To the surprise of no one, England posted a modest total having been put into bat by Australia. In itself, being inserted might have been a slight surprise, in that both teams said they would have bowled first, and perhaps reflects more on the fragility of both batting orders than the conditions in which this match is being played, for there appears nothing wrong with the pitch.
Bowling a side out on day one having put them in is always the hope, if not the expectation, and even if the surface offered some movement, it wasn’t one to cause palpatations in a decent Test batting line up. The trouble is that England don’t have a decent batting line up, and haven’t done for some years.
Sure, there were some mildly promising knocks – Burns looks at home in Test cricket now, with the mental aptitude for the scrap. His innings of 53 wasn’t without luck, being dropped twice before a superb catch from Bancroft at short leg sent him on his way, but he did at least look prepared to bat multiple sessions. At this stage in his career it would be overly harsh to expect him to be the bedrock of the England batting order, but the reality is that if it’s not him, who else would it be? Roy went in the first over, another poor shot from a player being asked to do a job to which he isn’t suited. Roy has talent in abundance, but he’s not a Test opener – it’s not just that his technique isn’t particularly tight against the new ball, it’s that his mentality at the crease is that of a one day opener. There’s nothing particularly outrageous in having someone who looks to attack at the top of the order, Warner and Sehwag made successful careers out of it, but while their own techniques have been questioned at times, their shot selection tended to be far better than Roy’s at this stage of his career. He’s been given a poisoned chalice, made particularly acute by having him opening while Denly bats at four. Whether Denly is worth his place in the team is a separate question, but he’s surely better equipped to see off the new ball than Roy is. It’s a confused batting line up that doesn’t get the most from the talent at its disposal.
Root came and went, and with him disappeared England’s chance of a significant total. Root attracts much comment because he is so far and away England’s best batsman, but he’s shown little sign that he’s more comfortable at number three this time than he was the last attempt at pushing him there. It’s easy enough to say that anyone who can bat at four can bat at three, but they are slightly different roles, and some players are simply more comfortable in one position than they are the other. Compromising the best player to compensate for the shortcomings elsewhere is a strange way of getting the most out of the batting order.
Buttler and Stokes didn’t last too long, and while the latter has plenty in the bank and looks the most technically adept player in the side, Buttler is struggling. Again, this is only partly a matter about him, for Buttler coming in at 250-3 – or even 180-3 in this side – is a slightly different prospect to him coming in at 92-3 with the pressure on. It’s just not really his game, and highlights the confused thinking concerning what is being attempted. It’s not to say that he shouldn’t be able to adapt, but it is to point out that England are hardly likely to see the best of him when he’s permanently coming in in a crisis.
At 138-6 the writing was on the wall – that Australia recovered from an even worse position in the first Test is neither here nor there – but England did recover to some extent. Bairstow often looks freed by having to bat with the tail, compiling a well made fifty thanks to sterling support (again) from Woakes in particular. Australia reverted to the short bowling tactic, which worked well enough, for England do seem peculiarly vulnerable to short pitched bowling. Bairstow was the last man out, trying to get some runs against Lyon with just Leach for company. He got some criticism for his dismissal, but trying to hit fours in those circumstances is surely what he’s meant to do – fiddling around with a single at the end of the over won’t take anyone very far. Execution certainly can be questioned, but runs were needed, he was trying to get them. Blaming him for being the tenth wicket to fall seems harsh, irrespective of Leach’s last innings at Lord’s.
Hazlewood and Cummins were the pick of the Australian attack, bowling with pace and accuracy, but again England didn’t make them work overly hard for their wickets. Siddle had two straightforward catches dropped off him – enough to drive him to a burger this evening – while Lyon extracted significant spin considering it is a first day pitch.
If 258 doesn’t remotely look a par score, it does look a par score for this England team. They simply don’t have the batting currently to expect much more, and tend to be reliant on the lower order even to get them to that kind of total. And scores in the 200s don’t win many Test matches, unless the bowlers do something special.
Broad did his best to do exactly that, removing Warner for the third time in three innings. Warner looks somewhat all over the place with his batting presently, head falling over and bat coming down at an angle. Smith’s preposterous return to Test cricket has made it look as though a year out shouldn’t have an effect, but both he and Bancroft look rather out of sorts, and it’s understandable.
Archer opened the bowling with Broad, and certainly showed pace, regularly clocking over 90mph. He had the crowd with him too, for little in cricket is quite so box office as a genuinely quick bowler in a Test match. Whether that is converted into wickets is, naturally, the big question, but he does have all the attributes. It is to be hoped he is used in short spells as a strike bowler rather than ground into the dirt as a stock performer.
The last hour of play England did look dangerous, suggesting that they are by no means out of this match. But they are once again reliant on their bowlers dragging them out of the mire, something they do reasonably often, but cannot do all the time. It remains to be seen if they can perform the miracle tomorrow, but with this England batting order, a lead of 100 is needed before even a modicum of confidence is there that England can press for a win.
As the saying goes, the first session tomorrow is crucial. Because it is.
Finally, the day finished five overs short. This is a constant factor, but if the authorities care little normally, to do nothing about it when an entire day has already been lost to the weather is nothing other than abrogation of responsibility both to the spectator and the game itself. We’ve lost 58 overs already this Test match. Losing five more through tardiness is beyond careless.