Congratulations and well played England. Two nil up in the series and powering on toward what could be a resounding series victory at Old Trafford next week.
England batted for 18 minutes on Day Four with the declaration coming immediately after Joe Root got out for 180. Australia’s task was more about fighting for survival and showing character and resilience along the way, than serious consideration of a win. The highest fourth innings run chase in Test cricket is 418, so evidence suggests even the greatest of batting line ups would not have amassed the 580-odd required to win.
With Australia’s batting bereft of greatness they withered away from the start. Australia had just over 80 minutes to survive before the luncheon, but haemorrhaged three wickets before the interval. After lunch, Clarke and Khawaja provided some resistance, but when part-time spinner Joe Root nailed both of them in quick succession, the end was nigh.
Once again Australia’s bowlers, presently known for possessing more spine than their invertebrate batting colleagues, deferred the English victory until the last over of the day. The bottom four put on 85 with the number ten and eleven (Pattinson and Harris) outscoring five of Australia’s top seven.
Australia’s batting demise
There’s a lot to be said, but in brief there are three glaring issues.
Firstly, the shunting of Sheffield Shield to either end of the Australian summer to accommodate an increasingly dominant T20 “Big Bash”. It not only disrupts the Shield season, it diminishes its credibility and importance. The move sends completely the wrong message about cricket’s priorities and affects the development and skill set of young players. Not even India allows its popular IPL to clash with the Ranji Trophy, its First Class competition.
The Sheffield Shield format is not infallible. The points system pushes teams to chase outright victories. State sides are doing all they can to achieve this. In recent years pressure has been applied to groundsmen to prepare green-top pitches ensuring wickets will fall. For example, current Shield champions Tasmania turned Bellerive into a graveyard for visiting batting sides this past season.
Flicking through the scorecards of recent seasons reveals a lowering of team totals. Batsmen are becoming more fragile, less capable of compiling runs over long periods, and bowlers are robbed of the opportunity to toil and develop the skill to extract wickets on unforgiving surfaces. The pitches are a total mismatch to what is the norm in Test cricket.
Thirdly, Cricket Australia’s new excellence programs appear to rip young players out of traditional systems by changing the development pathways. Grade cricket is less and less the natural rung step for cricketers with aspirations.
Australia’s grade cricket used to be the best, at that level, in the world and provided a diverse mix of young talent, raw tearaways and qualified has-beens. It provided a tough, gritty and rewarding environment to serve a cricketing apprenticeship. Instead it seems getting a fancy tracksuit, heading down the nets to face a bowling machine and then playing in a glorified T20 carnival is more valued now.
CA have a lot to answer for. It’s time for James Sutherland and probably half the board to GO!