Sunday, July 14, 2013

England hold their nerve to win epic Ashes test


The memories of Edgbaston 2005 were evoked, as England won one of the best test matches in recent times by 14 runs. I reflect on the individual and collective performances of Australia and England after a final day that maintained the drama and sheer unpredictability of an absolutely brilliant test. 
  1. Every time a close test takes place, it’s in our nature to try and determine where the recently concluded spectacle ranks in the pantheon of great matches. At least within the recent history of close test matches, I can’t remember an occasion when the momentum of the match changed after every session. At several different points of this contest, various pundits veered between Australia and England, and until the DRS revealed the faintest of nicks from Brad Haddin, either team could have won it. Such matches lead me to paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous quote, with the obvious interchange in sport. Test cricket, bloody hell!
  2. Speaking of Haddin, how can one not feel for the Australian vice-captain? It was a phenomenal effort batting with the tail. Haddin bided his time at the crease, rock solid in defence, sneaking a single here and a two there to begin his innings. Once he was settled, he improvised by playing some shots over cover, then unfurling some confident sweeps off Graeme Swann, before making a serious statement of intent by thrashing the poor Steven Finn for 15 runs in an over. The wicketkeeper seemed like he had it figured out, and the deciding edge off a slightly loose drive to a James Anderson delivery was as surprising as it was heart wrenching.
  3. Ashton Agar might not have played the scintillating knock of the first innings, but his 14 runs from 71 balls, prove that the teenager certainly has the right temperament to survive in test cricket. Rock solid in defence, he supported Haddin well, and their 46 run partnership had started to rattle England.
  4. What is with Australian number eleven’s? James Pattinson’s unbeaten 25 was a gutsy knock. He rarely looked troubled throughout his stay at the crease, apart from a few streaky edges. His six over midwicket off Swann, brought the target down to 30, and for the first time Australia believed. In total, Australia’s last wicket stands contributed 228 runs in the match. Now, if only the top order could replicate some of that.
  5. To the victors go the spoils, and when we look back at this classic, James Anderson’s brilliant 10-wicket haul will be remembered as the defining act. Ian Bell and Stuart Broad certainly played important roles, while Agar, Haddin and Pattinson put on heroic acts, but Anderson’s performance was one of sustained excellence. Reversing with the old ball, swinging it both ways with the new ball, he had the top order and tail singing to his tune. It’s easy to delve into hypotheticals, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say England would have lost this test were it not for Anderson.
  6. ‘Caught Cook Bowled Anderson’ was repeated a few times on the bottom half of Australia’s scorecard. Alastair Cook took some really smart low catches to help Anderson get rid of Agar and Mitchell Starc. He then dropped a reasonably easy chance to dismiss Peter Siddle. Siddle edged another one in Anderson’s next over, and Cook hurled his hands quickly to the right on the dive to catch a bullet of a shot, achieving redemption in spectacular style.
  7. England’s backup to Anderson just wasn’t up to scratch in this match. Broad bowled one inspiring spell in each innings, while Finn threw away a golden opportunity to cement his place in the starting eleven. It must perplex many in the England think tank, in particular bowling coach David Saker, as to why Finn looked so feeble and devoid of ideas when bowling to the tail. Swann bowled beautifully on the fourth evening, but he was poor on the last day, constantly bowling darts on a full length making it easy for the Australian tail to defend against him. Saker has his work cut out ahead of Thursday’s test at Lord’s.
  8. So, will Finn be dropped in favour of Tim Bresnan for the second test? It’s easy to see the temptation after this test. However, Bresnan averages 66 with the ball at Lord’s while Finn averages just over 20 at the home of cricket. Unless England believe he will improve the poor batting performance of the tail, Bresnan's recent bowling performances in test cricket ensure it’s not a change the team should consider lightly.
  9. Australia on the other hand simply have to replace Ed Cowan. Usman Khawaja might finally get another chance at redeeming himself in the middle order. Or Australia could place Phillip Hughes back at three, and bring Haddin up one spot in the order. It could be a worthy gamble to slot James Faulkner in at seven. Considering the batting merits of the Australian tail, Faulkner will only make that section of the order even stronger, while adding a genuine wicket-taking bowler to the line up.
  10. However, Australia’s problems might just be deeper than selection issues. With all the parallels to Edgbaston 2005, it’s worth remembering that an Australian team consisting of bona fide legends weren’t able to recover and win another test match in that series. This Australian team is inferior to their opponents, and one suspects the players know it. There will be a few voices in the dressing room that will naturally ask if they will come this close again. For the sake of the Ashes and the neutral cricket fan, lets hope that they are inspired by taking England so close, after a more comprehensive defeat seemed certain at one point.

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