Thursday, August 1, 2013

Clarke leads Australia to their best day of the Ashes

It took them five innings to do so, but Australia finally had a dominant outing with the bat on the first day of the third Ashes test at Old Trafford. My reflections on a day of cricket played out on a batting paradise include:
  1. Shane Watson’s sedate 19 proved that you can’t give away an inch in test cricket. It was clear from the offset that Watson was going to put in a concerted effort to avoid getting out leg before on the front foot. In order to rectify the issue that has dogged him all series, Watson attempted to play every ball late, even reigning in his natural attacking game. Watson could be forgiven for thinking he had seen out the threat of the new ball before Tim Bresnan delivered the perfect outswinger to snare him in the slips.
  2. While Chris Rogers hasn’t been a runaway success this series, he has at least displayed the requisite technique and resolve to survive in the top order unlike many of his compatriots. At Old Trafford, Rogers shifted gears and played a very fluent knock. In the first session of the match Rogers drove excellently, with some beautiful straight drives past the fast bowlers particularly delightful to watch. Ideally, Rogers should have scored a century, but his 84 did end up giving Australia a strong platform to build a big first innings score.
  3. The DRS has grabbed far too many headlines in this series, and Old Trafford also witnessed a terrible howler. Once again, the fault isn’t with the system, but with human error. Usman Khawaja was given out caught behind to Graeme Swann by Tony Hill. Khawaja immediately asked for a review, and Kumara Dharmasena in the third umpire’s box unbelievably decided against overturning the decision. The slow-motion replay clearly illustrated a gap between bat and ball, Hot Spot didn’t reveal an edge and there was barely any sound. There has been some really poor umpiring on display by the third umpires in this series, and for the sake of the cricket fan, I am hoping against hope for an upturn in the standard of decision making from here on in.
  4. A ‘Captain’s Innings’ is probably the most ubiquitous refrain from commentators and writers alike whenever a captain scores a century. In the context of this series, Michael Clarke’s unbeaten 124 truly was a captain’s innings. Clarke came in after the unjust dismissal of Khawaja, and it would have been very easy for the Australian batsmen to feel sorry for themselves and go into a collective meltdown. In stead, Clarke played some beautiful shots to start his innings at a good pace, and then hatched down for the long haul. He was unruffled throughout his stay at the crease, didn’t offer a single chance, and inevitably compiled a very good century. In addition to the scoreboard, Clarke’s innings will surely have given the Australian team a shot of confidence in what has been a difficult tour.
  5. The benefits of a good run-out in a warm-up game could be seen in Steven Smith’s unbeaten 70. Yes, Smith conceivably could have been dismissed four times during his stay at the crease. Nonetheless, he made the best of the fortune bestowed upon him, diligently leaving balls outside the off stump, and capitalizing on anything short and on his legs. I remarked after the first innings of the first test, that Smith has displayed a level-headed temperament in recent series, and he has now surely sealed his place in the Australian middle order for the rest of this series as well as the return series in Australia later this year.
  6. The 174 runs that Clarke and Smith have compiled together is easily the best batting partnership for Australia this series. Both played with maturity, but the real hallmark of the partnership was the excellent running between the wickets. They turned many ones into twos, and many twos into threes, running England’s fielders ragged and crucially denying England’s bowlers any chance at establishing a rhythm by constantly rotating the strike.
  7. Stuart Broad was extremely unlucky not to have Smith’s wicket just after tea. Broad had Smith plumb in front of the wicket, but with no reviews remaining for England, Smith escaped and potentially changed the course of the match. A return of 0 for 80 reflects poorly on Broad’s efforts, as he often bowled in the corridor of danger. One gets the feeling that Broad isn’t far away from taking a significant haul of wickets, all he needs is a couple of edges to go his way, and England’s ultimate confidence man could become a major player in the series.
  8. England certainly can’t control the weather, but they can control the condition of the pitches in a home series. While Australia are certainly at their weakest on slow low pitches, there are days when the English bowling attack can look extremely pedestrian on such wickets. Of course England are pinning their hopes on Swann exploiting conditions on the last two days of the match, but even the world’s premier off spinner needs the pitch to have pace in order to be at his most dangerous. Considering Australia’s weakness against swing is just as glaring as it is against spin, England could do worse than cater to their three fast bowlers.
  9. That being said it was no secret beforehand that Old Trafford was going to be slow and low. Keeping that in mind, it would have been nice to see England abandon their textbook formulas for once by selecting Monty Panesar ahead of Tim Bresnan to provide some variety to their attack.
  10. So how do Australia consolidate their position? Crossing 300 for the first time in these Ashes must feel like an accomplishment, but they certainly can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Clarke and Smith should first and foremost see out the first hour and possibly the whole session. If Australia can get to 400 with the loss of only four wickets, they can really push on aggressively against an English attack that really doesn’t relish bowling when the opposition is primed for an assault.
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