Bubbling up nicely

It’s taken up to the fourth day of the fourth test for me to watch from start to finish a complete day’s play in the Ashes series. I did catch the entire play on the final day at Trent Bridge, but that lasted just over 20 minutes past lunch. Today was a proper 6 hours of cricket viewing. It made for fascinating viewing, and a thoroughly enjoyable one.

It took exactly 2 overs for Australia to take the last wicket and bowl out England for 238. On paper that looked below par, possibly by about 50 – 75 runs. However those two overs, one each bowled by Siddle and Bird gave enough evidence to suggest it was a bowling day, and Australia’s batsmen had their task cut out. How would they cope with it ? At Manchester, they had the best of the batting conditions in their first innings, and they racked up over 500 runs. Getting to half that score here would be a challenge.

12/1 – when Warner got out to a pretty decent delivery from Broad which then soon became 12/2 after Khawaja feathered an toe edge to Prior again of Broad’s bowling. I then expected Watson to walk in, with Clarke going back to his preferred position of batting at 5, but it was Clarke instead.  Clarke though didn’t look remotely comfortable in his brief stay and he then got out to a pretty irresponsible shot aiming an expansive drive with no feet movement. 49/3 and things didn’t look good for Australia. Stuart Broad was in the midst of ” one of his spells” where he get wickets in a burst. However Steven Smith then gave company to Chris Rogers and Australia went to lunch without further damage. That was the first important passage that went Australia’s way.

In that entire first session of play, Chris Rogers played and missed so many times of Broad’s bowling, one lost count. Importantly though, it didn’t seem like Rogers was keeping count either. Play and miss at one, forget it, and on he went. It was ungainly at times, but he didn’t get out, which in the end is what mattered. In the midst of all the playing and missing, he was on the look out for any chance to sneak a single. All those years spent playing county cricket under similar conditions were coming to good use.

Soon after lunch, Tim Bresnan got Steven Smith, who until then looked reasonably at ease, nicking one to Prior. 76/4 and Watson joined Rogers with Australia in some trouble. The two of them had to get a partnership going to get Australia back into the match. It didn’t look like it was going to happen. Watson initially looked like he would rather be somewhere else, than having to graft his way to a score. At the other end, Rogers continued in his pre lunch vein and bother enjoyed slices of luck with catches dropped. Then slowly but surely, due to a combination of the ball getting older, and aside from Broad, lack of penetration from Bresnan and Anderson, the pair settled in.

Watson started to look a lot more assured in the crease. It possibly also helped that the English bowlers seemed fixated on trying to get him out LBW. With a slight adjustment in his technique he was countering that mode of dismissal pretty well, and aside from it, it didn’t appear the bowlers had any other plans for him.The century partnership and Watson’s first half century of the series duly arrived and while on the pitch one is never IN, it didn’t look like either of were going to get out either. It was one of those passages of play.

Then Chris Rogers entered the 90’s and in sight of his maiden century. His tortured tale to go from 96 to his maiden century is beautifully captured here. If ever there was a day the Australian selectors had in mind when they selected Chris Rogers for the squad, this was it. He didn’t let himself, his team or the selectors down.

In the midst of Roger’s struggle to his hundred, Watson got out in a tame way. Caught down the leg side of Stuart Broad’s bowling. For once, his knock needs more praise than criticism. He didn’t get to a hundred, but his partnership with Rogers first stabilised the Australian innings, and then the pair were slowly taking Australia into a dominating position.

12/1, 12/2, 49/3, 76/4 and in comes Watson. From there, to finish at 222/5 under conditions which weren’t entirely conducive to batting was pretty impressive. Especially when you consider this was the same line up with one change ( Warner for Hughes) that went from 42/0 at Lords to 90 odd for 6, under pretty good batting conditions.

That said, the match is pretty evenly placed. England are one wicket away from Australia’s tail. With both Pattinson and Starc out of the playing X1, Australia have a pretty weak lower order. Siddle can hang around, but from Harris onwards one shouldn’t expect much runs. Not on this pitch and under cloudy skies that are predicted for tomorrow.

So it’s imperative for Australia that Rogers and Haddin get another partnership going, and get the team into a decent lead before they are separated. Conversely, England should fancy their chances of wrapping up the innings quickly, if they manage to get one of them early tomorrow. As the cliched saying goes, the first hours play tomorrow is now absolutely crucial for both teams.

Ideally, to set this match up beautifully Australia gets bundled out with a lead between 50 – 75 runs. It would then make England’s second innings fascinating to watch on a  pitch that would only get worse to bat on. Can Australia’s bowlers stand up and be counted yet again or can England’s batsmen deliver under pressure.

A day of possibilities awaits.

What awaits ?

242 runs scored, 5 wickets taken, an uncharacteristic Kevin Pietersen century, a pretty good Ian Bell knock and some fine Australian bowling on display. That pretty much sums up day 3 of the third Ashes test.

My post last night ended with stating that Australian pretty much had to do all the running since they are the one’s chasing the win needed to keep the series alive. Would be fair to say they gave it a good shot at it today. It needed some hard grind from Pietersen and for Bell to continue his good form to keep the Australian bowlers from having a near perfect day. Getting rid of Trott and then Cook in the first session was big, since they were the two who generally bat time, and one which Australia don’t have lots to play with. Add to it the fact that only 242 runs were conceeded made it a pretty good day for the bowlers, even though ideally an additional wicket would have capped off the day well.

England need another 34 runs to avoid the follow on, but that frankly isn’t an issue. Whether England get there or not,  the best way for Australia to win, is to bat for a session, session and half, and then put England back in. Already the Australian bowlers have racked up 120 overs and the pitch is showing some signs of turning and that you think will only get more prominent. Under these simple circumstances as it stands today, it doesn’t make sense for Australia to think of the follow on. Now when you consider there is still the matter of 3 more wickets to take, it quite simply won’t make sense. True, the weather forecast for the last two days isn’t the best, but it’s not that dire to think ” if no follow on enforced, the test is doomed as a draw” 

The first hour tomorrow is absolutely crucial. If Prior and Broad can survive it, Australia’s task will get that much more harder. Not only will time be lost but you’d think runs will also be scored at a decent clip considering how they both bat. Runs which Australia’s batsmen will have to then score again at an even more faster clip when their time comes to bat. Equally it could be that Prior and Broad just decide to bat time thereby eschewing their natural instincts. It might or might not work. If England are batting close to lunch or even beyond it, and it’s not exactly beyond them with Prior/Broad and Swann, Australia might as well be kissing a win good bye, and with it the Urn as well.

Even if Clarke dangles a target in front of England, I don’t expect England to bite. They simply aren’t that kind of a team. Safety first, dour approach has served them well for a few years, and not even the temptation of a whitewash will work. It’s not how England play. So for Clarke it’s simply a case of get the remaining three wickets quickly, bat for about 3 hours to give his bowlers some rest, and then ask them to bowl out England again.

What awaits, and how much of a spoil sport (or not depending on where the support is ) will the weather play in all of this ?

Hard grind ahead

In my post last night, I had asked the question : would Australia’s main batsmen ensure that the advantages of day one was not squandered. It was emphatically answered today. For once, it was in the affirmative for Australia. The team batted close to 150 overs, more precisely they batted for 146 overs, which was two overs more than what they had managed in two innings at Lords.

As turnarounds goes, this was pretty much a 180 degree one achieved. As much as it was a flat pitch to bat on, it still required quite a mental effort considering the shambles that was Lords.

In the first two sessions that I managed to watch, things went pretty much as how Australia would have wanted. The not out batsmen Clarke & Smith looked relatively untroubled and got close to seeing out the first hour when in a moment of hot headedness, Smith charged out in Swann’s first over and literally threw away his maiden test hundred. It was pretty much there for the taking and he found a way to shun it. Enter Warner to a chorus of boos, a brief stay which ended with a review, which on initial viewing made no sense at all, and he left to laughter and mirth. On replays, while the thick edge was obvious, what had also transpired was that he hit his pad at the same time. So I guess he could be forgiven for thinking he didn’t hit it. However, what was Clarke doing ? Surely if the umpire had seen the edge, which in itself was a big deal, surely Clarke would have seen it too ?

The post lunch session then saw Clarke finally dismissed for 187 when he looked set for yet another double hundred. This was soon followed by Siddle’s wicket and at that stage Australia had 430 runs on the board, with three wickets left. Mitchell Starc came in and played exactly the innings the situation required and ensured Australia ended up with a more than a healthy total.

Missed the post tea session in it’s entirety, albeit was checking the phone to see how the session was unfolding.  While the Australian bowlers seemed to keep things tight, and to be fair Cook and Root are not the type to get fast starts, the column next to the wickets simply didn’t change for the most part. So much so I resigned to having England get to stumps with all 10 wickets in tact. So was quite a nice suprise when I tuned into TMS to hear that Bresnan was at the crease, and then later on when I checked the score, he was also gone. Albeit he didn’t review his dismissal when he should have. Post day’s play reaction from the England camp was along expected lines ” Bresnan thought he had hit it, and hence didn’t review”. That being the case, didn’t understand the discussion which happened with Cook, as I saw in the highlight’s.

On to day 3, and one which basically also has to go Australia’s way completely if they are to win the test match amidst the poor weather forecast for the last two days. It’s as simple as that. Should England get to stumps with only 4 or 5 further wickets down in the day, you’d think a draw is good odds. England won’t force the issue at all, and they don’t need to. A draw is enough to retain the Ashes. So it’s entirely up to Clarke and the bowlers at his disposal to do all the running.

Can they show signs of it tomorrow ?

About time

It’s been a touch weird not having any cricket to view for the best part of a week, thanks to the break in the Ashes series after the second test. Did not really get into the West Indies – Pakistan series, save for a few overs in the fourth ODI or it might even have been the fifth(?) match. Added to it was a break from work, and also being away from home meant I was really looking forward to day one of the third test.

I saw the sum total of an hour’s play live before I had to head out again to make the most of some good weather around. Watching Rogers and Watson bat in that first hour was interesting in itself. While Watson was uber circumspect, Rogers had transformed into this free flowing batsman far removed from the stodgy versions in the earlier two tests. Added to it, for once Jimmy Anderson looked off colour and conceeded a fair few “hit me ” deliveries in his opening spell. It was the worst Anderson spell I’ve seen for a fair while. He probably has had a few of them recently, but not one’s I can recollect anyway. That meant Watson and Rogers were able to see through the first hour relatively trouble free and scoring at a decent clip. That’s when Cook brought on Bresnan as first change, and he duly got Watson’s wicket of a nice edge to Cook himself. For once Watson’s dismissal didn’t have too many surrounding drama to it – simple, straight, caught at slip and gone. That’s when I had to leave.

Heard Khawaja’s ” dismissal” on TMS while on a short wait, and when even the English TMS folks – think it was Simon Mann who I heard most, found the decision wrong, I could only go ” oh well, another DRS controversy” and decided to tune out for the rest of the session. Little did I know how wrong it was !

While showing around the local sights and sounds to family visiting, my hand was never too far from the ESPN Cricinfo App to keep me in the loop about the test. I kind of dreaded checking the score about 15 minutes after lunch, fully expecting to see Australia about 4 down. Nice little surprise then to find out that Rogers and Clarke were still there ! Another score check, 20 odd minutes later and Rogers was gone, LBW to Swann. No controversy in this dismissal then.

From the time Steven Smith then reached the crease, I was half expecting wickets to start falling in a heap. The last 6 tests having given ample ammo for such a thought process. Steven Smith was on zero for about 16 or 17 deliveries, and I was initially just happy that while he hadn’t opened his account, he hadn’t got out. Well in theory he did get out, only that this time DRS went in Australia’s favour with England reviewing a LBW call off Swann’s bowling. Ended up being an umpire’s call ruling, and Smith was saved by the breadth of the seam of the ball. Much like how Phil Hughes was sawn off by the same margin in the second innings at Trent Bridge.

150 came up and Australia were still only three down, and Clarke by then seemed to have switched gears and was maintaining a decent scoring rate, allowing Smith to settle in. Just before tea, came the second DRS controversy. This time again Australia benefited OR should they consider themselves lucky it wasn’t given out by the on – field umpire ?  The umpiring standards has been that poor !

200 came and went, and 250 came and was passed. Australia were still only three down. This seemed a pretty bizarre passage of play. Little did I know they should have at least been four down by this stage but weren’t thanks to Tony Hill missing one of the easiest LBW decisions and England were out of reviews.

Eventually Australia ended the day at 303 / 3, with Clarke well past his hundred and Steven Smith in reasonable sight of one. Finally a day when some of Australia’s main batsmen turned up ! It’s been some wait.

From this position, Australia should in theory be able to go past 400, possibly even get to 450. However considering it’s Warner next – who can either score quickly or get out even quicker, followed by Haddin and the bowlers, one just never knows.

If Clarke and Smith can see off the second new ball, then you’d think 400 is most definitely gettable, and 450 is not unrealistic. So much depends on the first hour / first session tomorrow. Get past that relatively unscathed, and Australia can for once think of dictating terms in a test after quite a torrid time of it recently.

But will they get to that position ?


Pear shaped within a week

Done and dusted in four days. England are 2 – 0 up in the Ashes. Hardly an issue for England to sort out, while for Australia it’s a case of which one do we tackle first. What a difference a week makes !

Last Sunday just after the Trent Bridge test, there was just this hint of optimism that the series might be a lot closer than what many folks had predicted. One week later, and talks of the white wash which did the rounds prior to the series seems a very distinct possibility. Can England be that ruthless to make it happen, or will Australia continue to play so poorly that they’ll make it easier for England to achieve it ?

What can Australia do ? Michael Vaughan was on Test Match Special saying that Australia should stick with Hughes, Khawaja and Smith for the remainder of the series, and in the end they would find out if the three are actual test match quality players. To an extent, the thinking with Khawaja and Smith makes sense, but Hughes ? He made his test debut in 2009, and in the four years since then he has been dropped twice from the test team. That should say a lot about his test match credentials. Pace/Spin – everything seems to faze him. It’s indeed a mystifying query – how did he end up 84* at Trent Bridge ! Forget Ashton Agar’s 98, that was a knock which made no sense.

The remaining batsmen are Watson, Rogers, Clarke and Haddin ( from the Lord’s 11) and the remaining batsmen are Cowan, Warner ( who is in Zimbabwe and not scoring much), and Wade. Are these replacements, one of whom is the reserve wicket keeper, any better than the one’s that took the field at Lords ? Highly doubt it. Added to is is the fact that chopping and changing a batting order will only worsen the situation.

It wouldn’t be the worst decision for Australia to make just the one change for the Old Trafford test. Drop Phil Hughes, and bring back Nathan Lyon. You’d expect Lyon to be back for the third test but at the expense of Agar. It would be better if Lyon comes in at the expense of Hughes, and they have Agar as a late order batsmen. Agar can’t do any worse than Hughes in the run scoring  department, and while he’s no where close to a test match spinner, he’s a better option than Steven Smith. Suspicion is that should Cowan make runs at Hove, he’d probably come back in to the team in place of Hughes and Agar would make way for Lyon. If Cowan doesn’t score, then Hughes retains his place in the team due to TINA. It’s that desperate a situation for Australia !

Watson, Rogers, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Agar, Siddle, Pattinson, Harris, Lyon – that’s a side which makes sense for Old Trafford. In paper this is a team that is short of a batsman and is one playing 5 bowlers. This batting order can’t do any worse than the one’s that turned up for the first two tests, and with the bowling line up, Clarke at least has a better spinning option, and a better fall back option should Lyon need a break. Will this happen ? Highly suspect it won’t.

It’s all gone pear shaped for Australia in the span of one week. The initial optimism fast replaced with desperation. It would take a monumental effort to pick themselves up after the hammering at Lords. The media, after sounding all positive after Lehmann’s appointment, will have a field day ripping apart the team. The Australian bowlers might start to look at the batsman and ask – do we have to do everything, including your role as batsman ? How soon before rifts and crack appear within the confines of the dressing room ?

If Darren Lehmann was looking for a challenge, he’s got one now.

Battered, bruised and buried

At the end of day one of the Lords test I had finished my post saying Australia’s batsmen simply had to deliver or it was pretty much end of this Ashes series. Two days on from that post and the horrors of the batsmen’s flailings is in plain view. At the end of day 3, England are 566 runs ahead, with 5 wickets in hand.

England were 28/3 in the first innings, and 30/3 in second innings and at the end of day 3, they are 566 runs ahead ! That’s how poor Australia have been the last two days. Their bowling didn’t look penetrative today on what was still a pretty good batting surface. Each over, each boundary that was scored only showed how poor Australia were with their batting. It was beyond dire. Not sure there are enough adjectives to describe that first innings.

England, like a good team, have ensured that they don’t give Australia a sniff of a comeback in this test. There was just that ever so slight opening last evening, but today Joe Root ensured that the opening was shut emphatically. He should have been the first wicket that should have fallen last evening and at least that would have been some concern for England. Instead Root goes into day four at Lords with a chance for his first international double hundred. That’s one less headache for England to ponder then for the Old Trafford test starting week on Thursday.

Even giving for how ineffective Australia’s bowlers were today, England were just brilliant. Without as much as breaking into too much of a sweat, they scored just over 300 runs in the day without the remotest danger of being bowled out. In the midst of the day’s play was one more bizzare decision made by the third umpire. How Tony Hill ruled that the Steven Smith catch of Bell was not clean, is beyond me. Ian Bell stood his ground, not wanting to accept Steven Smith’s words that the catch was clean. The on field umpires did the most obvious thing – referred it to the third umpire and then the farcical not out decision was relayed back. The Steven Smith catch wasn’t even as bad as the Strauss “catch” in the last Ashes test at Lords. That catch didn’t even go to the third umpire and was ruled out by the on field umpires. Today it went to the third umpire and Tony Hill ruled it as not being clean. When it rains, it pours…

Fully expect England to bat on tomorrow morning, possibly declaring if/when Joe Root gets to his double hundred. So that would be about 45 – 60 minutes play. After the last two days, it would then take a monumental effort for Australia to take this test into day 5.

One final damning statistic so early in the series – England’s bowlers have bowled under 250 overs this series, Australia’s bowlers are approaching 450 overs. Given their struggles to keep their fast bowlers fit, this tour might just turn into the stuff nightmares are made of.

Even Steven Smith day ? Not quite

A sign of a good team is that they are never completely out of a match and for a team that’s trying to climb back up the rankings they can’t afford their strongest suit to slip up. That, I would guess, is how most folks see England and Australia. I certainly do.

At the end of the first day’s play in the Lord’s test on reflection I’m tempted to say that England have narrowly shaded it. Even given for that three wicket burst by, of all folks, Steve Smith. 289/7 in 89 overs after winning the toss and electing to bat in perfect conditions would seem like advantage lost. In normal circumstances, yes that holds true. However England have got the runs on the board and they have some batting left to go past 350 tomorrow, unless Harris get’s some much needed assistance from Pattinson and Siddle and mop up the remaining three wickets quickly.

Which brings me to my second point. Australia’s strongest suit is their bowling.Thanks to how the main batsmen have been performing lately, their bowlers have always had to perform. If they didn’t, the match was as good as gone. At 28/3 in the morning session, the bowlers had England under the cosh. They simply had to press home that advantage and they didn’t. Credit is due to both Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell who ensured that didn’t happen. Didn’t need the Cricinfo ball – by – ball to see that James Pattinson had a shocker. Every so often that I checked it, the commentary would either be talking of a ball down the leg side or a boundary that was scored of his bowling. He does need a bit of a leeway though, given that it’s his first proper game at Lords with it’s unique slope. When Trott played a careless shot and gave his wicket away after crossing fifty, there was another chance for Australia to press home the advantage.

They didn’t again, although they came within a millimeter of possibly doing it. Siddle’s no ball in which he had bowled Bairstow would prove costly. Bairstow was on 21 when it happened and England would have been 171 /5. Instead he survived, and his partnership with Bell progressed for another 100 runs, before the Steven Smith effect at the end.

Bell by then had moved serenely past his second successive century (and third if we go by Ashes tests), and then got out to to a pretty decent leg break from Steven Smith. The previous ball was a rank full toss which was duly despatched to the boundary. So much wiles in Steve Smith, that even Warne would look on and admire ! Not enough with that, Smith then got Bairstow out of a full toss and got Prior through some sharp wicket keeping by Haddin. This late burst pulled things back for Australia.

So what lies in store for day 2 ? It’s crucial, extremely crucial for Australia that they wrap up the last three wickets fairly quickly. Allow England to get to around 375 or beyond and things get’s that much more harder for them.

In an ideal scenario, Australia bowls out England for addition of another 50 runs, and then the batsmen turn up and they bat and bat well. Batting until an hour after tea on third day should be the target, anything beyond, even better. So that’s about 5 sessions as a target. Going by some of the turn Steve Smith got today, batting on days 4 and 5 against Swann will not be easy. So Australia simply have to get that much ahead of England that, their batting last should be the bare minimum.

The batsmen have to deliver in this innings. It’s as simple as that. If they don’t, while not quite curtains with their series win chances, it comes pretty close to it. To make this statement at the end of day one of the second test would seem preposterous, but those 15 runs that weren’t scored in Trent Bridge has made this innings that much more crucial. As I mentioned in my post at the end of that test match, there were some positives from that match on the batting front.

That glimmer has to turn into a bright light. Nothing short will do.