Saturday, August 3, 2013

Pietersen's century highlights tough day of test cricket

Old Trafford witnessed a slow yet intense day of test cricket on third day of the third Ashes test. Kevin Pietersen was the star act for England, with Ryan Harris bowling with precision and venom for Australia. My reflections on day 3 include:

  1. For the third time in the series Jonathan Trott lost his wicket to a stroke outside off stump. Trott's scores in the last year have dipped compared to the stellar standards he has set for most of his international career. To be fair, Trott did look impressive at Lord's before throwing his wicket away, and it must gnaw at him, that he has been getting out to deliveries that he is normally so adept at leaving.
  2. On the theme of batsmen getting out to innocuous deliveries, Alastair Cook will be furious at himself for the way he got out. Mitchell Starc delivered a harmless ball down leg side, and nine times out of ten, Cook would have comfortably glanced it for four. However, Cook got it off the toe-end of the bat to get caught behind, and a crucial innings ended prematurely for 62.
  3. From the Australian perspective of Cook's dismissal, Brad Haddin's spectacular catch was the best bit of wicket-keeping seen in the series so far. Haddin dived full length to his right, and almost defied gravity when the ball settled in his gloves to complete a supreme act of athleticism.
  4. Should we be surprised? Kevin Pietersen usually saves his best performances when England need him the most. In fact, it would be accurate to say he actually relishes tough situations. Old Trafford is one of his worst grounds in England, yet Pietersen applied himself really well. The pitch just had enough in it for the seamers to nip the ball around, and Nathan Lyon had tied down the batsmen with a probing spell of spin bowling. Pietersen bided his time dealing with the difficult conditions, before playing some trademark shots including some nonchalant whips through the leg side, and wristy drives through the covers.
  5. Ian Bell is well on course to becoming man of the series in these Ashes. At one point in their entertaining partnership, Bell was clearly the aggressor, dominating all the Australian bowlers easily. Michael Clarke will have nightmares about placing an offside field for Bell in this series, as the cover drives and smart late cuts had the Australian fielders chasing leather continuously.
  6. Nathan Lyon has certainly cemented his place in the team for the rest of the series. He deserved a wicket for his efforts with the ball, but continuously beating the batsmen without taking a wicket didn't really serve Australia's purpose. As the pitch continues to deteriorate, Lyon can still make a big impact, but the way Pietersen and Bell dismissed him for glorious sixes within two overs clearly demonstrates that while the off spinner is an upgrade of Ashton Agar, Australia simply do not have a spin option that threatens England's best batsmen.
  7. Once bitten, twice shy. Michael Clarke and his team have taken a lot of flak for wasting many reviews on the field. Today Shane Watson had a beautiful inswinger trap Pietersen plumb, but after he was ruled not out, Clarke decided against the review. Unfortunately for Australia replays showed that the ball would have gone on to hit the stumps, and Pietersen went on to complete a crucial century. It was particularly galling for Watson who actually beat Pieterson on numerous occasions without dismissing him.
  8. It's tempting to wonder how much more potent Australia's bowling would be if Ryan Harris didn't suffer from continuous injury problems. Ian Bell was so comfortable at the crease, but Harris bowled him with a spectacular delivery that nipped back in at the last moment to take the off stump. Harris bowled 26 overs of the highest quality, constantly asking the English batsmen questions, marrying his hostile space with late swing, and on another day he would have had a fiver.
  9. Mitchell Starc's in-ducker to dismiss Pietersen leg before was another great delivery. Coming a few overs after he dismissed Jonny Bairstow with a classic left-armers outswinger, it gave Australia a late fillip after a tiring day in the field. If Starc can settle on his lines and make the batsmen play more regularly, Australia could conceivably have a bonafide match-winner in their ranks for many years to come.
  10. As Jonny Bairstow groped and edged his way to an unconvincing 22, its becoming clear that the young Yorkshireman is uncertain about his role in the team. Bairstow's best innings in test cricket was his scintillating 95 against South Africa at Lord's last year, and since then Bairstow seems to have reigned in his natural attacking instincts. Sometimes a young batsman can be preoccupied with displaying the right temperament, and consequently mistaking a defensive mindset as the only way to succeed in test cricket. If Bairstow is to flourish for England, Andy Flower and the think tank might just be better off asking their young batsmen to play his natural game as he finds his feet in the test team.

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