Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Australia and England entertain on surreal first day

When Alistair Cook won the toss and decided to bat under overcast skies on a good pitch at Trent Bridge, not many would have thought that fourteen wickets would fall by the close of the play on the first day of the Ashes. Here are my reflections after a humdinger of a day:

  1. Cook's decision to bat first will surely be a talking point even after the test concludes. On the one hand it is usually the right decision to bat first on a good pitch. Possessing the superior spinner in Graeme Swann, Cook believed that once the pitch starts to wear out on the third day, the Australians would struggle to survive in the fourth innings against the world's best finger spinner. However, cloud cover is the one differentiator in England, and it must be tempting for many to wonder what havoc James Anderson could have wreaked on Australia's batsman in overcast conditions despite the pitch holding no demons.
    English: Trott fielding at Ther Oval in the En...
    Jonathan Trott (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  2. Jonathan Trott looked solid during his stay at the crease, crafting 48 runs with minimum fuss. When he got bowled chasing a wide one from Peter Siddle, it signalled a huge momentum shift, as the Australians displayed a confidence in their body language for the first time. There just might be something for Michael Clarke and his bowlers to build on from Trott's dismissal. Dale Steyn has succeeded in getting Trott out chasing outside the off stump throughout his career, and it is an anomaly that the Australians could use to their advantage in getting rid of a batsman who loves to stay at the wicket.
  3. Much of the buildup to the first test centred on the dropping of Nick Compton to include Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, England's pair of adventurous young batsmen from Yorkshire. The decision certainly feels right and excites cricket lovers. Root and Bairstow showed glimpses of batting that make many in English circles believe they will form the fulcrum of the batting order in the future. However, test cricket and the Ashes in particular can be very unforgiving. Root and Bairstow both got bowled for 30 and 37 respectively, but even at this nascent stage, the pressure will be on to convert good starts into big scores.
  4. Peter Siddle clearly demonstrated that he is the leader of Australia's bowling attack with an excellent five-wicket haul. Often damned with faint praise for his heart and stamina, Siddle's bowling intelligence is often overlooked. After a horrible opening spell, when Trott and Root made hay on his poor length, Siddle changed ends and reverted to bowling on a good length. As I mentioned earlier, in overcast conditions that can make all the difference. Root was bowled by an unplayable delivery at the base of off stump, Kevin Pietersen was sucked into a drive to the slip cordon, Ian Bell was clueless, while Matt Prior gave his wicket away in a similar fashion to Trott.  With his younger bowling partners probably possessing more natural weapons but lacking consistency in line and length at the moment, Siddle's experience and intelligence will be crucial for Australia to have good sessions in the field in these Ashes.
  5. For thirteen deliveries it seemed perfect. Shane Watson illustrated what a dynamic opener he can be for Australia, with some sumptuous drives for four, and the feet moving in proper order. Unfortunately the 14th delivery showed Watson for the inconsistent and average test match batsman he has become. After hitting two fours off the first two balls of Steven Finn's over, Watson perished driving a ball he didn't need to, and gave England the lift they needed in the field after their limp batting performance.
    Shane Watson
    Shane Watson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  6. Watson's early demise is further exacerbated by the weakness and inexperience of the rest of the batting order. Ed Cowan threw his wicket first ball, Chris Rogers hung on grimly for a while, and skipper Clarke was bowled by a beauty. England have feasted on Philip Hughes weaknesses before, and you feel it's only a matter of time before he is worked out again. It's already abundantly clear that Australia simply can't afford for Watson, Clarke and Brad Haddin to fall for low scores in this series.
  7. It's hard to say anything unique or original about Anderson's prowess with the new ball in English conditions. Anderson provides England with one of the most potent advantages in test cricket, that of a guaranteed wicket or two in the opposition's top order at the start of an innings. Stuart Broad should be back bowling on the second day, but in his absence Finn vindicated his selection ahead of Bresnan by taking two quick wickets and backing up the superb Anderson.
  8. Steven Smith was the one bright light in Australia's brief, albeit terrifying sojourn at the batting crease. While not possessing a classical technique, Smith does display fantastic temperament. I have often wondered if Australia have missed a trick by not giving him more opportunities ahead of others who have failed consistently. Smith's 92 against India at Mohali was the best top order knock in a depressing series defeat on their last tour, and it was quite surprising that he wasn't a part of the original Ashes squad. Smith's ability to unleash the right attacking shots even in tough conditions will be crucial if Australia are to get close and possibly overtake England's first innings total.
  9. It was a day of exciting cricket, and test cricket is generally best served when bowlers manage to get the better of batsmen. Nonetheless, with the exception of Siddle's spell and Anderson's jaffa to get rid of Clarke, it was a day highlighted by some poor batting on both sides. Wickets were lost to simple technical errors, and horrendous strokes to wide and short balls. I enjoy wickets falling quickly just as much as the next guy, but it would be nice to see better application by the batsmen in the rest of the series.
  10. That being said it certainly doesn't bode well for Australia, that even when England's batsmen played average cricket, the day ended with the teams on par. England have developed a knack for starting series' poorly, and with their inept batting display gave Australia a genuine chance of gaining an early foothold in the series. That England are only two wickets away from the tail going into the second morning only further highlights the gap in quality between the two teams, especially in the batting department. Odds are that England's batsmen will eventually come good in the series, and that just might make for some pretty ugly viewing for Australian cricket fans.

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