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.

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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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

2015 Dmitri #5 – Steve Smith

Note – this was written before Christmas.

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Dmitri Number Five celebrates an overseas cricketer who made an impact on me this year. There were a number, including Kane Williamson, who has had an amazing year by anyone’s standards, AB DeVillers for the sheer verve of his batting and the skills he brings, and given my love of West Indian cricket, I was particularly pleased to see Jason Holder’s maiden test hundred, although the body and weight of his work has a long way to go to match those above.

However, I have to give this Dmitri to Steve Smith. On a personal level, I was there when he completed his double hundred at Lord’s, so in that sense his batting had a direct impact on me, but also the fact that he would deliver regularly for his team, including the greatness of scoring a 199! He scores quickly, with a hand-eye co-ordination to die for, despite having a technique only his mother could love. He has taken over the Australian captaincy without missing a beat, being the key man to dismiss and with a steely ruthlessness that our own Iron Man can only envy.

This won’t be a long piece. Smith is accused of being a bit flaky outside off stump, and has attracted the ire of some of our press corps already. Many of them committed Smith to the dustbin of irrelevance as the Aussies picked him in the fateful 2010/11 Ashes team, where he was derided for a poor technique and seen as being more there for his leg spin bowling. In 2013 he made his first hundred at The Oval, having made an important score at Old Trafford in support of Michael Clarke. In the following series he was also there to make crucial hundreds to win test matches, a very decent habit he gets himself in to. The double at Lord’s this time around, and his hundred at The Oval were key in winning both games. In between that he feasted on Indian bowling in the last test series, had a decent World Cup, took major runs off South Africa in their last ODI series and became Australia’s main man.

There was a large groundswell of support from certain sites and Twitter personalities for Smith that, frankly, I didn’t get. Probably not hipster enough. But his performances this year have been exciting, mountainous, and combined with the captaincy, inspirational. We may not take too kindly to some of his mannerisms – he is quite abrasive, it seems, as captain as evidenced by the Stokes incident – but he’s a fine player who played for the World Champions. Congratulations came from many quarters as he won the ICC Player of the Year award. This pales into insignificance compared to a Dmitri, I know.

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Two Dmitris in One Shot

Let me explain, just for the record, that I’m not measuring the greatest performances, but someone who impacted on me the most. Many will say Kane Williamson, and they would not be wrong, but Smith’s reaction to and performances after the Philip Hughes tragedy, and the way he’s gone about his business since swayed me. Kane’s century last weekend made the decision tighter, but I’d already made up my mind. Steve Smith gets the second International Dmitri Award, following Brendon McCullum.

After I wrote this piece, Smith moved to the top of the run-scoring charts for the calendar year with a candy-from-a-baby hundred against West Indies. Redemption for the selection!

The Ashes: A Review

This Ashes series was crap.  Bloody awful, one of the worst seen in this country in many years.

There, I’ve said it.  It runs completely counter to the narrative that so much of the media have gone with, whereby for some it was comparable in its wonder to 2005, but sorry it was rubbish.  Not because England won, not for a moment, but because there were five Tests, none of which offered up a contest.

With hindsight, Cardiff was the best of them, and had anyone said after that game that it would prove to be the case, there would have been wringing of hands across the cricketing spectrum.  Yet England’s win by the margin of 169 runs proved to be the closest the sides would be, with every subsequent result being even wider.  Aside from arguably Edgbaston, where the feeling was very much after day one that England had it in the bag, even if the final scorecard didn’t quite reflect that, it’s the only one where the game was in any kind of balance after the first innings were completed.

That England won the series was a welcome surprise, but winning doesn’t mean it was a good series in itself.  The greatest Ashes series of them all is routinely named as 2005, and Australians are as quick to agree about that as the English, even though Australia lost.  Because that series was a slugfest between two teams who fought themselves to a standstill and didn’t give an inch.  This was a series where as soon as one side got on top, the other waved the white flag of surrender and looked to the next match – the lack of fight, the lack of discipline and the lack of gumption was shocking from both teams.  This isn’t good Test cricket, it’s a slaughter.  What made this series a bizarre curiosity was that the slaughter went in both directions, meaning that at the start of every Test the unknown was which team would be wielding the cleaver, and which would be the tethered goat.

Test cricket can be one of the most captivating sports there is, because the timescale involved in each match allows for ebbs and flows, for sides to recover and fight back.  Magnified over a full five match series, it can rise to the heights of the majestic.  Not every five Test series can begin to reach such exalted standards as the very best, and when one side outclasses the other then it can be something of a long haul, even for the victorious supporters, who tend to feel a slight dissatisfaction about the lack of uncertainty about the outcome, but given even a modicum of competition, it is fascinating.

And therein lies the problem.  3-2 looks like it was a good series at first glance, but sport is only ever compelling where there is competition, and in each match there was barely any.  Indeed only one of them had that air of competition beyond the first day.

All of which makes analysing the series somewhat problematic.  Did England win it or Australia lose it?  Given both sides showed quite exceptional levels of incompetence mixed in with occasional brilliance, drawing conclusions from a little over or under half a series means that a caveat must apply in each instance.

For England, only Root so much as managed a century (two of them) in the whole series.  His batting was so far ahead of the rest of the team that when he failed, so did the team as a whole.  To put it another way, only he could look back on it as a batsman with unalloyed pleasure.  His next test will be to see whether he can replicate this kind of run scoring away from home.  There’s no reason to assume he won’t, but at present he is a player in a rich run of form.  If he carries on in the two difficult tours ahead, then he might really begin to be considered the real deal.

Cook had a real mixed bag with the bat.  Two fifties only in itself is a pretty poor return in a normal series, though in this one only Bell and Root passed fifty more often than him.  Yet both fifties were in defeat, and the second of them rather irrelevant given the match situation.  It’s somewhat ironic that in advance of the series this writer was anything but alone in feeling that for England to win, Cook would have to have a fantastic series.  In reality, his contribution with the bat to victory was absolutely nil.  His captaincy in contrast was fine.  Not outstanding, but decent enough.  The problem with Cook is not with Cook himself, it is how the media respond to him.  Competent captaincy is most welcome, he acknowledged himself that he had learned and changed his approach, good on him.  But it is now at the point where such competence is lauded as being worthy of Brearley, and it’s total nonsense.  Cook had a slightly disappointing series with the bat but captained perfectly well.  It isn’t disloyal or anti-England to state reality and not join in the hagiography.  Cook seems immune from any kind of criticism from sections of the press, and it doesn’t do him any favours.

The one thing which is certainly in his favour batting wise is that although he didn’t get the runs, he looks technically much more sound than he did during his miserable run in 2013/14.  At that time his head was far too far across to the offside, which dragged his feet across to the offside, making him vulnerable to both the straight ball and the edge behind.  That particular failing has been corrected, and he appears much more secure in his technique.  To that extent, his quiet series can be put down to one of those things, but given the poor time he had of it previously, he does need to start scoring heavily again fairly soon.

His batting partner Lyth has probably seen his Test career come and go, and the pain etched on his face with his second innings dismissal tugged at the heartstrings.  England have developed a habit of losing openers not called Cook in the last few years, and both Compton and Carberry must feel considerable irritation that they weren’t persevered with, in the latter case in the face of far better bowling than any of the other hopefuls have had to cope with.

Ballance has responded well to being dropped mid series, and time in county cricket getting his game back in order might be just what he needs.  He has plenty of ability, and he’s hardly the first to suffer a difficult sophomore season.

The middle orders of both sides have performed poorly.  Bell seemed to either have a relative feast or total famine, but in the context of the others, those three fifties represent a reasonable return.  There is a real question mark now over his future.  With the exception of the pleasure that was evident from his contribution at his home ground, he has cut an unhappy, if not a detached figure for a little while.  Some with a poor grasp of grammar might have described it as “disinterested” even.  If that is to be Bell’s last appearance in an England shirt, as seems possible from his comment about deciding his future in a couple of weeks, then it’s a loss to England, and one that smacks of carelessness.  He still has much to offer, and he’s only 33.

Bairstow and Stokes both did OK on occasion, and in the first instance deserves persevering with.  In the second, Stokes tended to show the difficulty faced by so many all rounders over the years of trying to get both disciplines functioning at the same time.  He is a player of immense promise, and at the stage of his career he is at, his ability to bowl wonderful spells as well as play match changing innings is as much as should be expected of him.

The same could be said for Buttler, who after coming into the side as someone who had batting talent but whose keeping needed a lot of work, proceeded to turn that on its head by keeping extremely well throughout (the legside catches standing back were good, the one standing up was outstanding) and being barely able to score a run.  His final innings of the series did appear to show a degree of learning from experience, and in itself that’s a promising sign.  The improvement in his wicketkeeping too implies a player willing to learn.

The final member of the middle order, albeit one who batted as low as nine when a nightwatchman was employed was Moeen Ali.  Like with Bell over the years, there is a predisposition to be both frustrated by him and to make excuses for him.  He is simply unutterably gorgeous to watch; his strokeplay is entirely reminiscent of Gower, and when his batting is flowing, there are few players in world cricket more enjoyable to witness.  His position in the batting order often meant he had to go for his shots at the end of an innings, and that’s probably the best way for him to bat, as his technique isn’t a tight one.  Of course, in his case there is a problem, which is that his primary role in this team is as a bowler – something that may be considered unfair on him.  He didn’t do badly in the series overall, looking back at previous posts in advance of the series, his final average of 45 with the ball was even a prediction for being considered adequate.  There are two issues here though, firstly that he was comprehensively outbowled by Nathan Lyon, and secondly England’s refusal to pick Adil Rashid, seemingly under any circumstances.

It’s doubtful there is a much better finger spinner in English cricket, and having gone with Moeen, he should receive sufficient faith for him to continue working on his game.  He will get better.  However, it is becoming ever more difficult to see a justification for Rashid’s continuing exclusion, and even harder to see why so many of the press are so dead set against him.  Moeen was tried out as being far from the finished product, and given time to develop.  Rashid seems to be expected to be a hundred Test veteran on debut.  Surely he will get his chance in the UAE, and long overdue.

Of all the bowlers, Broad was the clear stand out.  Given his record over the last few years, he’s in serious danger of being consistently underrated.  Barely a series goes by without demands for him to be dropped, yet he’s one of England’s most consistent performers with the ball, even without the stunning spell of 8-15 at Trent Bridge which was truly wonderful.  He even did well in the horror tour of Australia last time.  When he’s not bowling through injury, he’s a serious threat to any side in world cricket.  As long as he’s told to pitch the bloody thing up.

Anderson will most of all benefit from the break enforced by injury.  That he was even considered for the fifth Test is concerning.  He’s an exceptionally fit athlete, and could go on for several more years yet, if properly looked after.

The return of Steven Finn has to be the most welcome sight in the England team.  He’s still not back at the pace he was, no matter how much he tries to deny it.  Perhaps the confidence gained from being an integral part of the attack will allow him to up that pace, because a bowler of that height consistently bowling high eighties is going to be a difficult proposition anywhere.  What happened to him in the past is a matter of deep frustration, but looking forward he is still young, still taking wickets at a truly remarkable strike rate and needs to be allowed to just bowl.  If England have changed one thing in regard to their approach to him, then let it be to focus on his wicket taking ability, not how many runs an over he goes for.

Mark Wood is something of a conundrum.  He clearly has a lot of talent, but his injury record isn’t a good one, and there have to be concerns about managing him properly.  Australia did point the way there with Ryan Harris, who they wrapped in cotton wool and as a result got at least two more years out of him than anyone could have hoped for, including him.  Seam bowlers are almost always carrying some kind of injury, so it isn’t a matter of plucking him out of the team at the first sign of trouble, but it is one of ensuring he doesn’t suffer a major injury.

For Australia, this is the end of an era for many of the squad.  Harris finally succumbed to his troublesome body before it even began, and perhaps more than anything that proved to be the ultimate difference between the sides.  He has been an outstandingly good bowler who had an Indian summer to his career.  When he broke down in the 2010/11 series, the sadness was the feeling that would be it, a career over before it had even begun.  He may not have played 80 Tests, but he played a lot more than he had any right to, given his physical problems.

Australia’s top three all had decent enough series, with the proviso that like everyone else, when they were bad, they were very, very bad.  Chris Rogers was outstanding throughout, and probably wishes he could have played his whole Test career against England.  Oh hang, on he more or less did.   Warner in contrast made lots of contributions without ever going on to get a big score.  It means that his figures are decent enough, but lack a match changing or match winning innings.

Smith had a similar series to Bell in some ways, the difference being that when he did get in, he went on to a very big score indeed.  His idiosyncratic technique makes this quite likely, and with him it’s a matter of accepting that, and knowing that when he does get in, he is going to seriously hurt the opposition.  His batting went a fair way to winning two Tests, focusing on his troubles in the other three is somewhat harsh.

Clarke’s retirement at the end of the series broke the last link with the great Australian side of the first decade of this century.  He had a poor series, without question, but very few players call it a day in a blaze of glory, not least because of the need for team mates to do their bit to provide the correct result.  McGrath, Warne et al managed it when they whitewashed England, but that truly great side is an exception.  Few decide to retire because they’ve been playing so well, and Nasser Hussain’s beautifully timed retirement winning a Test match and series with a superb century simply shows he had a sense of timing with his career that wasn’t always present with his batting.

England gave Clarke a guard of honour, and predictably enough (and more than welcome) the English crowd gave him a standing ovation on his approach to the crease.  Sometimes English crowds make you feel quite proud of them.  Clarke deserves it.  He’s been a terrific player, a terrific captain, and for those of us lucky enough not to be Australian, he was our leader in cricket too in the most tragic of circumstances.  His honesty in the face of defeat, and refusal to hide behind platitudes also marked him out.  It has been nothing short of a privilege to watch him play, and to leave the game of cricket having made a positive contribution is as good a cricketing epitaph as there can be.  To lose him in the same week as the peerless Kumar Sangakkara is undoubtedly a blow to the game, and the ICC could do worse than listen to what they say about the future of cricket.  And pigs might fly.

Just like England’s, Australia’s middle order had a woeful time of it.  Ironically enough that failing was just as prevalent in the 5-0 last time, but they were bailed out repeatedly by the lower order.  Not this time, though Johnson and Starc had their moments with the bat.  The jettisoning of Watson was possibly premature, his trials with the lbw law are hardly new, and at Cardiff he was the recipient of a couple of decisions that were fairly questionable, particularly the first innings one.  His replacements didn’t do any better, although his career is now probably at an end, distinguished by being one of the great unfulfilled talents.

Voges made a late bid to extend his Test career, Mitchell Marsh shows a lot of promise as a true all rounder given that bowling was thought to be his weaker discipline (he didn’t bat well), Shaun Marsh showed again – and probably for the final time – that he simply isn’t quite good enough at the very highest level and Brad Haddin also reached the end of the road.  The manner of the conclusion to his Test career seemed to cause some discord in the Australian camp amongst the senior players.  It’s a difficult one.  His batting and keeping had both deteriorated to the point his place should have been in jeopardy even if it wasn’t.  Perhaps it should just be put down to being one of those terribly unfortunate instances where they were faced with two wrong choices, and went for the better cricketing one.

Peter Nevill looks a decent enough replacement anyway, although he didn’t contribute with the bat too much more than the rest of that middle order.  His first class batting record is a very good one though, and he looks a perfectly competent gloveman.

Of the bowlers, given the loss of Harris, Siddle did seem the obvious replacement.  With hindsight.  It is all too easy to look at his performance in the final Test and say he should have been there all along, but there weren’t many calls for him to be in the side at the expense of anyone else, and in advance it was felt that Johnson and Starc’s pace would be more than good enough for England anyway.  Both were intermittently major threats, and the rest of the time expensive.   Ironically enough, it was Josh Hazlewood who made way for Siddle, despite having a better record than either of them, and for reasons hard to fathom bore the brunt of the criticism of the seam bowling selection that saw Siddle called up.

Nathan Lyon too had a good series, and showed what he is – a very fine orthodox finger spinner.  He’s every bit the equal of Graeme Swann, and perhaps at long last Australia will be content with their lot in the spinning department rather than harking back to the days of Warne.

Given how the series unfolded, in this one perhaps more than any other, it can be said that 3-2 was a fair result.  Three times England hammered Australia, twice Australia hammered England.  If there was a sixth Test, it could have gone either way, probably with a hammering.

The England players will rightly look back on the achievement with great pleasure, for they were the underdogs in the eyes of everyone.  The win is there to be enjoyed, but these are two teams who are very much at the crossroads.  Australia will largely need a new one, and will have to spend quite some time rebuilding and finding the right combinations.  England are at least playing a much more positive style of cricket, but they look a deeply flawed side at this stage.  There are plenty of players in that side in the early stages of their careers, and there will be ups and downs in their own performances.  What is more worrying is the collective implosions they seem so prone to.  They have two very difficult tours ahead, and as a young side may well rise to the challenge.  But they are going to have to, because otherwise they are in trouble.

This wasn’t an especially enjoyable series.  When third day tickets become something of a risky purchase not through it being a poor pitch, but because either of the sides are incapable of lasting that long, then there is both something wrong with them, and something extremely wrong with the series.  Some of the batting was genuinely second rate, in shot selection and execution.  It is to be hoped this is something of an aberration, because more of the same is going to pall very quickly.  Recent history around the world suggests winning away is becoming ever more rare, in which case England will face both the next 9 months and the next Ashes series with considerable trepidation.

The most damning indictment of this Ashes series is that the two Test version against New Zealand offered far more entertainment, far more sporting hazard, far more tension that anything the five subsequent games did.  England won, and to that extent it was great.  But Test cricket supporters have always had one eye on the team and one eye on the wider game.  The game itself in this series was dreadfully poor.  Pointing to the other eye and ignoring that is simply refusing to see evil.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

2nd Ashes Test: Day Four review

It’s one thing to lose, it’s entirely another to offer no resistance whatever, on a docile pitch, in good conditions.

This was as bad as anything on the Ashes from Hell tour, because this pitch offered absolutely nothing for the bowlers even on day four.  England at the start of play were clearly likely to lose the match, but few would have expected any side – not even Bangladesh – to surrender meekly in 37 overs.  This was abject, pathetic and spineless.  Sure, collapses happen, but with England they happen a lot, and they happen against Australia all the time – indeed even ignoring the three for not very many at Cardiff, it’s happened in 6 of the last 7 Tests against them.

That England went through the motions with the ball this morning is almost forgivable, given the match position.  Australia were so far in front even skittling them wouldn’t have made much difference.  But it did betray a side who knew their fate and didn’t rage against it.  The declaration when it came didn’t change the reality of what England needed to do, and what England knew they needed to do right from the start of play.

Instead, once again they flopped horribly.  Two of the first three wickets at least came from decent balls, though Lyth and Ballance both betrayed flawed techniques in how they got out.  What was extraordinary was how the Sky commentary team focused on these two dismissals and actually claimed Cook’s was a good ball at the time (Hussain in contrast did at least call it a “lazy little waft”).  It wasn’t, it was a dreadful shot, a short wide one that he went after and edged.  Getting out to a bad shot happens, it’s an occupational hazard of batting, but to seek to excuse it by crediting the bowler beggared belief, and merely fuelled the suspicion that Cook cannot be criticised on Sky.  Let’s get something clear here, players make mistakes.  They are human beings, and flawed intrinsically.  Pointing out a bad shot doesn’t lessen the person, it’s called being honest.  Stop making excuses.

England had lost their first three wickets for fewer than 52 for the 8th time in their last 12 innings.  It’s been repeatedly pointed out that the middle order will not always bail them out, and the horrible muddle England have got into over the last couple of years is still the same, even with different personnel.  Of the top four, the only one who is in any kind of form is Cook – and Cook the batsman is doing fine – indeed Cook the captain still didn’t have a bad match in the field, England certainly didn’t flop horribly because of his actions. Once again, the problem is not with what Cook does as a batsman, it is the way it is treated as though he’s Bradman reincarnated whenever he gets a few, while saying his dismissal was down to him being “desperately tired” as Mike Selvey put it – a tiredness that didn’t seem to afflict Rogers or Smith who scored far more runs.   And in mentioning Rogers, all cricket fans will have seen his dizzy spell with some concern.  Let us hope it was unrelated to the blow on the head he took at the start of day two.

And so once under way, the procession continued.  Bell again got out cheaply, and again in unconvincing fashion, managing to edge a ball that didn’t spin to short leg.  Stokes had the kind of dismissal that will haunt him for days to come, failing to ground his bat for an easy single.  Whether that was a simple matter of brain-fade or evidence of the kind of scrambled minds in the England team probably depends on how one wishes to think of them.

Buttler once again edged behind hanging his bat out to dry, and Moeen did absolutely nothing to prevent the addition of another piece of evidence that he can’t play the short ball very well.

By this point, not only were Australia rampant, but England were skulking around like a little boy who knew he’d been caught stealing.  Broad at least decided to go down fighting, throwing the bat.  That was another reminder of the dire displays in 2013/14, Broad reacting by trying to hit fours and sixes in a game long since gone.

Root’s dismissal as ninth man out was neither here nor there and entirely irrelevant to anything, while there was something apposite about the way Anderson’s stumps were shattered to end the torture.

The various Mitches had blown England away, and all credit must be given to them.  They will only get better having scented blood.

The only way of reacting to this omnishambles is that with the final wicket, Australia had gone into a 1-1 lead in the series.  It is scarcely credible that England had managed to fall apart so abjectly on such a placid wicket.  Yet they’d managed to, and shown no bottle whatsoever for the fight.  It is therefore ironic that the pattern of England wins and losses recently can be seen to be one of them being metaphorically flat track bullies, able to put sides away with aplomb when in front in the game, but collapsing in on themselves when challenged.  That is, except on non-metaphorical flat tracks where they aren’t just bullied, they are whipped, chained and thrashed.

The inquest will of course begin now, but there’s not much that isn’t already known and has been known for some time.

Bell is in awful form, and has been struggling for a couple of years.  Yet England set the precedent of standing by Cook when he had his drought, and they can rightly point to his form this year as being a justification for that.  So they’ve made a rod for their own back where Bell can legitimately say he deserves the same patience.  Whether he will get it or not is another matter, as is whether he should.  But missing straight balls as he has been isn’t terribly reassuring.

Lyth is perhaps one of two players under most pressure, but dropping him now would betray the same kind of muddled thinking that the ECB under Strauss have absolutely promised is a thing of the past in this brave new world.  Having not picked him in the West Indies when they should have, he then scored his maiden century only two Tests ago.  Lyth may not ultimately prove to be good enough, but that there is such a chorus for his replacement after two quiet Tests, and only four in total would be a return to the chopping and changing of the nineties.  And that worked so very well.

Ballance on the other hand has – at least for the time being – been found out.  He is clearly a highly talented player, and also young enough to improve, but his sophomore season is proving to be a nightmare for him.  The problem is that his place in the side is the critical number three position, and so the question of moving players around comes up.

Here is the rub though, moving Root up to number three is obviously an option, but Root didn’t perform particularly well as an opener two years ago, and there’s no pressing reason why he should do better now so high up the order.  Yes, he’s batting extremely well, but treating the symptom rather than the cause has never been much of a medical solution to anything.  Putting Root there would be to risk getting less out of England’s best batsman, not because of a certainty he would do better there, but solely because those above him currently are doing so badly.  That isn’t a justication, it’s negative selection.

Nor does it in any way address the problems Lyth and Bell are having, so while rearranging of deckchairs would give the selectors something to do, it doesn’t address the bloody great hole in the hull.

Naturally, as this was discussed, the elephant in the Sky studio hovered.  At one point Hussain talked about England needing a “Kevin Pietersen type” player in the top four, without a shred of irony.  At another, Ricky Ponting came dangerously close to saying the name of He Who Must Not Be Mentioned, and Gower flapped in utter horror (“don’t say it, don’t say it”).  This was extraordinary behaviour, but not necessarily for the reasons that might initially be thought.  There’s no reason to assume Pietersen would have made any difference in this Test, and no reason to assume he would be a panacea for England’s batting woes.  That’s not the point.  The ECB have made their decision and that is that.  But.  It is not for Sky to endorse that decision by refusing to even acknowledge the point, it is not honest to pretend it isn’t there.  An honest response is to point out the obvious that one player England could select is in the cold and then move on to the alternatives.  Each and every time this sort of thing happens, the recognition of what has been done is critical to the debate even if that decision is agreed with.  Pretending it isn’t there is ludicrous, no matter which side of the debate someone might be.

Once again, the fundamental point is that Sky’s editorial line is not meant to be at the behest of the ECB’s internal policies.  It’s a basic journalistic tenet, and one they have failed time and again.  It shouldn’t need stating, that’s the point.

More realistically in terms of England’s options, apart from moving those players around, Johnny Bairstow is the likely candidate to come in.  Should they do so then that certainly means changing the order as well, with Bell and Root at three and four.  A second spinner is also an option, if they also drop Lyth and move Root up to open.  That would be a lot of changes.

England were plainly unhappy with the pitch at Lords, which was more than obviously a chairman’s one, intended to last the full five days – so Australia (and England in a funny way) denying them the revenue from day five serves them right.  That’s somewhat ironic, because in one sense England were right to be.  Australia’s faster bowling attack is always going to be better on a very flat and slow surface where England’s fast medium offering is going to be akin to cannon fodder.  Yet this very flat, very slow surface was one on which England were shot out for 415 across two innings.  That’s woeful even on a green seamer, which if Cook has his way based on his post match interview is what we will get at Edgbaston.  The problem for him is that the Chief Executive of Warwickshire probably thinks otherwise.

Yet Cook was correct that for England to have a chance, their own bowlers need to have a chance in the game.  Over the last few years Test pitches in England have followed the same pattern, slow surfaces intended to stretch the game out to the full extent.  It is this tendency that Colin Graves was quietly referring to when he raised the idea of four day Tests – another example of treating the symptom incidentally.  That this has had the result of spectacularly biting England on the arse is exactly what they deserve, for it has been a long time since England produced the kind of quick pitches that might actually prepare them a little for facing the two Australian fast ‘n nasties, and even allow England to develop one or two of their own.

This match was nothing but total humiliation.  It is striking that in the Tests between these two sides, there are very few close ones, one side absolutely batters the other albeit Australia batter England rather more than the other way around.  To that extent England will feel that there is no reason they can’t win the next one, and they are of course right.  If anything has been demonstrated in previous Ashes series, momentum is a rather overrated thing.

Yet England did have a real chance to put Australia under huge pressure in this match.  After Cardiff there were definitely cracks in the side.  Not large ones, and as has been seen in this game, not critical ones.  But had they produced the kind of English pitch we used to get before they started trying to be clever and extract even more money from the poor spectator, it likely would have worked to England’s advantage.  Not so much to guarantee a win of course, but at least to give them a chance.  The Test against New Zealand at Lords was of course a fantastic one, yet that was so unusual compared to the ones we’ve seen in recent years that one can’t help but feel it was some kind of happy error. Certainly the two prepared in 2014 were every bit as lifeless as this one, and note that England could not bowl Sri Lanka out in one, and lost badly to India in the other.

Once England had lost the toss here, their chances of winning were very low.  The difference is that there was no reason why they should lose the Test.  And no reason whatever that they should lose the Test by the margin of 820-10 to 415-20.  Or to put it another way, based on this, England would have had to bat a whole additional Test to reach Australia’s match total.

And finally we come to the media in general.  At the risk of repeating a common theme on this blog, they went completely overboard once again after the win at Cardiff.  It was a terrific win there’s no doubt about that, but the “fickle” people in such places as here and at the Full Toss, repeatedly cautioned that England had a habit of losing their next match badly after a win, and that triumphalism was both premature and more than a bit ridiculous.  It didn’t stop them.  From writing a homage to Andrew Strauss as the architect of England’s success to saying Ian Bell was back, to long paeans of how the new England under Cook would go on to terrify all and sundry, this thrashing is matters coming home to roost.  Again.  Doubtless they will now swing the other way, demand wholesale changes and assume England will be blown away in the remainder of the series.  And that is indeed a possibility, and unquestionably a fear given this implosion.  It’s just not guaranteed.

England may well recover from here, it doesn’t mean they can’t win from here.  It does mean there is concern about how they will react to it – that is up to them, to decide whether there really are scars from 2013/14 or not.

Ashes 2nd Test: Day 2 review

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Ballance is bowled by Johnson – look closely and you will see a bail in mid-air….

Now what was I saying about all those who piled in to complain about the pitch after one day?  In the Australian press it was all about England doctoring the surface, which apparently means creating one that Australia rack up a huge score on, and then rip through the England top order.  Indeed, it was wryly amusing to hear Stuart Broad imply that the surface very much aided Australia and not England.  Spin on both sides.

Meantime, the English press went big on the idea that it was a nailed on draw, that the groundsman should be shot and that it was impossible to get wickets on.  The old adage that you shouldn’t judge a pitch until both teams have batted on it is as true as it ever was.  Australia have bowled superbly on it, and have put themselves in prime position to square the series.

There did seem to be a little bit more in it today, but it remains excellent for batting, as Australia demonstrated all too well in their innings. Steve Smith led the way with 215, and as fabulous as that innings was, it was curiously less assertive than normal, and slightly more sketchy than at his best.  Which if anything should cause serious alarm in the England dressing room.  For Chris Rogers, it’s quite possible that his 173 is his last innings at a ground where he has served Middlesex so well.  If so, it’s quite a way to finish.

From there, the scorecard looks like Australia fell away somewhat, which is a good example of a scorecard not conveying a match situation.  Australia were pushing on and trying to score quickly.  Slow surfaces are often quite hard to score rapidly on, and the wickets fell at regular intervals.

England’s reply was a shambles.  As has been pointed out England keep finding themselves three down for very little, and sooner or later Joe Root wasn’t going to bail them out.  Adam Lyth’s poke at a wide ball was fairly typical of what often happens when a team has been in the field for the best part of two days, but it doesn’t make it any better a shot.  Ballance was again undone by a full ball, and while it is good to keep faith with a player, it’s at the point now where he’s not going to get anything else, so transparent are his difficulties.  He needs to work this out and fast.

Bell too was undone by a full ball, and once again this has become a notable weakness in his game.  Any player can be beaten by a full swinging ball, but not time and again. As for Root, he failed today.  It’s going to happen sometimes. From there, Cook and Stokes batted extremely well.  Broad again made a rather telling slip in the post play interview saying that it looked much better when England batted in a more disciplined way.  The implication of that was fairly clear.

There’s no reason whatever England can’t continue to bat that way, this remains a very easy paced, very flat surface. The trouble is that having lost four cheap wickets, they are 481 runs behind.  It is a huge ask for them to even reach the follow on point, no matter how flat the pitch might be. About the only positive they have is that they have frontline batsmen down to number eight in the form of Moeen Ali.  But to even get to within 200 runs, more than one player has to score a century.  All hopes really rest on Cook going very big and batting through.  It’s a big ask, but it’s what’s necessary.

England have got themselves in a horrible hole, and have been completely outplayed in the first two days.  The reality of their plight is that they can’t afford to lose so much as a single session if they want to get out of this one.  1-1 seems almost inevitable given the time left. @BlueEarthMngmnt

Ashes 2nd Test: Day One Review

If there’s any amusement to be had from Australia closing on 337-1 today, it’s that it has once again made an awful lot of journalists look silly.  They don’t need much help in order to achieve those lofty heights, but their continued lack of awareness when jumping on a single victory as a harbinger of the future generates as much amusement as ever.  One wonders if today’s play was mainly down to Andrew Strauss as well, for example.

Instead of reacting with pleasure to England’s victory at Cardiff, but noting it was a single Test match and that Australia hadn’t become a bad team overnight, several once again got giddy – just as they did in the West Indies, and then just as they did against New Zealand.  After one outbreak of egg-on-face disease, it might have been thought that a lesson would be learned, but oh no, they did it again after England beat the Kiwis, and then a third time after Cardiff.  There’s not a thing wrong with offering an opinion, or making a call on what might happen – the risk that you will be wrong is an occupational hazard – there is a lot wrong with going over the top repeatedly and failing to learn the lesson that baseless hyperbole tends to bite back.  Doubtless the scurrying back over the bridge and pretending none of it happened will be in evidence tonight.

Now equally, it shouldn’t go too far the other way (place your bets on how doomed the fourth estate will consider England after today), it’s day one of five.  Lords is what it has been for quite some time, an excellent batting surface lacking in pace and movement.  It shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise that Australia, having won the toss, have had a good day.  It shouldn’t even come as that much of a surprise that they’ve had an exceptional day.  They’ve simply made the most of conditions, which is what decent sides do.

The irony is that over-reaction is one of the charges continually aimed at the bilious inadequates, yet it is the established press (one again) who are most guilty of it time and again.

No doubt also there will be some complaining that the pitch is too flat and that it is therefore some kind of anti-cricket surface.  That may yet prove  to be true, but it is a faintly ridiculous line to take after a single day.  Much will depend on how it plays over the remainder of the Test – should it prove to remain entirely flat, then such comments will be justified.  If it deteriorates – and let’s be clear, Lord’s usually produces a result – then there’s no reason for any such claim.

What today’s play does mean is that Australia are in a very strong position to dictate terms for the next couple of days at least.  England didn’t bowl badly, and while they missed a couple of half chances they couldn’t be said to have performed badly – not that they were outstandingly good, just not bad – it was benign conditions for batting and Australia just cashed in.  At this stage it’s already going to be key how England bat in response.  Even with everything going right, England are going to be facing 450; more realistically somewhere around 550 and above is probable.  Rogers and Smith deserve immense credit for maintaining their discipline, and should they survive the first hour, England will unquestionably be chasing leather.

The pitch at that point is if anything likely to be even better for batting on, so there’s no reason for England to have a problem on it.  Except that thing called scoreboard pressure.  Australia will have their tails well and truly up, and negating the early stages will be critical.  Cook had a quiet first Test, but he will be needed to play one of those long innings in reply.  There’s no reason whatever he can’t.

For Australia, the one person in the team who may need to be kept away from sharp implements is David Warner.  Being positive against the spinners is one thing, and players who take a chance in order to dominate always risk looking foolish when it goes wrong, but the nature of the three shots in an over against Moeen Ali were outright slogs at the ball.  First one was fair enough (a full toss), the second was wild, and the third was downright rash.

Cook rotated the bowling well enough, trying different things, and attempting to find a combination that worked.  Sometimes you just have one of those days.  What we do not know yet is whether that is an example of England lacking penetration on flat surfaces or simply a result of the conditions.  Certainly the ball barely swung, and definitely didn’t seam.  England tried to counter this by bowling dry, which was exactly the right approach, but weren’t able to maintain the pressure.  If one was to be critical, that’s perhaps where it might lie, a few too many four balls.  It’s quibbling, they worked hard.

Short of having a disaster and being bowled out for 150, day one is a set up day, with limited certainty about what is to follow.  It has always been that way and always will be that way.  Australia have had an outstanding day today, but whether it is a decisive one, it is impossible to say.  There’s no doubt though that England are up against it as things stand, and will have to play well to get a result.  They are quite capable of so doing, and if they do, there is the potential for a borefest.  The additional pace in the Australian bowling order will make them feel that they can get something out of the surface that England didn’t, and they may be right about that too.

Today is one day.  And a very good one for Australia it was too.

@BlueEarthMngmnt

2015 Test Century Watch – #31 – Steve Smith

steve-smith_1sf5t1glu2e9j1v73issyo604sSteve Smith – 199 v West Indies at Sabina Park, Kingston, Jamaica

Let’s get stuck into this meaty little innings played at a venue with a long history of test cricket. A recipe for some severe stat-mining, let alone the symbolic nature of the score alone.

This was the 91st century made at Sabina Park. Steve Smith became the first person to pass 163 and not make it all the way to his double hundred at this venue. That 163 was made by Roy Fredericks in 1972. 15 double hundreds (including two triples), so Smith slots in at #16. One boundary hit and he would have moved past two Aussie legends to become the innings record holder for his country at Sabina Park. Steve Waugh’s 200 in the series clinching win in 1995, and if it had been a six, Neil Harvey’s 204 in 1955 would have been shunted down to the minor placings. The highest score by a non-West Indian at Kingston is Andrew Sandham, and we’ve mentioned him before in Century Watch.

Only one player with three initials (SPD Smith) has made a higher score at Kingston in tests. Sir FMM Worrell was his name. Reasonable player. The two with just one initial to do it were both English. A Sandham and L Hutton.

This was Smith’s highest score in test cricket beating his 192 in the Boxing Day test against India just six months ago. It is his third score of 150 or above in seven months. No wonder he is world #1 at the moment. It was his first test hundred batting at #3 in the order. He now has 9 test hundreds.

So to 199. I’ve not seen one. I saw Vaughan get out in the 190s, and saw Hayden get out for 197 at Brisbane, so been close. This was the 75th score of between 190 and 199 in tests, and the list of those to make two scores in the 190s is as follows.

  • Mohammed Azharuddin – 199 and 192
  • Ian Chappell – 196 and 192
  • Rahul Dravid – 190 and 191
  • Herschelle Gibbs – 196 and 192
  • Brian Lara – 191 and 196
  • Mohammad Hafeez – 196 and 197
  • Mohammad Yousuf – 192 and 191
  • Ricky Ponting – 197 and 196
  • Sachin Tendulkar – 193 and 194*
  • Marcus Trescothick – 194 and 193
  • Michael Vaughan – 197 and 195 (in the space of four or so weeks)
  • Everton Weekes – 194 and 197
  • Frank Worrell – 191* (carried his bat) and 197* (captain declared on him – man, look at the scorecard.)
  • Younis Khan – 199 and 194
  • Steve Smith – 192 and 199

And with three scores in the 190s…

  • Kumar Sangakkara – 192, 199* and 192

That’s quite a list to be in.

So to the 199 score. This was the tenth in test cricket history. The first was made in 1984 by Mudassar Nazar for Pakistan against India in Faisalabad. This was in a turgid test series between the two rivals where a result never seemed on the cards. In this particular match, India made 500, and Pakistan replied with 674/6, and then everyone went home. Qasim Omar made a double hundred, and Mudassar was caught behind off the spin of Shivlal Yadav. The other eight 199s were made as follows.

  • Andy Flower v South Africa at Harare 2001 – not out
  • Kumar Sangakkara v Pakistan at Galle 2012 – not out
  • Mohammed Azharuddin v Sri Lanka at Kanpur 1986 – LBW Ratnayeke
  • Matthew Elliott v England at Headingley 1997 – Bowled Gough
  • Sanath Jayasuriya v India at Colombo SSC 1997 – Bowled Kuruvilla
  • Steve Waugh v West Indies at Bridgetown 1999 – LBW Perry
  • Younis Khan v India at Lahore 2006 – Run Out
  • Ian Bell v South Africa at Lord’s 2008 – Caught and Bowled Harris
  • Steve Smith v West Indies at Kingston 2015 – LBW Taylor

So three LBWs, two bowled, one caught and bowled, one run out, one caught behind and two not outs. Of those above, just Azharuddin and Elliott finished their careers without making a test double.

This was the 110th hundred by an Australian against the West Indies, and places him 10th equal with Steve Waugh. Australia are four away from their 800th century in test cricket. Smith’s 199, to put it into context, places him 68th=. Compared to England, where 199 (Ian Bell) places him 53rd (in 829 test centuries). Ian Bell has the 800th test century for England – 116* in the tedious Nagpur test in 2012 had that honour. I’m digressing!

Steve Smith’s 199 came up in 361 balls with 21 x 4 and 2 x 6 – his hundred came up in 200 balls with 13 x 4 and 2 x 6.