Gary Ballance

Australia become number 2 and England give India a real blue

Seismic shifts in world cricket. They’re busting up proceedings all the time. Last week England were in  tatters. They hadn’t won in 10 Tests, their Captain was eyeing off a bloody guillotine and the wicket-keeper had walked away. Today their Captain sits comfortably at slip and marshals a buoyant and aggressive bowling unit who have the scent of Indian blood firmly ensconced in their nasal passage.

Overnight their batsmen plundered an indolent India and declared after scoring over half a thousand runs. Their new wicket keeper battered 85 off 83 – leading to ridiculously premature comparisons with Adam Gilchrist – and Gary Ballance and Ian Bell looked a million pounds on their way to 156 and 167. On Day 1 Ali Cook had at least bequeathed some of the pressure on his batting towards his leadership qualities by scoring a gritty 95. Now he has India precariously perched on 1/25.

England must win this Test Match. Mathematically, if they don’t they can still win the series, but the bounce they’ll get and the critics they’ll savagely retort (including me) at least in the immediate short term will propel the dressing room and startle India – who are known for lacking a bit of fight when things get tough away from home. But, let’s not get carried away. England’s had two better days at playing cricket than they’ve had for a little while. The uncertainty of Cook’s leadership and tactical nous remains and administrative and dressing room issues require much more work.

A development that might stir up an incredulous response from Australian cricket fans is the change in ICC Test Rankings overnight. South Africa have retaken number one billing off Australia after winning a 2 Test Series 1-0 in Sri Lanka. It could have been so different. On a dreary last day of the 2nd Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo South Africa resisted a desperate Sri Lankan bowling attack to nut out a thrilling draw. With the Proteas leading 1-0 their foci lay on preservation and defiance. At 6/118 with 13 overs remaining rain fell. But, it quickly subsided and the Proteas had to face the wrath – or more accurately the Rangana Herath, who took 5/40 off 45 overs. But, South Africa’s tail clung on at 8/159 securing a 1-0 win and a return to the top of the pops.

In other news the ICC is to “investigate” pro-Gaza wrist bands worn by England’s Moeen Ali during the Test v India. Apparently political messages are banned by the ICC. And Kevin Pietersen has signed up to play for the Melbourne Stars in Australia’s Big Bash League in the southern summer. Could be the first time the bloke isn’t unanimously booed at the MCG?

KP has also come out and said that he “feels sorry for the geezer” when discussing former England Captain Andrew Strauss’s recent on air gaffe where he labelled KP “an absolute c***”. Clearly the personality feud continues even though both men are now ex team-mates.

Cook won a toss, but dropped a Root

England’s Captain won his first coin toss of the series and surprisingly elected to field. When Australia slumped to 5 for 97 Alistair’s Cook’s decision was vindicated, Vic Flowers led the Barmy Army into song and for a brief moment the 4-0 scoreline was forgotten. Enter Brad Haddin and Steve Smith.

They put on 128 in an afternoon session that England will seek to forget, or analyse deeply if they’re serious about rebuilding, which we can somewhat doubt given the fact that they bizarrely dropped Joe Root. The 23 year old batsmen is one of England’s best prospects and would get a game in most Test sides as a lad for the future. He is not the worst performing bastmen for England on this tour, at times he has done well – a notable 87 in Adelaide – and has had to put up with batting at opener, 5, 6 and 3 in the year 2013 alone. If England want to rebuild for the future – as they have repeatedly stated – then Joe Root must be part of that future. Dropping him for this Test is a silly mistake.

Enough of that. Steve Smith, at 24 perhaps Australia’s closest comparable player to Joe Root, scored a brilliant hundred today, which rescued and returned ascendency to the hosts. Brad Haddin, who is the only player within a country mile of challenging Mitchell Johnson for Player of the Series, provided a substantial foil scoring 75 off 90 balls. In the circumstances, Haddin’s 75 represented a brutal counter-attack that smothered England’s bowlers. Haddin is not shy of on-field needle and sprayed England with aggressive verbals, body language and stroke play.

England’s bowling line up suffered with the loss to injury of debutant Boyd Rankin, who went off twice for an unknown injury. Perhaps Rankin should be playing for Ireland given that he was born in Derry in Northern Ireland. I only digress to this because Ireland has produced a number of Test standard players recently and the time is nigh for them to be included in Test cricket so that players like Rankin and Eoin Morgan can represent their own country.

After Ben Stokes, a brilliant find for England and a great prospect for the future, took his sixth wicket Australia had made 326. The Aussies nipped out Michael Carberry before stumps to have England somewhat reeling at 1/8. Carberry’s dismissal was not a good look for the talented Sir Viv impersonator from Surrey. An obvious leg slip trap was set and he obliged flicking a hip ball into the hands of a delighted Nathan Lyon. Carberry had got away with an unchallenged snick behind the ball before and surrendered weakly the ball after. At 33 Carberry had to wait far too long for an extended chance with England, but unless he shows more fight in tough circumstances his tenure is under threat too.

Win the toss and bat for days – The Adelaide Oval, 2nd Ashes Test

Do not win the toss and elect to bowl at the Adelaide Oval. Win it and bat for 2 days.

A simple plan and one that both captains will be hoping to institute on Thursday morning. Neither Michael Clarke or Alistair Cook will make the mistake that West Indian captain Darren Sammy made yesterday, against New Zealand in Dunedin. Sammy won the toss and elected to field. New Zealand carved out 600 runs and forced the lads from the Caribbean to bowl 150 overs before declaring.

England will be more thoughtful about declaration if they find themselves in a position of ascendency at the Adelaide Oval. In 2006 the then England captain Andy Flintoff declared England’s first innings for 550. England subsequently lost that Adelaide Test Match and the series 5-0. They’ll choose to recall their most recent experience instead. In 2010 England pounded an Australian bowling attack that could only be described as relatively sub-standard. Xavier Doherty and Marcus North toiled away attempting to fill the role of spin attack, while an injured Doug Bollinger failed to penetrate formidable and strident English batting.

This time the form suggests Australia’s bowling will present an entirely different proposition. The “Gabbatoir” performance in Brisbane last week had exponents and appreciators of aggressive quick bowling salivating. Adelaide’s pitch will be different, but exactly how different remains a mystery.

This is not the usual Adelaide wicket. The South Australian Cricket Association accepted big money from AFL to redevelop the ground and this means that for the first time in Adelaide a Test Match will be played on a “drop in” pitch sourced from elsewhere.

Only two Sheffield Shield matches have been played there this season. Shield players have described a wicket that failed to deteriorate throughout the four days. Perhaps the curator has something different in stall for this Test Match. Only time will tell.

England spent a week in Alice Springs after the Brisbane demolition. In Australia’s red centre they closed ranks and mostly avoided Australian media. Their performance in a 2 day tour match against an Australian Chairman’s XI was ordinary. Questions about their XI for this Test remain, but it seems that Gary Ballance and Tim Bresnan will replace Johnathon Trott and Chris Tremlett or Monty Panesar may be added as a second spinner. If the Australian camp feels confident in Shane Watson’s ability to bowl 15-25overs in an innings then I think they will be unchanged from Brisbane.

The next few days should deliver an enthralling cricket experience and a highly competitive sequel to the epically dramatic and one-sided first Test. Enjoy the spectacle!

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