No matter how wobbly the opposition appears to be, you shouldn’t gloat too enthusiastically two matches into a five-match series – you need to pace yourself, if nothing else.
We’re finding ourself a little bit overwhelmed by the ferocity of the post-Lord’s vivisection. Aussies are tearing strips off their team, which is fine – that’s their prerogative. What’s more unsettling is the enthusiasm with which the Brits are then marinating those strips in urine. What happened to deep-rooted pessimism and superstitious caution?
The feeling has just come to a head upon visiting the cricket section of the Guardian website. The most recent article is entitled ‘Joe Root – salvation of English cricket’.
Quite what English cricket needed saving from is left unsaid and it’s not an entirely serious headline, but even so, this kind of premature hero worship makes us uncomfortable.
Below that, Mike Selvey has written a piece telling Australia what they have done wrong as a cricketing nation. Firstly, when did we get into a position where we felt we could hand out advice with three Tests still to play? Secondly, why are we handing out advice?
The second Test? That Australian performance? That result? That’s just fine thank you. More of that please. No advice. Leave them to it. Whatever they’re doing is working perfectly.30 Appeals
It’s probably not quite right to say that Australia again fought to the final wicket. It’s more that they fought for the final wicket, which isn’t quite so impressive. We’ve also got a suspicion that England are deliberately manufacturing embarrassing 10th wicket partnership statistics with which the Aussie batsmen can be beaten. A kind of: “See – batting should be easy.”
The failures are most damning for their predictability.
Shane Watson twice got past 20, didn’t get past 30 and was dismissed LBW in both innings. In all, 24 of Watson’s 77 Test dismissals have been LBW and if anything, he seems keen to add to his tally.
Phil Hughes scored one and one.
Steve Smith scored two and one.
You would bet on each of those things happening more often than not and that is half the Australian batting order accounted for. It really is quite disgraceful. And also magic.14 Appeals
We’re never sure what to say about declaration batting. It can be hard to watch as the tension is minimal. Even so, it serves important purposes.
Bat for a long time and you get a good view of the opposition bowling. You also sap it of strength. Even if there is a decent rest before the third Test, there’s still the mental impact of bowling ineffectually for a great length of time – that can’t help but have an impact on a bowler’s confidence. Patient declaration batting also allows the pitch to get full knackered-up, which can only be good when you’re bowling last.
Joe Root has, by any estimation, done a cracking job. Until his innings – and even since – Ian Bell is pretty much the only batsman on either side to have made runs. It will be interesting to see how the pitch plays should England ever get round to declaring.
If there’s a downside to Joe Root’s early performances for England, it’s that they encourage the notion that top players are somehow ‘made’ for Test cricket; that they’ll take to it like a late-night drunk takes to the mystery liqueur brought back from a long-forgotten holiday that’s been languishing in the back of the cupboard for as long as anyone cares to remember.
Sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes a young player has to quaff home brew for a while before they’re ready to even look at mystery liqueur. We hope England fans can remember that sometimes they might need to hand over a pewter tankard and show a little patience.18 Appeals
Trying to assess the quality of the bowling or the helpfulness of the conditions in this Test is like trying to gauge the contribution of the skinny guy in a tug o’ war team. There may well be something remarkable going on, but the impact’s entirely dwarfed by the efforts of the various fatties who are pulling in the same direction.
Those fatties are the Australian batsmen. They are contributing far more to their low totals than anyone or anything else. Maybe the conditions are tough; maybe England did bowl well; but how can you tell with the slashtastic approach currently being adopted?
But it’s not just the shots
The decision review system has also given the Aussie batsmen an additional means of showcasing their stupidity. Chris Rogers deferred to Shane Watson’s exceptional decision making and meekly acquiesced to a pointless review of the latter’s plumb LBW. Rogers then equally-meekly saved the second review for some unknown team-mate upon his own dismissal, even though he should have used it and clearly wanted to use it.
His cause wasn’t helped by Usman Khawaja, who offered precisely sod all of value when the pair met to discuss whether or not to review. Khawaja then gave a good justification for no-one ever asking his opinion on anything ever by taking the decision to sky a catch with the score reading 69-3.
Between these events, Phil Hughes used up Australia’s second review and even if he didn’t think he’d hit it, this was a bad move because it meant multiple replays of one of the stupidest shots you are ever likely to see: an uppish back-foot drive with an open face with the ball being angled across him and a full complement of fielders covering every inch of catching space for just such a brain dead waft. He, like Khawaja, somehow managed to settle on the one shot that would absolutely maximise the chances of his own dismissal.
The plus side for Australia
Is that they could improve their scores dramatcially simply by avoiding decisions that are manifestly wrong in every conceivable way. Can England bowl out a batting line-up that doesn’t purchase, load and hand over the gun for its own execution? Probably not on the evidence of the last wicket partnerships in the first Test, but what does that matter when they’re playing Australia?31 Appeals
We normally look forward to Steven Smith turning his arm over. This is partly because of his bowling action, but also because for the most part he’s rubbish. If Smith takes three wickets, this is officially what is known as ‘a balls-up’ on the part of the batting team.
The evening session balls-up followed a second successive 109 from Ian Bell. He would now appear to be the man for an England batting crisis and this is something we’re all just going to have to come to terms with as quickly as possible. His face was very red when he reached three figures. This may or may not be significant.
The repair job, which was carried out in partnership with first Jonathan Trott and then Jonny Bairstow, was necessitated by the morning balls-up with England’s new opening partnership apparently hell-bent on inching its way towards an admonishing statistical piece in one of the broadsheets.
At the end of the day, James Anderson came out as nightwatchman for Stuart Broad. If we’re sticking with the sandwich thing, this amounted to a trace of blue mould on the bread.44 Appeals
We’ve implied many times that Australia’s team is currently weaker than in years gone by primarily because of the rich vein of hairless metrosexuality running through it. However, we were quite surprised to learn that James Pattinson is as guilty of this as anyone.
Michael Clarke recently said:
“If James could take one thing to a deserted island he would definitely take his mirror.”
Maybe he just likes to practise his angry face. Or maybe he would direct the sun’s rays in such a way that he could start a fire and then send smoke signals of distress that might be seen by passing ships.
The other interpretation – that he thinks that haircut is ‘good’ – is highly unlikely.39 Appeals
Legal documents associated with Mickey Arthur’s ludicrous AUD 4 million compensation claim against Cricket Australia are said to detail deeply felt emnity between Michael Clarke and Shane Watson. This is, apparently, news.
A fairly large proportion of the Australian population has always hated Michael Clarke, seeing him as an image-conscious metrosexual who’s been given an easy ride. An even greater proportion of the Australian population hates Shane Watson for being an image-conscious metrosexual who whinges a lot, throws away promising starts and who is forever getting injured. Being as both Clarke and Watson are Australians, OF COURSE each is going to hate the other.
It’s basic statistics. Chances are most of Clarke and Watson’s team-mates hate both of them. Why wouldn’t you? The rest of us do.
Just because one person’s a bit of an arse, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily going to be great mates with other arses. In reality, people are generally most irritated by the negative qualities in others that they themselves possess. Clarke and Watson share plenty of irritating qualities with which to rub each other up the wrong way.26 Appeals
We’ve mixed feelings about whether or not Steven Finn should be dropped. On the one hand, he is reassuringly distinct from England’s other bowlers, but on the other, he did a damn good impression of someone who went to pieces and became a complete liability during the first Test. It also felt significant that Alastair Cook held off using him for so long in the second innings.
One thing we’d say in favour of reliable pudding-face, Tim Bresnan, is that solid, stolid fast-medium is probably a decent enough approach against many of Australia’s more skittish batsmen. Our worry is that something more might be needed for Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke. Perhaps that’s where Jimmy comes in.
We also wouldn’t say no to a slice of Onions. He’s always the man to take wickets in county cricket and that’s a much more demanding task than bowling to Phil Hughes or Shane Watson once he’s got past 40 and turned rubbish.31 Appeals
Their problem is that they don’t bat all the way up to number one. The lower order punches above its weight. The tail frequently wags. It’s the rest of the dog that is sick and lifeless.
Lower order resilience can be undervalued – or used as a stick with which to beat failing batsmen – but it is a strength. Australia’s top and middle order don’t need to improve too much to make life very difficult for England, particularly with only one bowler doing much of note thus far.
James Anderson bowled 56 overs in the first Test. A bit more fight from the Aussie batsmen and there’d be little left of Jimmy for Alastair Cook to ‘go to’. That workload alone might even count for something in the second Test on Thursday. Points are there to be laboured, so we’ll once again express our hatred of back-to-back Tests and the fact that they might compromise the performance of any player.
We enjoy watching Jimmy Anderson bowl precisely because he’s so good. Watching him perform at something like 86 per cent of his capability rather undermines that.24 Appeals
Because one way or another, it’s going to take us quite some time to make sense. We’re currently working our way through the many stages of tension, from ‘edge of seat’ through to ‘foetal and foul-mouthed underneath a cushion’.
Even once the match has been decided, we’ll still need some time to decompress, so there may be a delay before we produce any “analysis.”
Please try and avoid swearing non-creatively in the comments should you feel the need to use this article as some sort of depository for your emotions.32 Appeals