Friday, August 9, 2013

Another poor batting display by England at Chester-Le-Street

Australia continued their recent improvement in the series, as a combination of disciplined bowling and reckless batting handed the initiative to the visitors on the first day of the fourth Ashes test in Durham. My conclusions after a day on which England imploded include:

  1. I mentioned after his brilliant 180 at Lord's, that the facet that marks Joe Root as a long-term test player is the ease with which he plays off the back foot. I still stand by that assertion, however with one caveat. If Root is to establish himself as an opener in England's test team, he has to make a choice in order to score consistently. Either he plays a more natural attacking game to complement his more sedate captain, or he has to integrate a solid forward defensive shot in front of his pad to negate the swinging new ball. If Root continues to hang back on the crease without intent or improvisation, fast bowlers around the world will quickly work him out.
  2. Jonathan Trott looked in imperious form while he was at the crease. Playing a free-flowing innings, Trott looked to be on top of the Australian bowling. Trott was assertive in a manner similar to his quick-fire batting stint in the first innings at Lord's, with some fluent drives off the fast bowlers through the leg-side reminiscent of the England number three at his best. However, what was also similar was the innocuous method of his dismissal, getting caught at short leg when flicking a straight delivery from Nathan Lyon. It would be easy for Trott to get down on himself after such a dismissal, but there were enough signs during his 49 to suggest a big innings isn't far away.
  3. Kevin Pietersen's dismissal resulted in the familiar refrain of the English cricketing punditocracy chastising him for getting out to a wrong shot. While he certainly could have used a better option, the truth of the matter is you take what you got with Pietersen. For all the ill-judged dismissals, there are an equal number of significant match-winning innings, and curbing his natural instincts takes away a lot of what makes Pietersen and the England team successful.
  4. Alastair Cook is one of the toughest batsmen to get out in test cricket, and he certainly puts a high price on wicket. A half-century when opening against the new ball in English condition's is certainly not to be scoffed at. However, his obdurate approach can at times backfire to the detriment of the team. Cook wanted to play with responsibility, but his inability to get the ball past the square for the vast majority of his innings was inexcusable. While the slow nature of the pitch made it hard to score freely, a batsman of Cook's ability should at least be able to rotate the strike. In stead, his ultra-defensive strategy enabled the Australian bowlers to find a good rhythm, and after being beaten several times around off stump, it was no surprise when Jackson Bird pinned him plumb to a perfectly pitched in-swinger.
  5. Speaking of Bird, the lanky fast bowler bowled beautifully throughout the day. Mitchell Starc might deliver the occasional unplayable delivery but test cricket tends to suit bowlers who make the batsmen play on and just around off stump, and Bird's 21 overs of control suggested that the Australian think tank missed a trick by overlooking him to start the series. Bird constantly made the English batsmen play and miss, and even when he wasn't swinging the ball, he kept it straight playing his part in strangling England's run-rate.
  6. Ian Bell has been magnificent this series, but his dismissal in the first over after tea was probably the worst shot played by an Englishman in these Ashes. Trying to clear the boundary after Nathan Lyon tied down England's batsmen by bowling around the wicket, Bell only succeeded in finding Ryan Harris at mid-off. It reminded me of Bell's dismissal in the first test of the tour to India in Ahmedabad. For a player of such elegance, it's a real surprise how tight spin bowling can scatter Bell's mind so often and so easily.
  7. One of the many reasons that makes the story of test cricket so compelling is the regularity with which an unexpected protagonist can have the decisive say on a day's play. At times it can ground you down despite your best efforts, and then there are times when you can be rewarded for simply being a reliable performer. Nathan Lyon has seen the pendulum swing from one end to the other in the space of two tests. At Old Trafford, Lyon certainly deserved more wickets as he was generating troubling spin. On the other hand, today Graham Gooch said Lyon didn't spin a single ball. In stead he relied on bowling a tight line, and aided by some enterprising captaincy courtesy of Michael Clarke, Lyon snaffled four wickets.
  8. I mentioned during the third test that Jonny Bairstow's struggles with the bat in this series are rooted in the fact that he isn't playing his natural game. Bairstow is still young, and if he is not to be scarred by this current rough patch, Cook and Andy Flower will do well to define his role and ask him to take the attack to the opposition regardless of the match situation. Such an approach might not always succeed, but at this stage of his career, an innings like his 77-ball 14 serves neither Bairstow nor the team.
  9. A quick word on Shane Watson. His bowling has been under-rated this series, and he really should have had more wickets to his name in these Ashes. Watson is extremely deceptive with an off-cutter that jags back in from just outside-off stump, while a three-over spell to Cook just after lunch had the English skipper groping hopelessly against some fantastic away swingers. It defies belief that Australia considered asking Watson to drop bowling completely to prolong his test career as a batsman. This series is increasingly begin to show that Australian cricket might just have placed Watson's all-round priorities in the wrong order.
  10. Tim Bresnan and James Anderson have already added 24 runs together for the last wicket. It will be absolutely vital for Australia to take the last English wicket as quickly as possible. Last wicket partnerships can infuriate, and can at times stall momentum for the fielding side. Even more crucially, Australia should maintain the good batting form witnessed at Old Trafford. The slow nature of the pitch should not necessarily be mistaken for a batting paradise. There was subtle movement on evidence throughout the first day, and Anderson will certainly be looking to exploit any kind of swing on offer. Anderson has been quiet since his match-winning display in the first test, and how Australia cope with England's bowling spearhead tomorrow will have a decisive bearing on the complexion of the match after the second day.

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