Joe Root

Moving Day: Shane Watson versus England (and the Australian public)

England is on top at Sophia Gardens and the stage is set for Shane Watson to silence his critics and keep his side in the Test. The first two days have been difficult for Australia and England has proven resilient and disciplined with bat and ball.

Coming in, Australia’s bowling was its strength and England was primarily concerned with how to manage that threat. Flat and deadened pitches were expected and Cardiff has delivered. But from a position of strength in bowling, Australia now looks slightly uncertain with the ball.

The series started terribly for Australia with the loss of their main strike bowler and pack leader Ryan Harris. England feared Mitchell Johnson after he murdered them in 2013-14, but will feel slightly less threatened after he finished with 0/111 from 25 overs. Johnson received a huge, stadium-wide standing ovation after ‘scoring a ton’ and the taunting will get louder in the second innings if wickets elude. Johnson bowled far better than the stats demonstrate and remains a potent weapon.

England’s resilience was proven after they moved from 3/43 to 430. They stole 87 runs for their last 3 wickets at the start of Day 2 and pushed the Aussies off the field looking flat. England were led by the superstar Joe Root (134) – who was dropped by Haddin on 0 – and an excellent lower order dig by Moeen Ali (77), who is probably the most overqualified number 8 to play Ashes cricket. Ian Bell’s failings are papered over for now. He has 11, 1, 0, 0, 1, 29, 12 and 1 from his last 8 Test inns.

The Aussies navigated a tricky 45 minutes before the lunch break. Broad and Anderson hovered and their superior knowledge of the conditions was demonstrated by their fuller length. England plundered runs square of the wicket, proving that Australia’s bowlers banged it in too short, too often. Broad and Anderson were at the stumps and at the pads, full and swinging both ways and were rewarded when Warner snicked up for 17.

England’s discipline persisted and their well-executed plans rewarded them with a position of ascendency. They have removed Australia’s top five batsmen and although each of their bowlers contributed to Cook’s plans of building pressure, the Australians will be smarting at the nature of their dismissals; five questionable shots and five catches.

Thousands of Australians have joined a growing chorus of ridicule directed at Shane Watson and were outraged when he retained his place in the side of ahead of Mitch Marsh. But as soon as Harris went down, Watson became a certainty. He is a better bowler than Marsh and provides stiffer support to Starc, Johnson, Hazlewood and Lyon, but his batting is most maligned and now it is what Australia needs most to stay in the match.

Watson is 29 not out and Australia trail by 166. Nightwatchman Nathan Lyon joined him in the fading light yesterday and only Brad Haddin remains in the shed for Australia. Starc and Johnson can bat a bit but Watson must deliver if Australia is to get back at England. Day three – moving day – awaits.

When will Australia declare and can England fight and survive?

Smashing feet and hands Mitchell Johnson has continued his resurgence by assaulting England’s batsmen and putting Stuart Broad out of this Test. Australia are on the brink of victory, England on the slippery slope to oblivion.

How the chips have fallen

On Day 1 Australia won the toss and batted. Within minutes a disastrous run-out (a felony in a Test Match) put Australia on the back-foot. By drinks in the 2nd session Australia were 5/150 and sailing to a below par score. The stage was set for young number 5 Steve Smith who scored a fine century and assisted the hosts to put on the most runs ever scored in a day at Perth (326). Smith was aided by solid batting from Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson and Australia’s tail helped to secure an eventual 385 run total.

England began well with Cook and Carberry navigating the new ball and posting 85 runs off 25overs. After Carberry’s departure partnerships were scarce and wickets fell periodically. England can feel aggrieved by Joe Root’s dismissal. It was a tough call.

At 4/180odd on day 3 England were still in the Test with a strong chance of at least a draw, but tight and relentless bowling picked off England’s batsmen who were hurried out for a total of 235. Needing to bowl Australia out cheaply in the second innings England’s struggles, compounded by Broad’s absence, were exemplified by David Warner and Chris Rogers. The Australian openers put on 157 for the first wicket and drove England out of the game. Warner’s second century of the series carved England to pieces and the matter of declaration timing and the unleashing of Australia’s bowlers again now rages as the most popular topic at water coolers in Australian offices.

Warner, Clarke and Haddin have combined to score 4 more runs (1054) than the combined total of England’s squad (1050) in this series and it seems the trend is set to continue.

How are England doing?

A ragged England displayed their worst characteristics during the last 30 minutes of day 3. Test cricket is a psychological game and assessing micro interactions and on-field choices is a viable method of determining where a team or an individual is at. Here’s the picture that unfolded during that final 30 minutes on Sunday evening.

Severely under the pump and way behind in the game, but with potential to salvage a draw still available to tap, a defeatist England portrayed a team on a sharp decline ambivalent about fighting for a draw.  In the fading sunshine bemused faces were carried by nonchalant and exhausted bodies.

We’ve heard how influential the Barmy Army have been in the good times, spurring on England’s bowlers to rip through batting line ups and fire the team during fighting sessions, but yesterday their influence seemed poisonous.

As England’s players lobbed about unenthusiastically in the field, the jovial Barmy Army led by their happy trumpeter, sang and clapped as if at a birthday party. The malapropos tunes of the trumpet drifted across the WACA and seemed to deflate England further. The ill-matched fandom inspired a half-baked appeal from James Anderson and Matt Prior for a “catch” down the leg side to Steve Smith. Prior’s tongue-in-cheek appeal was over spiced with desperation.

Cook, Prior, Swann and others shared a laugh, but they provided the comedy for the rest of us when, in ridiculous circumstances, England chose to review a Joe Root appeal for LBW. Root, bowling around the wicket to Shane Watson pitched the ball about 12inches outside leg stump, hit the pad about 3inches outside leg and appealed as if it was a sure thing. The umpire almost laughed while declining the appeal, but Cook engaged the DRS. It was a pathetic referral and an insight into England’s diminished attitude and fortunes.

Meanwhile, the Barmy Army chanted the theme to Escape to Victory, again, for the fifteenth time that day and for the forty fourth millionth time in recent history. A refreshed repertoire is required on and off the pitch if England are to save this Test and keep the fight for the Ashes Urn alive.

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The Adelaide spectacle – 2nd Ashes Test 2013-14

Do you have any plans for the weekend?

Cancel them. England resume tomorrow on 1/35 and they’re chasing a mountain of Australian runs. At first, the bowling will be fresh and fierce and then tactically relentless, the batting should be stoic and the contest will paralyze spectators.

Australia will rue the missed chance from the last ball of day 2. Michael Carberry found himself on strike after Joe Root bizarrely took off for a mindless single on the second last ball of the day. Carberry was unable to connect bat with ball and would have been given out LBW had Australia reviewed the original not-out decision. Carberry survived Root’s capricious run.

Australia’s Adelaide innings

Far for from being impulsive Australia’s batting card indicates collective contribution. Only Steve Smith missed out. At 5 for 270odd at stumps on Day 1 honours were said to be even. I probably had England ahead on the basis that 450 seemed par for the Adelaide Oval.

I missed the first day’s play while participating in a conference. All day I dreamed of the conference’s conclusion and the afternoon’s drive to cricket training where my car’s radio and the famed ABC commentary would catapult me from corporate slogans and into modern, sporting warfare.

My radio wouldn’t work. Seething is one expression. There were many others screamed at fictitious technological gods and slow drivers too. Nonetheless I caught up on the day’s play during the late night sports news.

Graeme Swan remarked buoyantly that if England claimed early wickets on Day 2 then they could exert authority on the Test Match.

By the Tea Break on Day 2 the Australian captain’s crafty century drove England into submission and forced the holders of the precious Ashes Urn to wait patiently for an innings declaration. Vice captain Brad Haddin more than chimed in with a studiously crafted century of his own and when tail ender and Australian fast-bolwing spearhead Ryan Harris knocked up a casual 50odd off tired English bowling, the declaration finally came.

Australia had set England 570 runs.

England’s innings so far

Mitchell Johnson was unleashed late on the second day and given a mandate to attack England’s opening batsmen. Bowling in excess of 150kph Johnson terrorised Michael Carberry and Alistair Cook. The latter had his stumps torn from the ground and looked more than all at sea trying the fend off the red leather assault. The England captain seemed as if he was in outer space and will probably consider staying there if his side do not bat for at least the majority of day 3.

The amazing game of Test Cricket

The Ashes kicks off tomorrow at 10am Queensland time, but get yourself in front of the television at 0745am.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the Test Match between West Indies and New Zealand. The Caribbean tourists had won the toss and sent New Zealand in to bat. The host team embraced the invitation to score runs and blasted over 600 and then skittled the West Indies for a paltry 213. Required to follow on the West Indies looked down and beaten, but in a twist that even the finest pundit would not have been able to predict, the tourists remain unbeaten in their second innings and will take a 47 run lead into Day 5. Darren Bravo is not out on 210.

That match promises an entertaining conclusion and the changing fortunes of the sides beset by brilliant individual performances is yet another example of how great Test Match cricket really is.

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Australia Resurrected – What about the sledging controversy?

Australia have annihilated England in an amazing First Test at Brisbane. The magnitude of this victory is so great that early observations point toward a possible shift in continental cricketing power. With four Test Matches to go in this series there’s a long time before any compelling assertions can be made about that, but the writing is on the wall for England.

The rivalry between these players is immense and I have no doubt that England will attempt to stage an aggressive fight back. Australia will be ready.

The needle

On Saturday night David Warner accused England of being scared. England’s captain Alistair Cook refuted this and believes Warner’s comment was “disrespectful”. He is probably fair in his assessment that sledging should be kept on the field of battle. I detected a slight agitation from the normally composed England captain and I sense that England’s dressing room will be bristling about this defeat and some of the incidents. Quite a bit of savage needle was exchanged in the middle.

Update: Now that Johnathon Trott has returned home to England with a stress related illness Warner’s comment is attracting even more attention and criticism. I think it is outrageously harsh to pin any blame for Trott’s circumstances on David Warner. He wasn’t to know Trott’s state of health, which is likely to expand well beyond any comments about cricket performances. Trott seems to be a good bloke and he is an exceptional cricketer. I wish him well and hope he has a speedy recovery.

Michael Clarke gave James Anderson a significant spray late on the final day and some media have suggested he overstepped the mark, but I say leave it to the players. They know the limits, they know what is proportionate and as Clarke has said “he gives as good he gets”. England have certainly given it. James Anderson is one of the most prolific sledgers going around.

This is high stakes professional cricket and it is a massive rivalry. Let’s not forget that there are two umpires out in the middle and they are the arbiters, not the random punters phoning radio stations on a moral crusade.

Update: The ICC has since fined Clarke 20% of his match fee. I find this to be a popular reactionary measure issued only because the stump microphones were erroneously left on and the broadcaster beamed the sledge “get ready for a broken f*&^%$g arm” into lounge-rooms.

Both captains received extra treatment from bowlers and surrounding fielders.

The resurrection

On the fourth and final day, with the match on the line, Mitchell Johnson chose to get stuck into the England captain and didn’t hesitate to remind the Barmy Army about his resurrection. And what a resurrection it is. Johnson was slaughtered by England fans and media during the 2010-11 Ashes series and was criticised for his supposedly weak mentality.

It’s clear this man possesses a strong character and a supreme work ethic. To return from where he was – out of the side and on the alleged decline – is an outstanding personal and professional achievement. In this Test he scored over 100 runs and was dismissed only once. He took 9 wickets with some huge scalps thrown in. It was rather fitting that the match ended with him taking a catch off his own bowling. I thoroughly enjoyed his hostility. It reminded me of the great West Indian quicks I recall from growing up. Long may it continue.

Are Australia back?

Australia have snapped a streak of nine Test Matches without a victory and they’ve done it with sensational style. There’s a lot of cricket to go before we say Australia are back though.

The victory was completed with notable contribution from all eleven players and this is vital. The form of David Warner, Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and the bowling effort from Johnson and Lyon is ominous for England. In the past 18months Australia’s Test team has resembled a metropolitan bus stop. With various players coming and going and shifting up and down the order. In stark contrast Australia now looks solid. The revolving selection door may just have slammed shut. Suddenly it is England who will consider changes.

I note that Sky Sports in England is running a poll asking readers to vote whether Johnathon Trott should be dropped.

Update: If David Warner should be targeted for criticism, will sections of the English sports media be singled out too? Some immediately after the Test defeat, launched a savage campaign to sack Johnathon Trott.

There will be questions about Chris Tremlett and Joe Root, but mainly because England may consider an all-rounder or extra spinner at Adelaide.

Pending fitness, Australia shouldn’t change their team. George Bailey must be given the entire series to prove is he cut out for a top six Test batting spot. Nathan Lyon sparked the collapse of England’s batting on Day Two and took the vital wickets of Cook and Prior on Day Four. Peter Siddle consistently beat the bat and snared the prized wicket of Ian Bell on the last day. Ryan Harris remains Australia’s spearhead bowler. Steven Smith contributed an invaluable 32 runs in Australia’s faulty first innings and Chris Rogers is Australia’s rock.

England’s batting

Six wickets for 9 runs in 53 minutes on Day 2. England simply didn’t bat well enough in this Test Match. They lost 4/10 after the thunderstorm had passed on Day 4 and eventually 6/37 to lose. They failed to score 200 in either innings on a good cricket wicket and Stuart Broad was the only player to score more than 8 in both innings. Bad batting and brilliant bowling combined with well executed tactics ensured England perished well short of par.

The record of most of England’s players indicates they will respond. If there’s one player who might break Sachin Tendulkar’s record 51 Test centuries it could be Alistair Cook. He has 25 and is 28, but Cook has four 50s against Australia in his last 12 Test innings, and no centuries.

The England captain needs to lift if his team are to fight back and retain the Ashes.

Kevin Pietersen is another who must lift. He has 1 century and three 50s against Australia from 12 innings in 2013. Johnathon Trott has two 50s and no centuries against Australia in 12 innings. The time is nigh for these batsmen and Adelaide is the pitch. If they cannot redeem themselves there then the chorus of discontent will reverberate loudly.

Update: It seems England’s obvious choice to replace Trott is Johnny Bairstow with perhaps a likely reshuffling of the batting order. Tim Bresnan is another candidate, but it seems England require a full-time batsmen.

Closure

I had a cracking time watching the First Test in Brisbane. I had to leave the ground early on the final day when the hail stones hit. Alas, I had to return to my home port for work on Monday. I was able to catch the last few wickets on the television at the airport. As I entered the Qantas Club lounge at Brisbane I was greeted by roars of joy as hundreds of people in the lounge were huddled around televisions cheering on Australia. Those who think Test cricket is dead, think again. It is alive and thriving and so is this Test Series. See you all next week for the Adelaide preview.

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2-0 to England and Australia’s invertebrate batting

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!

2nd Test, Day Three – Review (Root’s rout)

To borrow lyrics from a famous Paul Kelly song;

“there’s two sides out there and only one of ’em’s playing cricket” *

England’s Joe Root performed brilliantly on Day Three at Lords, dispelling the perception he was the weak link in the host’s top order. Root routed Australia and batted right through the day amassing an unbeaten 178 off 334 balls including 18 fours and 2 sixes. The Root epic was exactly the type of innings Australia’s top order have shown to be utterly incapable of replicating and it also established, with abundant force, just how pathetically inadequate Australia’s first innings batting display was. Across two innings Root himself now leads Australia by 56 runs, and if Captain Cook decides to carry on the punishment for Australia’s bowlers it’s possible he alone could establish a lead Australia couldn’t successfully chase.

Declaration

England’s Captain will declare at some point during the first session on Day Four, perhaps providing Root enough time to nail a double tonne and to push the lead beyond 600. Some may have questioned why the declaration hasn’t come already. With plenty of time and a good weather forecast, why wouldn’t England take this opportunity to belt Australia into total submission, by setting an impossibly gargantuan lead and physically and psychologically brutalising Australia’s only strong point, its bowlers.

With another three Tests to play in this series – and another 5 in Australia soon after – this is good captaincy from Cook. In an intensely psychological game, nobody should underestimate the lasting impact this approach may have on England’s opposition.

My night

I missed most of Day Three as I was otherwise engaged. I did manage to see a few overs in a bar late on in the second session when I joined a heap of the lads for a pint. The English amongst our posse were quick to remind us of the tortuous pain they’d endured from a many a big mouthed Aussie, when Australia battered England for a 15 year period. We weren’t getting any sympathy from them last night, as they enjoyed the spectacle and cheered on Joe Root and co.

 

* This is a reference to a quote by Donald G Bradman who made this statement during the infamous Bodyline series – the 1932-33 Ashes Series in Australia. Paul Kelly wrote a song about Bradman in which this statement is quoted.