Friday, July 12, 2013

Bell plays the crucial knock as England gain control of simmering test

As expected, after the frenzy of wickets on the first two days, the pace of action on the third day of the first Ashes test transitioned to that of a slow burner. The momentum has shifted in England’s favour again, as I share my reflections on an intense day of test cricket at Trent Bridge: 
  1. I mentioned after close of play yesterday, that Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen had played themselves in on the second day to take advantage of better batting conditions on the third day. Pietersen and Cook started the morning in a fashion that proved there were now comfortable on the surface, but surprisingly neither managed to make a big score. Of the two dismissals, Pieterson will be the more annoyed as he was just beginning to open up before he got bowled playing a rash stroke.
  2. Yet again, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc proved they still have a lot to learn. Pattinson was lucky to get Pieterson’s wicket, and barely threatened the rest of the time. Often generating substantive pace, Pattinson failed to understand the nuances of the pitch to cause the batsmen trouble despite his aggression. Starc on the other hand gave the impression that he was trying too much swing, resulting in the English batsmen comfortably leaving many of his balls.
  3. There is plenty of excitement about the attacking abilities of Jonny Bairstow in England, and the young gun from Yorkshire certainly has the ability to change the momentum in a match with his easy hitting. England however, have to decide what mind set Bairstow has to take with him to the crease. Some batsman flourish best when they are attacking irrespective of the situation, and I feel Bairstow is of that ilk. Bairstow tried to play according to the situation, and his laboured innings only served to increase Australian pressure on England’s middle order.
  4. One player who has constantly bailed England out in tough conditions with is aggressive batting is Matt Prior. As Prior cut, pulled and drove handsomely, it seemed like test cricket’s best wicketkeeper batsman was going to drag away the game from the visitors in a jiffy. His dismissal to a pull shot was a jolt out of the blue, and swung the match back in Australia’s favour.
  5. Stuart Broad came to the crease under pressure, and in contrast from his first innings display, adopted caution and played with responsibility. Broad hardly played a shot in anger, showing the temperament that helped England escape with a draw in New Zealand when he took 68 balls to score his first run. Along with Graeme Swann, Broad’s runs at the end of innings were a big reason when England were the best test team for a year and a half. If they can start contributing with the bat again, England can reach the number one ranking in test cricket again.
  6. Broad’s innings would have been valuable even if he would be rightly given out caught at slip of Ashton Agar on 37. Several morally righteous people started saying Broad should have walked, but the reality is that nobody walks anymore. The simple truth is that Aleem Dar made a very rare and unusual shocking decision.
  7. Some people said Broad’s not out verdict evened out Jonathan Trott’s uncertain dismissal yesterday. I think the more salient point, is the absolute waste of a review when Siddle tried a desperate appeal for a lbw that hit outside leg stump. The DRS was meant to eradicate howlers, and if Michael Clarke had used the system judiciously he certainly would have got Broad’s wicket.
  8. Ashton Agar got his first two wickets in test cricket to back up his brilliant 98. My verdict about Agar’s length remains the same however. The deliveries to get rid of Cook and Bairstow were pitched on the perfect length, however he hit those lengths all too rarely. There certainly is promise in the teenager, but Australia will look back at the test and realize that Agar certainly didn’t utilize the rough enough.
  9. A word on Shane Watson’s bowling figures. Conceding only 11 runs in 15 overs is remarkable feat in today’s times even in test cricket. It’s a pity that Clarke has to manage Watson’ injury, otherwise Australia would have a bona fide all-rounder. Watson bowled 11 maidens and his control was in stark contrast to the aforementioned duo of Pattinson and Starc. As things stand unfortunately Watson continues to provide glimpses of ‘what ifs?’
  10. The final word goes to the player of the day, undoubtedly Ian Bell. Many believe that Bell plunders runs and plays glorious shots when he comes in to bat with England already doing well against tiring bowlers. They question his mettle, but Bell has proved on numerous occasions that he is capable of adjusting his temperament to the benefit of the team. Time and again the Australian fast bowlers tried to tempt Bell into chasing wide deliveries outside off, but the man from Warwickshire curtailed his instincts. In depriving the viewers of his glorious cover drive, Bell has taken England to a position of strength with a lead of 261 runs and counting, in the process also taking him to the brink of a well-deserved century. With the Australian batsmen still needing to extinguish some demons, and Graeme Swann bowling into the rough, a fourth innings target above 275 makes England the clear favourites again.
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