Ashes 2015

England Cooked: Bell’s Lyth hangs in the Ballance

If Australia were beaten convincingly in Cardiff, England has been mutilated at Lords. They were dead lucky to crack 100 on a pudding of a cricket pitch where Australia had scored 820.

If Stuart Broad didn’t counter-attack and top score with 25, England were destined for a sub-100 annihilation. So heavy was the 405 run defeat, at least four English players face the chopping block for the next Test.

It’s an intergalactic reversal of fortunes that will leave betting agency strategists ripping shreds of hair from balding scalps. Adam Lyth appears to have already done that. He was worked over, again, by Mitchell Starc in the second innings and is under to pressure to stay in the team. England’s used about 12 openers since their tour of Australia in 2013-14 and it seems Cook might have to open the batting by himself if the current trend continues.

The top order is failing. England have been 3 for 70 or worse in 11 of their last 13 Tests. Garry Ballance is all at sea against genuine pace and Ian Bell’s Lyth also hangs in the Ballance.

The Pitch

Before the series it was speculated that England might order the preparation of flat and soft pitches to negate Australia’s ferocious pace attack. But in June Cricket Froth warned that this would be counter-productive; “England does not have a frontline spinner. Whatever is done to tame pitches for Australia’s fast bowlers will have equal effect on the hosts.”

And so it did. Jimmy Anderson went without a wicket at Lords. A lifeless feather bed suited to scoring thousands when the sun was shining was equally unhelpful to England’s own formidable pace attack. But Australia has something England do not; genuine express pace through the air and with that, sometimes you don’t need a favourable pitch. Although Anderson and Broad are sharp, Johnson and Starc are Orient (express).

Johnson bowled well and without luck in Cardiff but you could clearly see England’s batsmen were wary, if not fearful.

In the fourth innings at Lords England’s fear was exemplified in their swatting evasion and eventually, for Cook, Ali and Buttler, their dismissals. Australia were hostile. Johnson extracted bounce and carry and struck Joe Root in the face and prized out Moeen Ali, who had no choice but to protect his life when one reared up into his bearded boat. He was caught at bat pad.

England's best batsman could not evade Johnson

England’s best batsman could not evade Johnson

All of Australia’s bowlers were in on the act suggesting that they hunted as a pack and sustained an unrelenting pressure that asphyxiated England to the point of hapless defeat.

What happens now?

The teams take a 10 day break before the third Test at Edgbaston. Birmingham is a completely different prospect to the private school-boy filled Lords. It’s a rowdy, fancy dress, beer swilling type atmosphere and the Barmy Army – banned at Lords – will be back on-board.

It is Warwickshire-man Ian Bell’s home ground and this might be the fact that saves his Test career. He’s a brilliant player who is deeply out of sorts and if Ballance goes, he may even find that selectors toss him a career defining challenge; bat at three.

At six wickets down last night the ECB were already tweeting about possible replacements: they announced a county century by Johnny Bairstow with a thinly veiled implication. Ballance and Lyth are also under the pump and some might be surpirsed to know that Marcus Trescothic is still getting around for Somerset. Could he replace Lyth? Steve Finn and Mark Foottit linger for Mark Wood’s place.

Trevor Bayliss, England’s new coach, is known to be conservative though and he may support the use of the same squad next week.

In a county match at Edgbaston on the weekend former New Zealand off-spinner Jeetan Patel took 5 wickets for Wawrickshire suggesting that Birmingham might be a spinner. Does England have one? Adil Rashid perhaps.

Shane Watson won’t get near the Australian all-rounder position after Mitch Marsh’s solid performance at Lords. He could get back in if Chris Rogers fails to recover from vertigo/illness and Australia elect to open with Watson instead of Shaun Marsh, the other option.

Watson got into Australia’s Test side at Edgbaston as an opener in 2009 when Phil Hughes was dropped after two Tests. It would be a strange quirk if Watson made it back into the side there next week.

The series is alive and England can be expected to retaliate.

Monster Nights: Australia bite back at Lords

A net session, two monster nights watching Australia bite back and a dangerous lack of sleep combined with house painting. Frantic 36 hours in my life it has been. I even sound like Yoda now.

On Thursday I headed down my local cricket club for a net with a few clubmen. A great way to kick off the second Test. My mediocre batting was extremely rusty, the feet didn’t move an inch. I had a profound thought: ‘this is what Bruce Reid felt like’. I was swatting away looking for Louie. It will be a long pre-season!

I headed home to my lovely partner who also loves Test match cricket. We (she) made some nice food and celebrated the first win, the toss. Australia needed to win that, bat first and make a big impression. That they have done.

Steve Smith, the world’s number one batsman, justified the tag. His ungainly technique, best described as (a long way) back and across was questioned by punters who believed the English conditions would undo him. A pair of 33s at Cardiff showed promise. He then became the first Aussie to nail a double ton at Lords since 1938.

Most blokes would be happy if this was their season wagon wheel. Steve Smith's 215 at Lords went all around the ground.

Most blokes would be happy if this was their season wagon wheel. Steve Smith’s 215 at Lords went all around the ground.

Smith takes guard outside leg stump and in instances of LBW appeals he often gets struck outside the line of off stump, demonstrating how far he moves across. Superstar batsman and part-time spinner Joe Root eventually got him LBW. But it was deeply controversial. The on-field umpire gave it out, Smith reviewed.

We all know the first golden rule of LBW. If it pitches outside leg stump it cannot be out. It doesn’t matter if ball tracking shows that it will hit the middle of middle. The other golden rule of LBW is that you cannot be given out if you were struck on the pad outside the line of off-stump.

The on-field umpire gave this out. Smith reviewed and the 3rd umpire failed to overturn the decision. Allegedly there is 1mm of the ball hitting Smith in line here. I think this system or assumption requires a review.

The on-field umpire gave this out. Smith reviewed and the 3rd umpire failed to overturn the decision. Allegedly there is 1mm of the ball hitting Smith in line here. I think this system or assumption requires a review.

Australia’s 8/566 declared was set up by Chris Rogers’ 173. He presented one of the finest catalogues of stroke play anyone could hope to see. The 37 year-old county circuit stalwart showed his team mates how to play in swinging English conditions. Broad and Anderson, two of the best fast bowlers the world has seen in the last 15 years, were negated by Rogers’ gentle and deeply effective late-play technique. He hit 28 fours on a fast outfield at his home ground (Rogers is Middlesex Captain). He and Smith put on 284 and Peter Nevill posted a nice 46 on debut.

Australia will be concerned that others didn’t make use of the conditions to find form. Clarke, Warner, Voges and Marsh need runs. England bowled much better on the second day and did well to restrict Australia below 600.

But the best bowling of the match was on display when Australia declared 10 minutes after the Tea break. Clarke sent his big three fast-bowlers out with a mission to rip into England’s top order. They responded with the best wholesale display of fast-bowling seen in the series so far. The young Josh Hazlewood bowled 10 overs on the bounce with the new ball and returned figures of 1/22. He was full and straight and swinging. There was none of the short and wide nonsense that Australia served up in Wales.

Hazlewood clean bowled Ian Bell. It was a ripper delivery and this ball tracker image displays the unplayable nature of the swing Hazlewood extracted from the heavily lacquered English Duke ball.

Hazlewood clean bowled Ian Bell. It was a ripper delivery. Ball tracker shows the huge swing Hazlewood extracted from the heavily lacquered English Duke ball.

Both of Australia’s left-armers were in on the act. Starc took out Adam Lyth and Mitchell Johnson coming on at first change knocked over Gary Ballance and snicked up the highly prized wicket of Joe Root. England were lucky not to be further in the hole with several french cuts narrowly missing stumps, yorkers desperately dug out and one or two snicks flying through recently unplugged holes in the cordon.

England will be pleased at the efforts of Ben Stokes and Alistair Cook to resist the onslaught and take England from 4/30 to 4/85 at stumps. The hosts trail by 481 and there’s a huge pile of work awaiting them on day 3.

The follow-on in Test cricket is 200 runs. So England need to make at least 366 to force Australia to bat again.

This picture sums up Lords nicely. It's a beautiful ground the gentry among the crowd enjoy the action with plenty of flowing bubbles.

This picture sums up Lords nicely. It’s a beautiful ground the gentry among the crowd enjoy the action with plenty of flowing bubbles.

A funny thing happened at two o’clock this morning watching the cricket. I was with a couple of good mates – Ian and Brad – and we’d set up camp for the evening with plenty of beers, ribs and wings. The night wore on and it became quite cold by local tropical standards. Ian pulls out a ridiculous bright red 1980s sports jacket with twin yellow pin stripes down the arms. The thing wouldn’t look out of place among the bacon and egg ties and jackets of the Marlybone Cricket Club at Lords.

Legend has it the jacket is actually MCC issue: “you get one when you make it onto the MCC Members waiting list”. If the big fella gets anywhere near the MCC his wife will never get him out of the long room bar!

Enjoy the rest of the Test frothers. This one is not over yet.

Ashes Series Selection Dilemma: Fitting 14 into 11

Australian selectors have one heck of a job picking 11 blokes to face England at Sophia Gardens. Contention rages over the middle order and the bowling attack but unlike 2009 or 2013 these are good problems; at least 14 guys make a good case for the Cardiff Test.

An almost leisurely two nil victory in the Caribbean confirmed two theories and uncovered another; Steve Smith is becoming one of the best batsman Australia has produced in over a decade, Australia’s fast bowling is lethal and Adam Voges is a capable dark horse. Perhaps a fourth note should be added, Shane Watson continues to pour on the match-winning 25s.

The Aussies begin with two four day tour matches and the first starts on 25 June at Kent followed by Essex at Chelmsford. This gives the players and selectors an opportunity to perform and assess.

Here’s a wrap of the Aussie touring party.

Certainty at the top

Chris Rogers missed two Tests in the Caribbean due to concussion but he surely returns to partner David Warner.

Steve Smith is Australia’s tenth number 3 since 2011 and – at 26 with an average of 56 and scores of 97, 162*, 52*, 133, 28, 192, 14, 117, 71, 25, 5*, 199 & 54* in his last 13 innings – could be the last number 3 Australia will need until about 2025.

Michael Clarke is determined to be the first captain to win in England since Steve Waugh in 2001.

The middle candidates

Shaun Marsh scored a ton on debut in 2011. Couldn’t get off the mark in several subsequent innings and was dropped. Came back in 2014 and has scores of 32, 17, 32, 99, 73 & 1 at number 5 against India and 19, 13*, 11 & 69 against West Indies filling at opener.

Adam Voges plundered a ton on debut against the West Indies. Voges’ selection baffled punters who’d prefer a younger talent but at 35 and with 11000 First Class runs at 46, Voges adds steel to Australia’s squad. After 14 years without a win in England this is not a series about blooding talent.

Mitchell Marsh was promising with the bat in the Tests he played against Pakistan and India and is unspectacular, although talented, with the ball.

Shane Watson… um. There’s still a strong chance he’ll play a key role in this series. He’s a great slips fielder. Every team needs one!

Wicket-keepers

Cricket Froth was convinced Brad Haddin would retire at the end of the summer. But at 37 Hads is keen as mustard to win a series in England. His presence is a huge asset for Australia. Opponents hate him; he brings the needle to this Aussie team (along with Watson from behind the stumps) and won’t be moved an inch by a combative English media or parochial home crowds. Peter Neville is Haddin’s capable back-up.

The bowlers

There’s only one thing as certain as the force of gravity on planet earth; Ryan Harris will play every single Test match in England if he is fit.

Splitting the rest is probably the most difficult task for selectors. Mitch Johnson murdered England last time and is in solid form. Mitch Starc swung the Duke a mile in the Caribbean and was lethal in the world cup and Josh Hazlewood has looked the part since hitting the Test scene. All these blokes bowl between 140-150kph and then there’s Peter Siddle, a proven workhorse who’s dropped to 5 in the pecking order.

In one sense the ECB could be expected to kill the local pitches to negate this ferocious attack, but England does not have a frontline spinner. Whatever is done to tame pitches for Australia’s fast bowlers will have equal effect on the hosts.

Nathan Lyon will be needed as Australia seems reluctant to play four fast bowlers. Victorian leg spinner Fawad Ahmed is the 17th man on tour and could be a trump card if a real turning pitch shows up.

In a strange video coming out of Dominica in the West Indies the Aussies revealed that pickle juice is used widely by players as a highly regarded cure for muscle cramps. See the Cricket Australia video here: http://www.cricket.com.au/video/chris-rogers-video-blog-pickle-juice-dehydration-west-indies-test-series-bupa/2015-06-19