Friday, August 2, 2013

Efficient Australia take up dominant position at Old Trafford

Australia piled on the runs against a demoralized English bowling attack, and then seized the initiative by capturing two late wickets at the end of the second day's play of the third Ashes test at Old Trafford. Some reflections on another dominant day for Australia include:

  1. I remarked yesterday that Michael Clarke and Steven Smith's first port of call on the second day was to bat out the first hour of the morning session. They did so in ideal fashion, leaving balls outside off stump and seeing out maidens from England's fast bowlers under overcast skies. After putting in the hard yards, Smith rather perplexingly threw away his wicket and maiden test century with an unwarranted slog sweep against Graeme Swann. Smith was rightfully frustrated with himself, but he played a vital part in a 214 run stand with his skipper.
  2. Sometimes the most entertaining passages of play in sport take place when a pantomime villain arrives on the scene. David Warner's Ashes tour will forever be remembered for his punch at Joe Root in a pub in the aftermath of a Champions Trophy loss to England. The crowd at Old Trafford needed no invitation to boo Warner's arrival at the crease. Warner's tepid innings came to an end with an element of comedy as well, when he decided to review a very obvious edge to slip, and consequently another cacophony of boos accompanied him on his walk to the pavilion.
  3. Michael Clarke's 187 could end up being the defining innings of his captaincy. Until he got bowled by Stuart Broad, Clarke seemed on course for a well deserved double century. The innings was punctuated with some glorious shots on the off side, and his disdain for Tim Bresnan's bowling on the second day was a sight to behold. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing when in form, Clarke has also developed the habit of scoring 'daddy' hundreds, hardly ever getting out below 150 once he passes the century mark.
  4. In this series, Brad Haddin has proved that Cricket Australia made a big mistake when they decided to give Matthew Wade a run in the team as first choice wicket-keeper. Not only is Haddin the better man behind the wicket, but he is a clearly the better test batsman as well. Haddin is equally comfortable supporting a settled batsman from the top order, or getting extra runs for the team playing with the tail. His unbeaten 65 exemplified his solid temperament, whereby he scores runs at a fair clip without looking unduly risky. The vice-captain's contributions are going to be crucial if Australia are to remain competitive for the rest of the series.
  5. Mitchell Starc scored an ebullient unbeaten 66 of 71 balls to speed up Australia's declaration. In addition to his innings today, Starc scored an unbeaten 68 against South Africa in November, and 99 against India in March. There have been several column inches dedicated to the reasons for Australia's batting failures, but if their number nine can muster up an average of 32.83, then surely the problem is one of temperament and mentality rather than pitches and techniques.
  6. I mentioned after Ashton Agar's onslaught in the first test, that for all the potency of this English attack, they can fall to pieces pretty quickly if they stay in the field for too long. That's exactly what happened after Australia crossed 400 at Old Trafford. It's becoming an alarming habit for their bowlers over the past year, and if England are to have any serious claims of regaining the number one spot in test cricket, the think tank simply has to come up with a remedy.
  7. Alastair Cook is still a young captain, and one can't be too harsh on a captaincy that has yielded a series victory in India and a comfortable 2-0 lead in the Ashes. Nevertheless, Cook hasn't shown imagination with his bowling changes during his nascent reign as English skipper. As the Australian batsmen were making merry, Graeme Swann was the only bowler with a palatable level of success. On a pitch that is supporting turn, it was surely worth a try to get Joe Root bowling in tandem with Swann to cause the Australian batsmen some more problems.
  8. Nathan Lyon bowled ten overs of controlled quality spin to suggest that he is going to play a big role in the remainder of this test match. Lyon asked more questions of the English batsmen in his spell than Ashton Agar did in the entirety of the first two tests. Notwithstanding the feel good factor of Agar's 98, it was a poor cricketing decision to select the teenager ahead of Lyon, who lest we forget took a seven wicket haul in the last test against India in India.
  9. Peter Siddle should justifiably get the plaudits for his two late wickets on the second day, but once again an umpiring decision came to the forefront. Marais Erasmus gave Tim Bresnan out caught behind even though the ball missed the bat comfortably. Bresnan's wicket might not have a bearing on the larger scheme of things as far as this test is considered, but it consolidated the fact that Erasmus is having a horrible series. The umpires are becoming increasingly prominent in this series, and that certainly isn't a good thing.
  10. At this stage of the match only two results seem plausible, an Australian victory or a draw. Australia have had their best two days of the series, and if they are to ram home the advantage it will be crucial to dislodge the pair currently occupying the crease as soon as possible. Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott became the bane of Australian bowlers in the last Ashes down under, and it will come as no surprise to see the duo solely focused on occupying the crease on the third morning with scant regard for aesthetics and entertainment. In addition to Lyon's spin and Siddle's honest effort, Australia's bid to win will be greatly aided if Starc can make the batsmen play more often. Even at this early stage of the match, one can't escape the feeling that the first two sessions on the third day will witness the decisive acts of this test.

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