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.