Lords

Who should play for Australia next?

The ten day break between Lords and the upcoming third Test at Old Trafford is like an oasis for Australia. A bounty of space and time devoid of Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann. There’s been no time for relaxation, jelly and ice cream though. A section of the touring party has been battling Sussex at Hove, while the rest receive counselling.

Some of Australia’s fans are in need of counselling too after we copped a seventh defeat in ten Test Matches in London last week. With James Pattinson returning home injured, David Warner piling on 193 for the A side in Pretoria, and Ed Cowan posting 66 and a 77 not out against Sussex, heart rates remain high with conjecture raging about Australia’s XI for the next Test.

Australia’s immensely bad batting, which I discussed in depth in the Lords Preview and again in Australia’s Invertebrate Batting, has generated vociferous commentary. If we analysed some of the propositions circulating, we’d have about fifteen different 11s. I’ve made my feelings clear about the big picture and some of the factors affecting Australia’s batting demise, but with some radical ideas frisbeeing about in relation to who should play next, I’m in the conservative camp when it comes to selection for the remainder of this series.

Stick with the squad

You can’t go ringing up blokes and dragging them in from all corners with inadequate preparation, and dump them in the middle of an intense Ashes contest. Some people have demanded “bring in young guys and start building”. This popular line is trotted out in all sports, whenever things aren’t great, but it’s a shallow throwaway. This is already one of the youngest assemblies of Australian Test players in the past 25 years.

Mishandling our player resources is now a habit that requires breaking. The last thing we need to do is inhibit some young lad’s development by having him terrorised by England’s attack in front of the Barmy Army, who will be deployed in force for the first time this series at Old Trafford.

You don’t develop players in the Test team, you develop them in First Class cricket and pick accomplished and proven candidates to play Test cricket. Clearly this hasn’t happened for Australia with recent selection lacking philosophy and consistent logic, so it’s time for some continuity.

Chopping and changing is something to avoid in these circumstances

He’s a strong candidate and it looks likely he’ll play in Manchester, but I believe David Warner should not be rushed back in on account of one score for Australia A. Over 1300 runs were scored in that match with 3 centurions, a double centurion and a collection of worthy starts. This indicates the pitch was like the Great Eastern highway.

Warner scored 33 in the second dig and reports suggest he had to be separated from a heated confrontation with the opposition wicket keeper. He was sent there for disciplinary reasons and to fix an ailing attitude. Has the penny dropped for Warner? I’m not sure, I’d tell him we want another hundred for the A team when they play Sth Africa A again on Wednesday, but I believe he’s just arrived back in England to rejoin the squad so it seems he’ll play and hopefully prove me wrong.

As for the top order that failed at Lords; We can argue that Phil Hughes shouldn’t have been brought back so soon (or at all) and that Watson is an opener, a number six or a T20 specialist. Simon Katich should not have been deposed in 2011, but he should not be brought back in now, and we should not play Mathew Wade (0 & 30not out v Sussex) – a future wicket keeper who should bat at 7 – as a top six batsman.

Ed Cowan was dropped after the First Test so to reinstate him in the Third creates a revolving door and perpetuates a culture of self-preservation and fear.

Frankly, there should only be two certain changes for Old Trafford

Jackson Bird or Mitchell Starc in for the injured Pattinson and Nathan Lyon in for Ashton Agar. Naturally, this assertion lacks detailed pitch and weather analysis and the fitness of our players could affect selection come Thursday, but I’m hoping for some continuity both in the line up and the batting order.

My Old Trafford XI

Watson, Rogers, Khawaja, Clarke, Hughes, Smith, Haddin, Siddle, Harris, Lyon, Bird. (12th man Starc)

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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.

2nd Test, Day Two – Review

After two days’ play at Lords, Australia need an absolute miracle to avoid their sixth straight Test defeat. The reason for this is pure, unadulterated, pathetic batting.

Why beat around the bush? Australia, in its current incarnate, are horrendous with the bat. If you haven’t already seen the score then don’t bother. We got nowhere near batting 120 overs, which I stated in an earlier post is about the requirement for a good 1st innings. Instead, Australia managed just over fifty overs at the crease, scoring a pitiful 128.

Closing England’s innings

The day started well enough with Harris bagging a couple of early wickets. England’s tail wagged sufficiently though, and pushed their first innings total over the 350 score I feared would put England on top. But, with a good batting track, a big occasion and plenty of time ahead, there was some hope that Australia’s batsmen could finally apply themselves and, at least, level England’s score.

The Australian batting calamity

I didn’t see any of the first session as we were out to dinner with a group of friends. Happy Birthday John. Some of us, including John, did plenty of phone checking to keep abreast of events 15,000 kilometres away in London.

I arrived home to catch most of the second session and was unfortunately a witness to Australia’s batting calamity. Shane Watson’s review was clearly an error of judgement in the use of DRS, again. Watson is a massive LBW candidate, regularly plays across his line and he should know that if he feels he didn’t hit it, then he is almost always out. And he was, again on a start for 30, last ball before lunch. There’s talk that his partner Rogers encouraged the review so maybe that absolves Watson of the “selfish review” critique on this occasion?

A short time into the second session the house of cards came crashing down. Chris Rogers copped a bizarre full toss from England’s spinner, G Swann, who appealed with the umpire obliging. Rogers, obviously feeling the nip of pressure and the narrative of Australia’s poor use of the DRS, decided not to review and walked. It was clearly not-out and DRS would have reinstated him.

The next man in, Philip Hughes – apparently totally oblivious that we were 2 for not many in a Test Match – went aggressively chasing a delivery outside off and got a feather snick to Prior at keeper. He was given out, but reviewed. DRS revealed a tiny hot spot and the inadmissible “snickometer” later confirmed a noise. Another poor use of DRS and Australia are 3/50-odd and have squandered our two reviews.

New number three Usman Khawaja looked like the man he replaced, Ed Cowan, looked in the First Test – totally spooked. He clearly didn’t want a bar of facing Graeme Swann and you could see that Swann’s probing was suffocating Khawaja, who eventually holed out with a weak, skied shot to mid-off Pietersen, who was able to read the newspaper before taking a comfortable catch.

Australia are now four down for, how do you say it, stuff all. England are sitting on the chest of our top order, slapping its face like a school yard bully.

When Steve Smith and Michael Clarke succumbed and then Ashton Agar ran himself out, the march of Australian batsmen back to the pavilion would rival the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage, however, is no once-in-a-lifetime experience – it’s occurring with the regularity of Sunday church.

I’ll spare you the rest of the painful details. You get the point. Anyone out there thinking that maybe the pitch is bad, or our luck is out of order, or that the poor use of DRS are the major contributing factors, kindly remove your head area from that grainy sediment stuff.

Speaking of the batting in the post-day’s-play press conference, Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann stated, “it was more one-day batting than Test much batting. We know we have to improve our batting over periods of time and bat a lot more than 55 overs. We believe the plans are right. Our shot selection was poor today. Simple as that. I think eight out of the 10 were self-inflicted to be perfectly honest.”

Where to from here? A friend asked what our options are in terms of other players, my response is as follows:

The reserve batsman on tour is now in the team and played a shocking shot to give away his wicket cheaply. The man he replaced is haunted at the prospect of batting. It will be detrimental to elevate reserve wicket-keeper Mathew Wade into the top six; we had the chance to prepare Brad Haddin to bat at six (with Wade at 7 as keeper) but ignored this option so Haddin must now stay at 7. We can’t go Skype-ing players back home and pleading them to come join the party, because they’re on the couch eating corn chips like the rest of us, watching on in horror. So this is it, we’ve got one of the largest touring parties over there, 18, since the days it took 2 months to get there on the ship. Pick 8 bowlers.

England’s second innings

Australia’s big game bowler, Peter Siddle, did it again late on Day Two. Removing each of England’s big three – Cook, Trott and Pietersen. Tim Bresnan joined Joe Root as nightwatchman and England limped through to stumps at 3/31, leading Australia by 264 runs.

Topical

For a significant period during Australia’s innings England employed the use of a substitute fielder. The commentators revealed that this man, a former county cricket stalwart, was in fact Chris Taylor, retired cricketer and current fielding coach of England. This is ridiculous. How can the rules permit a coach to take the field of play and participate in the match?

Protocol stipulates that a young and talented member of the host ground’s cricket club will get the opportunity to participate as a substitute fielder. Some sides have exploited this and utilised an older player, more accomplished at the art of good fielding. The most infamous of these incidents was Gary Pratt who ran-out Ricky Ponting in the 2005 Ashes series. This is controversial enough, but to use a coach? I  think that’s taking it way too far. Time for an ICC ruling on this one.

 

 

 

2nd Test, Lords – Day One review

Fabulous Lords, cricket’s majestic home. Doesn’t it look scintillating in the beaming sunshine!

Seeing the big golden fire ball beating down on England inspires one’s self to want to travel there and get amongst it. But, just ask any of us who’ve been lured in at the prospect of sunshine, lollipops and smiley times in the rolling hills. It’s bloody rare! I’ve been disappointed a few times.

Sitting at Lords last “summer” watching England v West Indies, we were clad in heavy coats and beanies, supping red vino. Loving the venue and appreciating a Shiv Chanderpaul special, but cursing the bitterly cold wind and 12 degree temperature. The elite and the lucky weren’t doing that last night (yesterday).

I was disappointed Australia lost the toss as the “belter” of a wicket indicated batting first would be advantageous, despite the tinge of green a top the famous slope. Australia confirmed a couple changes that had been leaked ahead of the toss, Starc and Cowan out for Harris and Khawaja. England dropped Finn for Bresnan.

The start was delayed somewhat by, it appears, Her Majesty the Queen who eventually greeted the players and allowed proceedings to continue toward first ball. Australia’s belligerent and highly admired former Captain Steve Waugh had the honour of ringing the Lords bell, which signals the beginning of the day’s play. Champion Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt rang the bell when we were there last year.

First Session

A slightly wayward start by James Pattinson permitted Alistair Cook to get a few easy runs early for England, but after just four overs Australia’s captain Michael Clarke took the brave decision to bring on Shane Watson. Australia’s fourth choice fast-medium bowler. Clarke knew it was a great batting day and early wickets would be vital. It proved to be a stroke of Captaincy genius as Watson immediately snared the prize wicket of A Cook, trapped LBW.

Two more wickets followed, snaffled by Ryan Harris and England are now 3 down for 28. Great beginning for Australia and boy, didn’t my neighbours know about it!

I was a bit tired after watching rugby league’s State of Origin the night before and a big day at the office. At one point I thought I might just sneak off at the lunch interval, 2215 or so, but three consecutive wicket celebrations oxygenates the blood and stokes the adrenal glands. Next thing you know you’re looking beyond the break and into the second session, denying sensible decisions and the existence of pressing occupational matters the following morning.

A flurried exchange of text messages from several mates, with some of the usual suspects – Damo, Dave and Brad – all providing their froth and excitement, ensured I wasn’t the only one sat up.

J Root and K Pietersen were the other batsmen dismissed in the first session. The former was adjudged LBW, a decision Root referred via the DRS. There was an inside edge and at one point it looked as though it was bat before pad, or even simultaneous connection. But, one side-on view of hotspot confirmed that the pad had been struck first by the Duke ball. I paused the television and photographed this and promise to submit the evidence to this blog’s audience, as soon as I get the required technical guidance!

Some solid and conservative batting from J Trott and I Bell steered England through to the tucker break without further loss, at 3/80.

Second Session

England have started well and are currently 3/114. I think it will be a tough day in the field from here on in.

Typical with the twists and turns of Ashes cricket I go to log off and Trott skies one to deepish mid-wicket and he’s caught by Khawaja running in off the bowling of Harris. 3 wickets now for Harris and England are 4/134 as I attempt to log off again nearing midnight…

Summary

It was great to see some footage of the Long Room at Lords. It’s one space where I really can appreciate the gentile and conservative elite! The MCC members all huddled in there clapping, portraits of great players and contributors to cricket, it must be a real pleasure descending the stairs from the dressing rooms and walking through on your way out to bat. Not so nice coming back in after a duck!

I also enjoyed having an Australian in the commentary box. Shane Warne joined the group of former England Captains who dominate the Sky box, and with West Indian legend Michael Holding, the two non-English (and bowlers) in the group add some much needed, varied perspective.

I admit I succumbed to the call of bed at about 1230, hence missing the third session. England were still 4 down when I turned in. A nature call had me checking the score about 90 mins later and England were still 4 down. I thought, crikey, looks like that good batting strip is working now.

So England finished the day on 289 runs for the loss of 7 wickets. Steve Smith nabbed 3 late wickets with his part-time “leggies” removing the last three recognised batsmen. Ian Bell scored another 109 and should be praised for a great knock. Johnny Bairstow made a useful contribution of 67. The late wickets bring Australia back into the match and probably leave Day One honours about even.

Don’t be fooled though, England sent Jimmy Anderson in as nightwatchmen. He accompanies Tim Bresnan, who can be considered an all-rounder averaging 31, while leaving another two useful tailenders in the shed – Broad and Swann.

Australia need to contain England and ensure the score doesn’t exceed 350 tonight. Hopefully Australia’s James Pattinson has a better outing on Day Two as he was extremely wayward on Day One. The Aussies need quick and consecutive wickets once again and then, well, if you read my Lords Preview, then you’ll know exactly what they need to do with the bat…