Australia cricket news
Bowlers win you matches, but batsmen lose them. Is there really much point weighing up day one of the third Test when England’s batsmen might render all that preceded it almost entirely irrelevant?
May as well go through the motions, just in case.
A growing theme of this series is ‘five down’. Australia have frequently been five down for not a lot, but Brad Haddin keeps forming one half of a big stand. England have frequently been five down for not a lot and have then been obliterated by Mitchell Johnson. If anything, that’s where fortunes have diverged – and they have diverged massively.
Clearly, Brad Haddin has played well. He’s an odd sort of a batsmen, in that he often plays the kinds of shots that a five-year-old might play, particularly early in his innings. The great thing about him though, is that he’s utterly, utterly shameless. When he does something monumentally stupid and gets away with it, he’s not in the least bit weighed down by embarrassment. A few overs later, you realise that was the last of the idiocy and now he’s up and running.
Tremlett, Stokes, Bresnan…
But how much have Haddin’s large returns been down to him and how much have they been down to England’s weak third seamer? Obviously, a batsman has to face more than one bowler over the course of an innings, but it seems that while Australia have enough bowling to keep attacking England when they’re five down, the tourists run out of steam at around this point when they’re in the field.
It’s not that they’ve bowled badly. It’s just that the third seamer – whoever it’s been – has been kind of insipid. As we said the other day, James Anderson effectively becomes a support bowler when there’s no swing, so it’s doubly important that there’s some sort of threat from elsewhere.
Once again, we find ourself looking at a bowling attack which seems a little fast-medium. Height, pace, swing, demented mind games – it just lacks pep.9 Appeals
Let’s not go overboard.
There are two ways to look at England’s second innings. The first is to see it as indicative of an upward curve, which gives hope for the rest of the series. The second is to say that standards are now so low that it would actually be quite hard to consistently remain beneath them.
The latter view would paint England’s second innings as aberrative semi-competence. However, we favour the former view, albeit with a coda. England’s batting may be trending upwards, but is it at a rate which is likely to prove meaningful for this series?
England’s players are generally keen to emphasise that they’ve got great track records and to berate ‘the media’ for not having faith in them to bounce back. The problem is that the things from which they need to bounce back matter too. If they hit top form in Melbourne and Sydney, that doesn’t much matter if they’re already 3-0 down.
But there are… ‘positives’ is probably a bit strong. Neutrals? There are neutrals to take from England’s performance today. Second innings skittlage would have left a real shell of a team. Players could have been replaced without really altering the fundamental hollowness. It went a bit better than that and we can actually go down the list of batsmen and find cause for optimism with all of them.
Alastair Cook is Alastair Cook and he did make a fifty in the first Test.
Michael Carberry has perhaps offered the most solidity out of all of them. It’s not rock-like. It’s more of a dried porridge solidity – the kind that needs a prolonged soak in dot balls before it starts to give.
Joe Root delivered stubborn survival, batting for 194 deliveries. As treasured fount of wisdom, poet, philosopher and all-round good egg, Bert, has prevously pointed out, deliveries are the correct unit of measurement when batting for a draw – particularly when it’s the fourth innings and the next Test follows in just a few days’ time.
KP is KP and at least sort of got going today. And who honestly knows what that guy’s going to do – that’s almost entirely the point of him.
Ian Bell was magic in the first innings.
Ben Stokes faced 90 deliveries.
Matt Prior has faced 70 deliveries and is currently not out. If he can recapture any kind of form, it might settle the top order a touch as well.
Is it too late already? Everyone’s talking about Perth like an Australian win is already etched in dried porridge. It looks highly likely, but at least their fastest bowler has had to deliver 38 overs and counting.
Things are better than yesterday. Let’s just leave it at that.16 Appeals
The escape route outlined in yesterday’s article? England evaded it perfectly, opting instead to stand their ground, whereupon they were flattened by the giant, tufty-haired boulder which has been rumbling after them since they landed Down Under.
The most frustrating thing is that, for all the devastation, Mitchell Johnson only actually dismissed one of the specialist batsmen – Alastair Cook. Carberry was out to Watson, Root and Pietersen were out to idiocy and Bell was not out.
If Root or Pietersen could have avoided lending Australia a hand, Bell showed how together they could have countered Johnson and perhaps worn him down. Who knows? Maybe the lower order would have lasted more than a ball each then.
There’s still a second innings, but realistically the opportunity has gone now – you can’t turn blancmange back into brain.21 Appeals
Today was a nice little primer in how to approach Test cricket in Australia. It called for extremes. England didn’t really have any. It was all a bit fast-medium.
We blame Steven Finn for this. On England’s last Ashes tour, he was exactly the right kind of bowler for Australian conditions, but lacking three years’ experience. However, someone appears to have subtracted experience rather than adding it. Finn is less of a bowler now than he was then. And he’s the young one. He’s the one we were relying on to improve.
England have been left without a third seamer. In the first Test, they turned to Tremlett, who also fits the archetype for bowling in Australian conditions. For more understandable reasons, he too has regressed in the last three years. He now delivers little more than a nice bit of fast-medium.
The other three
Jimmy Anderson has other skills which mean he can get away with being fast-medium. However, they’re less relevant in these conditions and a man who is normally a strike bowler must therefore switch to being a support bowler.
But who is he supporting?
In both Tests, England’s third seamer has also been a support bowler, while Stuart Broad took two wickets for 80 when England triumphed on their last tour of Australia. Broad’s doing well, relatively speaking, but you wouldn’t build the attack around him.
Then there’s Graeme Swann. Like Broad, his contribution was fairly insignificant three years ago – 15 wickets at 40. Why should we expect earth-shattering performances now?
More worryingly, he too is showing signs of being less of a bowler than he was. He suffered in comparison to Nathan Lyon in Brisbane where the latter’s overspin was deemed to be advantageous and Lyon also looked more dangerous in his short spell today where the hardness of the new ball was floated as being a possible explanation for his apparent superiority. But how many exceptions does it take before what was previously thought to be the norm must instead be considered the exception?
Meanwhile, at the top
Is Alastair Cook all that he was? No-one seriously expects him to match his performances from the 2010-11 Ashes, but it’s also true that he has just endured a long summer as an Ashes captain and the best part of two days directing things in the field.
He’s a fantastic player, but he’s unavoidably compromised. That’s just the reality. Someone has to lead the side, Cook appears to be the best candidate and he simply has to try and minimise the impact on his batting. He’s still more than worth his place, but on balance he’s probably not quite the player he was.
If all that sounds unremittingly bleak to English ears, it’s not meant to be. We’re talking about minor deterioration here. Small changes can make a lot of difference.
Take Mitchell Johnson, for example. With a year off and a bit of tinkering with a view to improving his accuracy, he advertently gained about 8mph in pace – not bad as side effects go. Suddenly he had a way to consistently threaten batsmen and this brought confidence, which brought relaxation, which then brought the accuracy he was striving for all along (greater accuracy at any rate – he’s still Mitchell Johnson).
Johnson is now quicker, more accurate, confident, determined and focused and Australia have the best bowler on either side – something they haven’t been able to claim with any confidence for seven years. While it would be going too far to say the team’s performance entirely hinges on this – Ryan Harris and Michael Clarke are fantastic players in their own rights – there is certainly a case for saying the team as a whole has gained confidence as a result of Johnson’s apparent transmogrification and that they have been able to play under less pressure as a result of his wickets.
But with so much of the team’s improvement hanging off Johnson’s pace, England actually have an opportunity in this match – a very, very big opportunity.
If they can take Johnson into his eighth spell (he bowls short spells), they will sap his pace in this Test and inevitably for the next as well. If that sounds unlikely, the sad fact is that they won’t have a better opportunity. The Adelaide pitch isn’t particularly friendly to fast bowlers, but it’s downright rude to those who deliver fast-medium.
How long will it take for Johnson to ebb to fast-medium? Who knows, but he’s not had a really heavy bowling stint in quite a while and if England’s batsmen can get to this point, Johnson’s brain should take care of the rest. He might even turn to the razor blade (for the ‘stache, obviously).
300-and-odd runs short of the follow-on would seem an odd position from which to launch an attack. It wouldn’t be so much launching an attack, however, as very gradually unveiling one. Good luck – you’re not exactly in prime position here, lads.41 Appeals
So where are we? No-one knows – which is the way it should be.
What we do know is that England could have had one, two and, in theory, three more wickets if they’d caught better. We also know that England’s batting looks lighter than Michael Rasmussen.
Stop going on about Michael Rasmussen all the time
You could probably infer something from the fact that we’ve made two Rasmussen references in one week. Thin bowling and light batting doesn’t amount to a particularly strong squad. It’s indirectly led to a situation where England have mimicked their not-entirely-successful team selection from August, where a nominal all-rounder gets a game because they want to play a second spinner.
Monty’s a bit more reliable than Simon Kerrigan proved to be, but what of Ben Stokes? All-rounders are bloody handy, but we always worry that almost-good-enough bowling and almost-good-enough batting does not actually equate to ‘good enough for Test cricket’.
The counter-argument would be that if an almost-good-enough batsman’s going to get runs anywhere, it’s more likely to be on the kind of pitch where you deem it necessary to play five bowlers. It’s also given rise to a nicely varied bowling attack.
But this series doesn’t appear to hinge on the bowling attacks.
We’re venturing into back-to-back territory, so it’s instructive to look at how the main bowlers are holding up. Stuart Broad seems fine. Jimmy Anderson seemed down on pace. Then again, with Anderson you never know whether it’s fatigue, injury or simply a decision to ration his glycogen. He is someone who reins it in a bit when he doesn’t feel there’s much to be gained from self-floggery.21 Appeals
Okay, let’s take stock. England can’t bat and Australia can’t bat. Generalising masks specific truths, but this is actually a fair summary of where we stand.
Mo’tchell Johnson has gathered headlines, but England also failed to score off Ryan Harris (forgivable) and shed middle order wickets against Nathan Lyon (probably not forgivable). Peter Siddle did okay too. That pretty much amounts to not batting well in all kinds of different ways. There’s a suggestion they didn’t cope well with the crowd either. There’s a lot to correct.
With the exception of Michael Clarke, Australia just can’t bat. Most of them are capable of scoring runs, but you don’t really need to get them out; you just need to avoid doing anything stupid and eventually they’ll get themselves out.
However, this is easier said than done for England, whose bowling currently looks thinner than Michael Rasmussen. There used to be a fight to be third seamer. Now it’s a fight to evade the position. Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin are taking every opportunity to press for exclusion and so Chris Tremlett might retain his place simply through spurning incompetence.
Then there is the intriguing Graeme Swann subplot, where some sort of diktat has gone out to every Australian that they should take a bat and try and launch him over the top. They want rid. But how committed are they to this? Suicidally committed? It’ll be interesting to see how this one pans out.
If England are to get anything from this series, they need to start batting well in Adelaide – no later. With just a few days’ gap between the second and third Tests, long innings this week will be doubly valuable and a draw in which you’ve done most of the batting could pumice the edge off fast bowlers looking forward to the bounce of the Waca.
Darren Lehmann says that Australia don’t rotate any more and it doesn’t look like England even have the option. The second Test isn’t a must-win game; it’s a must-not-lose game with a view to dulling fast bowlers for the following game through time-consuming attrition.
Put that on a T-shirt.13 Appeals
We’ve just read that Australia’s ‘in-your-face approach’ underpinned their first Test win. It’s the kind of thing you hear a lot. Ex-players often plead for the team to be more combative. They say that Australia play their best cricket when they’re aggressive.
But is it that they play better when they’re aggressive, or is it just that they tend to get a bit gobbier when they’re winning?
One’s a cause; the other’s a symptom; and each says something rather different about the players who become more vocal.
As Mitchell Johnson said about the first Test:
“It was pretty quiet the whole match until sort of closer to the end.”
When you’d basically already won, you mean?25 Appeals
For all that we’re meant to be enlightened, modern folk who are au fait with mental health issues, there’s an odd reluctance to enter into specifics when someone is suffering ‘a stress-related illness’.
Physical v mental
In a sense, medical problems are nobody’s business but the sportsman in question. It seems invasive when we learn of Shoaib Akhtar’s genital warts or the problems Tom Boonen’s been having with his barse. But yet we’ll hear all the details about a hamstring strain or knee problem. We’ll hear too many details. We’ll hear medical jargon most of us are ill-equipped to comprehend.
But with stress, we don’t get a clear picture. Apparently that would be prying in a way in which providing the details about a physical injury would not. That’s probably correct, but as readers we’ve become conditioned to expect detail. The absence breeds conjecture.
‘Stress-related illness’ is a vague slice of the depression spectrum. There’s mild anxiety at one end and suicide at the other. There are many different symptoms – such as pessimism, destructive thought patterns, persistent elevated heart rate, insomnia and self-harm – and different people will experience different combinations to different degrees.
Everything we experience goes through the brain. When that’s fucked, you can’t shrug it off. It’s all-consuming; a muddied bottleneck which soils everything that passes through it. This is why modern society is increasingly sympathetic to sportsmen who are struggling – because more and more people understand, or, unfortunately, have experience of depression.
So why so few details?
A sportsman’s personal identity and sense of self worth are invariably closely linked to performance. For a batsman, that is something intrinsically fickle and fragile. Most of us therefore understand that depression is a very real occupational hazard. Why then is the information provided to the press so vague?
Perhaps mental fragility is considered a professional weakness and therefore somehow ‘off limits’ to the press, but Michael Clarke’s bad back is a professional weakness to which endless column inches have been devoted in recent months. What’s the difference?
Is it that detailing the problem might pile extra pressure on the player who is suffering? A counter argument would be that getting things out in the open has been shown to lighten the mental load for a number of people in a similar position. Men are particularly prone to crippling themselves with their attempts to conceal their struggles and no men attempt to be men’s men like sportsmen.
You’d hope we aren’t seeing an aspect of the kind of institutional warrior culture so spectacularly eviscerated by Brian Phillips writing about the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal, but you suspect we might be.
So what of Jonathan Trott?
Is it related to his struggles in the first Test? Probably to a degree, because as we said above, personal identity is likely to be entwined with professional performance. However, it will certainly have been something that’s been slowly building rather than a direct response. In that sense, his second innings at the Gabba could be seen as a symptom, rather than a cause.
Inevitably, there will be talk of weakness. Invariably, it will be from people who aren’t worth listening to. Some Australians have a propensity to stereotype their compatriots as mentally tough, physically tough hardcases and a corollary of this is that they see the English as mentally flimsy big girl’s blouses. They will take Trott’s departure as vindication of their prejudices.
However, they might like to ponder something first. The man they perceive to have crushed Jonathan Trott is Mitchell Johnson. Johnson sought counselling as a result of the baiting he has received at the hands of a large number of England fans. He isn’t the first Aussie quick to show mental fragility either. Shaun Tait has been open about experiencing bouts of depression. It can happen to anyone – although it’s pretty obvious that it’s more likely to happen to cricketers.45 Appeals
Today’s grim moment of clarity came courtesy of Mark Butcher midway through the highlights which show immediately after the day’s play. “Michael Clarke made good decisions throughout this match,” he said.
Note ‘made’ not ‘has made’. Australia had won then? The rest of the highlights were a joy, particularly when they told us about long rain delays which constricted the time in which England had to lose all of their remaining wickets.
It’s hard to pinpoint what went wrong in this match. However, that’s only because a pin is an entirely inappropriate tool for the job. What you instead need is a nine-inch paint roller with which to daub a great big cross.
England batted like idiots. The bowlers did a great, if not flawless, job in the first innings and actually performed creditably in the second innings given that the pitch was true and they’d only had about nine minutes’ break since bowling in the first innings. The batsmen, however, failed twice.
Yesterday, we identified Jonathan Trott’s dismissal as being among the worst of recent times. Today, we’d like to nominate Matt Prior’s. It probably wasn’t as bad as Trott’s, in all honesty, but playing at a ball you needn’t play at when it is only likely to go to one of two fielders positioned behind you on the leg-side? That would be pretty stupid even if you didn’t get out doing exactly the same thing off the only ball you faced in the first innings – a dismissal which itself happened one ball after another batsman had been dismissed in identical fashion.
Towards the end of the match, a stump microphone picked up Michael Clarke saying to Jimmy Anderson:
“Get ready for a fucking broken arm.”
Clarke later described it as ‘banter’ which is further proof that you would never want to spend time with anyone who ever uses that word.
Not that we’re necessarily getting on our high horse about the comment itself. Say what you like. We actually think it might work. Jimmy fights a perpetual battle to keep the rage that fuels him from devouring the control which allows him to do his job. There may well come a point at which he hates Clarke so much, he’ll lose control. That’s fine for a fast bowler, but control is basically Jimmy’s weapon.27 Appeals
We’re wondering whether we just saw the most unforgiveable dismissal of all time. There have been worse shots, certainly, but IJL Trott c Lyon b Johnson 9 ticks a lot of boxes.
First, there’s the backdrop. For months, the opposition have told you that you can’t play the short ball directed at your body, so you’ve had plenty of warning. You were then dismissed by just such a delivery in the first innings, so there’s confirmation that this is what’s happening and that this is how you’re at risk of losing your wicket.
Then there’s the field, with two men back. Don’t try and play the ball in that area. You are likely to get out. If you still don’t get it – which apparently you don’t – here’s a narrow escape as a little aide mémoire, the ball dropping between two fielders.
Now do you get it? Now do you get the phenomenal degree of risk that comes with your trying to play short balls to leg? You’ve been the coolest, most logical batsman England have had in years. Surely you get it? Surely?
“The brutal truth is he’s rattled.” Mike Atherton
It’s a tough game. If your dismissal looked inevitable, you don’t have a lot of time to work things out.
Watching this unfold on television brought feelings of helplessness and frustration not seen since Brian Lara Cricket where a false button press would see the batsmen setting off for singles even while the ball was nestling in the wicketkeeper’s gloves. This experience lasted longer though, so it was worse – albeit it wasn’t that much longer.14 Appeals