good morning. They do need to back this up. Thanks for the support on here for our first live blog….   Dmitri

0212: TLG back for the graveyard shift.

Let’s be honest here, we feared being five down at lunch, so this represents a mini-triumph.  Of course, it can all go hideously wrong in the afternoon, but for now that isn’t so bad at all.  The key for England is to be in the game, and in the series.  Personally, I’d happily take a draw from the first Test, given the Australian record at the Gabba.  It hasn’t been thrilling cricket, but so what?  It’s been tense, and it’s been hard work.  A teeny tiny thing that Stoneman did that got a nod of approval from me was one where he edged the ball into his pads and it dropped by his foot.  No knocking the ball to the Australian fielders for him, he just stood there and waited for them to come in and pick it up. Good.

As for the commentary, it did get better as the session went on, a little more silence, a little less gabbing at the Gabba.  Let’s see how it goes from now on.

0238:  Been a bit of drizzle at the Gabba, but the covers are back off and we should be under way shortly.  Lots of discussion about the pitch being a bit slow and pudding-like – for Australia anyway.  But also that it should quicken up on day two.  It’d be hilarious if it turned out to be perfect for Broad and Anderson though.

0242:  Nope, the covers are back on.  I am cursed to never write anything on this blog when there’s any actual bloody cricket happening.

0257:  Raining quite heavily.  Now the dilemma of any Ashes watcher – is it heavy enough to say sod it and go to bed?

0332: Well, there it is.  It’s all my fault, so I think I’ll try and get some sleep – that’ll do the trick and stop the rain.

0336: Danny here, taking over from thelegglance on rainwatching duties. I think I might be the only member of the BOC team still awake, so you’re stuck with me for the duration.

0351: thelegglance must be asleep now, since the rain has stopped and the covers are coming off.

0357: Looks like George was a little optimistic, the official announcement is that play will resume at 0415 GMT.

0405: Details of the new times for Tea and the end of the day:

0415: Play finally resumes, with Lyon bowling a tight over and Vince scoring a single from the last ball of the over.

0422: Cummins bowling from the other end. It looks like the rain hasn’t slowed the outfield down at all, as Vince runs three and Stoneman strokes one along the ground to the boundary.

0430: After 18 consecutive dot balls, Vince steps down the wicket and drives Lyon for four. I’m not necessarily a fan of England’s batsmen taking that risk, but I guess it paid off.

0433: As Vince runs another three off Cummins, that brings him to a career milestone:

0445: Geoffrey Boycott just said “wank” on BT Sport. In happier news, Vince has just sliced a drive for four behind point and that brings up his first ever Test 50. Fair play to him, I’ve been attacking his selection since this summer but so far he’s looking good.

0507: Halfway through the day’s play, England are 101/1 at drinks with Vince and Stoneman sharing a partnership of 99. Apart from the rain shower, it’s been a pretty good night for England fans.

0510: And two balls after the break, Stoneman runs two and takes the partnership to 101. To put that in context, in 2013/14 England only managed one century partnership in the whole series.

0522: Steady progress by England, with nothing particularly threatening from the Starc and Hazlewood. With this in mind, Lyon returns to the attack…

0525: Lyon seems like the most threatening of Australia’s bowlers. Vince edges one past short leg, but drives the next one for four.

0534: Cummins is also challenging the England batsmen, although still no clear chances. Vince did just completely miss a wide drive though, so that’s a slight worry.

0542: And with an edge through the slips, Stonaman brings up his fifty. Not the most confident shot in the world, but they all count. He gets a single the ball after, so he’s currently just one run short of matching his highest Test score of 52.

0546: DROP James Vince gets a second life as the Aussie wicketkeeper drops an edge from Lyon’s bowling. Not necessarily an easy chance, but with Tim Paine being picked as a specialist wicketkeeper that’s got to hurt his chances of playing all 5 Tests in this series.

0556: And here it is if you want to enjoy it over and over again:

0557: WICKET Cummins bowls Stoneman through the gate, with a fast ball swinging into him. Stoneman increased his highest Test score by just 1 run in the end, and brings the partnership to an end at 125. Root comes in with just a few minutes left before Tea, and having to face Cummins who’s getting some reverse swing with the old ball.

0601: Root survives the last 4 balls of the over and that’s TEA.

129/2. England will be the happier of the two teams, but England’s slow scoring and the rain break mean that they aren’t as far ahead as you might think if you were waking up and seeing England only two wickets down. With a wicket and a missed chance just before Tea, Australia’s tails will be up and they’ll be eager to make inroads in the evening session.

On a personal note, it’s the first time I’ve ever stayed up all night to watch an overseas Ashes and I’m struggling a little. I’m pretty sure my blood is 50% sugar right now.

0621: The final session of the day begins with Hazlewood taking over from Lyon, no doubt hoping to get some reverse swing like Cummins managed before the break.

0626: Geoffrey Boycott just talked about being naked in the England dressing room. When he was a player, but still. In better news, Starc is bowling from the other end. With Cummins having got the wicket and swinging the ball before Tea, he’d feel hard done by to not get the ball back after the break.

0631: A boundary from Vince managed to land the ball in a puddle, which likely puts an end to the reverse swing. The Aussies are therefore trying to persuade the umpires to switch to a new ball. For a nation which refers to us as “whinging poms”, they sure do complain a lot if anything goes against them.

0643: WICKET And there goes James Vince’s chance for a first England century. Lyon takes the wicket, but from the field rather than bowling. Vince hit the ball into the covers, where Lyon picked it up and scored a direct hit at the bowler’s end. Disappointing for England, and 143/3 is basically a par score for a team batting first in good conditions.

0705: A few tight overs after the wicket, Root scores a four from Starc to release a bit of the pressure. Lyon has a good over straight after though, beating the edge a few times.

0717: Lyon bowling to Root after the last drinks break of the day, and Root does not look comfortable. An edge drops to the floor off his pade, a reverse sweep was mis-hit and a chance almost carries to short leg. Shaky times for England with two new batsmen at the crease, even if one of them is the #2 ranked Test batsman in the world.

0722: Malan doesn’t look any better against Cummins, with Malan taking one full in the box and a mistimed pull. England need to ride this session out, if they can.

0736: WICKET And that’s the big one for Australia. Cummins bowls one full and straight and it hits Root on the pad as he tries to flick it to the leg side. Given not out by the umpire. Australia use their first DRS referral of the game and it pays off. That brings in Moeen Ali, who has been promoted to #6 for this game.

0754: After a slow start, Moeen slog sweeps Nathan Lyon for 6. Malan’s starting to hit a few now as well. There’s just 5 overs left until the new ball, and 7 overs left in the day.

0800: Anderson is padded up, so Bairstow won’t be batting is a wicket falls in the remaining 5 overs. Australia have tightened up their bowling again after a few loose overs.

0810: Australia’s keeper Tim Paine has been appealing for anything that he manages to catch, but who can blame him after his drop (see 0556). Australia take the new ball with 2 overs left in the day.

0815: REVIEW Starc bowls a full, fast ball on the third ball of the over, hitting Malan on the pad. The umpire gives it not out, and Australia eventually decide to review (probably after checking with the dressing room). Hawkeye suggests it was sliding down the leg side, and Australia lose a review.

0817: BAD LIGHT ENDS PLAY 196/4 With 9 balls left in the day, and just after Australia almost took a wicket with the new ball, the umpires called both teams off. An odd decision, since it seems unlikely that the light will have diminished significantly in the two minutes from the start of the over. This is the kind of umpiring decision which really frustrates a lot of fans.

So the day ends with England marginally on top, although Australia have done well to get themselves back in the game after a strong start by Stoneman and Vince. England’s “world class” batsmen both failed, with Cook and Root scoring only 17 between them, whilst the more questionable Stoneman, Vince and Malan have amassed 164 so far. The scoring was pretty slow, with a run rate of 2.43, and Australia did well to contain England even when they weren’t threatening the wicket.

England will hope to bat through most of tomorrow if they can, although without Stokes there’s only two strong batsmen left in the lineup. 400 is a possible total to aim for, but equally you could see Australia rolling out the tail for less than 300. At the very least, the game is still in the balance going into the second day which exceeds my very low expectations for this game.

Australia vs England: Women’s Ashes

If the build up to the men’s series has been, for England at least, somewhat problematic, there have been few such distractions for their female counterparts. Winning the World Cup in the summer is an obvious highlight, and with the series played over the format of points for the ODIs, Test and the T20s, a competitive series seems more likely here than in the one starting next month. 

Australia are missing Meg Lanning due to a shoulder injury that keeps her out for the entire series, while England have had limited time to warm up due to bad weather.  Yet England are probably still the favourites, although Australia’s home advantage and position as holders does make it all to play for. 

As ever, the large number of points available means that the Test match is pivotal to the outcome, although its importance to the series has led to a desire to avoid defeat rather than go for the win on occasion. 

The rise in popularity of women’s cricket has been one of the more intriguing developments in cricket, particularly set against the problems in the men’s game. Participation continues to rocket, indeed it is women’s cricket that disguises the continuing drop in male participation – the ECB have taken to publishing combined figures in the last few years – and the World Cup final undoubtedly grabbed attention beyond the niche support that had been the case up until then. 

Oh, and it’s not on Sky, so expect them to go out of their way to pretend it isn’t happening.