Saturday, July 13, 2013

Trent Bridge test keeps on giving

It may sound repetitive, but for the fourth consecutive day, the first Ashes test at Trent Bridge enthralled and entertained, as both teams jostled for position to go one up in the series. My reflections on the fourth day include:

  1. Ian Bell deservedly completed his century. It's a shame that Bell got out just when it seemed he was ready to accelerate, but come the end of the match, his knock will probably the defining innings of this test.
  2. Notwithstanding the contentious not out decision yesterday, Stuart Broad's 65 was a fine knock, and probably his best batting effort for England in quite a long while. It was his first half century since his unbeaten 58 against Pakistan in January 2012, and if he maintains some consistency with the bat, England will certainly be a more complete team.
  3. England lost their last four wickets in the second innings for nineteen runs. I suppose it is an improvement on their first innings, when they lost the last four wickets for two runs, but the increasingly common failures of the tail will catch up to England sooner rather than later if the problem isn't rectified.
  4. Chasing a target above 200 in the fourth innings of a test match is daunting irrespective of the conditions and the quality of the bowling attack, and chasing above 300 is almost always futile. Nonetheless, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers opened with the right intent, dispatching loose deliveries to the boundary, and scoring at a fair clip. The duo must certainly be credited for making England extremely nervous despite have a big target to defend.
  5. Watson's 46 consisted of some lovely drives, but as Nasser Hussain brilliantly analyzed on Sky Sports, England had a plan to get him lbw or bowled, and they executed it successfully. The front foot issue that has plagued Watson in test cricket, is the ultimate illustration of how a supposedly successful Twenty20 technique can be exposed to be so poor in the highest form of the game.
  6. Chris Rogers constructed a well made 52, but unfortunately for Australia they really needed him to survive the whole day. Nonetheless, the veteran of first class cricket proved that he can be a valuable contributor at the top of the innings, and with a solid technique could prove crucial in blunting England's efforts with the new ball for the remainder of the series.
  7. I must admit I have a soft spot for cricketers who can write. However, even that bias can't come to the defence of Ed Cowan anymore. His century against South Africa seems to be an aberration, as Cowan just seems to have no idea of how to get a scoreboard moving whether opening the batting or coming one down. For someone with the ability to graft, the fact that Cowan got out in both innings chasing wide deliveries, only worsens his plight.
  8. Aggressive intent is the common factor on the few occasions a big fourth innings target has been chased successfully in test cricket. As I mentioned earlier, Watson and Rogers followed that template to begin with. However, Australia's innings slowed to a crawl after Watson's dismissal. If anything conveyed fear from Australia, it was their two middle order stroke-makers playing in an ultra-defensive mode. Not to advocate Twenty20 style assaults, but Michael Clarke and Steven Smith hanging about with strike rates in the low 30's, allowed England's bowlers to settle into a rhythm, and it was no surprise when both were dismissed in successive balls.
  9. After all the controversy around DRS in the test match so far, two examples of how well it can work when it is right. Rogers was given out caught behind to Swann by Kumar Dharmasena, before the review clearly showed he hadn't edged the ball, and the opener duly survived. Later on in the day, Graeme Swann got a ball to turn back in to Phillip Hughes and hit him plumb in front of the wicket. To the naked eye, it seemed like the ball pitch outside leg. Nonetheless England reviewed, and the technology revealed that the ball actually pitched in line with leg stump, and the decision was rightfully overturned.
  10. England need 4 wickets to win, while Australia need 137 runs with their top six back in the pavilion. Clearly, England are the favourites to win. However, predicting this test match has made mugs of us all, and with the fighting Brad Haddin batting in tandem with first innings hero Ashton Agar, and Mitchell Starc with two test 50's still to come, it wouldn't surprise anyone in the least if Australia somehow manage another partnership to make England sweat.

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