25 August 2013

An Australian summary - The Ashes 5th Test, day 5, The Oval

Australia: 9/492 dec. from 128.5 overs
Shane Watson 176, Steven Smith 138*
James Anderson 4-95

377 all out from 144.4 overs
Joe Root 68, Kevin Pietersen 50, Matt Prior 47
James Faulkner 4-51, Mitchell Starc 3-92, Ryan Harris 2-64

Australia: 6/111 from 23 overs
Michael Clarke 28*, Shane Watson 26
Stuart Broad 4-43

England: 5/206 chasing 227 runs for victory
Kevin Pietersen 62, Jonathan Trott 59
Ryan Harris 2-21, James Faulkner 2-47

I am happy to eat my words written after day four was washed out. I wrote, "even if there is play tomorrow it will be a deflating display of defensive batting and tiresome bowling, with a few possible moments of excitement to play out for a drawn result."

We ended up getting quite a bizarre play of events in the end as England, probably reflecting on their batting on day three, came out with a more attacking attitude and we ended up seeing a game of it all. However, it was still a drawn result but it could have gone either way with England looking like favourites in the end until the umpires called for bad light. Worrying but exciting.

Michael Clarke's declaration was well timed in the sense that this game would have come down to the wire. England had to attack, they had to play out of their shells and we were tested in a limited overs sense prior to the limited series being just around the corner. Good on Clarke for making a match of it in the end, even if it was a nail-biting scenario and he opted for more conservative tactics after Kevin Pietersen's assault. Not sure of the crowds reasons for booing him though. Poor show after the crowd surely got a great days entertainment? Most puzzling indeed. 

Brydon Coverdale of ESPN summarised the tactics of Clarke really well on the final days play. In a way it highlights the slight confusion amidst our cricket ranks at present. Have a read at his article via this link.

This series will go down as one where the scoreline showed complete and utter dominance by a relatively stable English team. However, if you watched as much of the action as possible you will see it all came down to England's experience as a unit to win Test matches and having certain individuals stand up to the challenge having known how to do this from previous scenarios. It pays to stick with a side and show belief in the men who wear your teams caps, doesn't it?

Yesterday I summed it up, "
the English team have been together a lot longer now and experienced winning Test matches. They know how to win those small passage of play which - ultimately - brings about the main result in the bigger scheme of things.

As a result the selectors will hopefully realise that the players who showed strong performances or indications of their true skill need to be retained for the home Ashes series - they must not chop and change. The players who didn't step up will need to play out of their socks come the Sheffield Shield. They will need to fight for the right to put their Baggy Green caps back on, while I am certain other players will be as keen to bag lots of wickets or pocket plenty of runs to get their opportunity.

There will always be the bitterness regarding the Stuart Broad incident, which I prefer to put down to blind umpiring rather than Broad being a cheat. Andrew Symonds didn't walk against India in 2007/08 after a generous edge to MS Dhoni, so I'd be hypocritical to call him (Broad) a cheat even if he uses stall tactics too. Many players don't walk, period. They don't have to if the umpire doesn't raise his finger. It came down to the umpiring and it was a pretty bloody obvious edge too which made it infuriating and humiliating.

It has been a shocking series for the umpires and that decision ultimately changed many things regarding this series. The DRS came under scrutiny and the umpires have now become far more vulnerable to couch-umpire criticism. It could have been very different had their standards been better and had Michael Clarke been more strategic with his reviews, so bad luck has to come into it for The Baggy Greens.

Here's a look at the Tests. We fell 14 runs short in the first Test, just 14 runs after being down and out after a top order collapse - one of many. The second Test we were outplayed and I owe this to the manner in which we lost the first Test. I do believe this affected the teams confidence and self-belief immensely, whereas England just took the momentum home. We also have to wonder what if we'd caught Joe Root when he edged a delivery on just 8 runs and the slip cordon just watched it sail on by? He went on to score 180 runs.

The third Test was ours. I have seen enough cricket to know that any play that goes away due to rain or bad light cannot see potential results brought about my assumption. Anything could have happened had play resumed that day but yes, it looked like we had it in the bag. It was a bitter pill to swallow as I wrote at the conclusion of the Old Trafford Test.

The fourth Test we had it in the bag after Ryan Harris delivered another sensational spell of high performance fast bowling. Yet after a solid foundation set by Chris Rogers and David Warner it imploded and once again that lack of belief we saw after the first Test came out again. It was a humiliating loss which we threw away. It was once again a small passage of play which England just stamped with total dominance and authority.

We also had a first innings lead in four of the Tests but still didn't secure a victory. Further highlighting batting inconsistencies for a balance between good performances and shocking ones.

We could then perform an autopsy looking into the other aspects within each Test which brought about an English victory and further doom and gloom reports over the decline of Australian cricket. I can understand the pessimistic attitudes out there. We tossed many golden moments away, but I think we had many positives to take away from this series and if those can materialise with stability and consistency (along with selection consistencies - same old song) we have a massive chance to win back the urn next series and hang onto it for some time.

Chris Rogers was outstanding in my opinion. He came into this side with immense pressure as he would have been expected to perform from innings one given his county form and the circumstances surrounding his selection. He brought up his maiden Test century this series and even gave us solid platforms to work from, but our fragile middle order made his efforts seem lost at sea.

Ryan Harris was my Player of the Series for us and his delivery to remove Ian Bell at Old Trafford on day three was a beauty! He bowled his heart out and it kind of makes me sad to know that had his body been better equipped for Test cricket he'd be right up there with Dale Steyn. I spare a few thoughts for Ryano. He gave it his best and that isn't easy for a bloke whose endured so many injury setbacks. It must have been hard on his body to bowl as he did and with the success he had.

I wrote this about Ryano after the thumping at Lords:
"...Ryan Harris' body language was both sad and real. He worked bloody hard to grab a five wicket haul upon his return to the team. He made the Lord's bowling honours board and showed how proud he was to be back in the team. It was all in vain though as the batsmen burnt his efforts and you could sense his despair and sheer heartache. He was just going through the motions. That is the true frustration of the series thus far. We haven't secured vital passages of play, England has. Our batsmen haven't backed the decent performances of our bowlers, England has even if luck has been a major player in their fortunes."

Shane Watson finally scored a long awaited century which ended up being his highest Test score (176) and his first since 2010in Mohali, India. Watson is a frustrating cricketer because his ability is world-class but his application from a mental stand point is inconsistent. No one can pinpoint what it is but it was a relief to see him secure a massive score in the number three position. It came too late for us after he'd been disappointing with the bat but at least he did something a number three had not done since Shaun Marsh's century on debut against Sri Lanka in 2011.

Prior to Watson's century and since Ricky Ponting stepped out of the number three role (and ultimately retiring) we have used the following men at number three: Shaun Marsh, Ed Cowan, Rob Quiney, Phillip Hughes, David Warner Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke. Took long enough. Watson also averages over 40 in the position.

Michael Clarke had to have an average series by his standards at some point. He couldn't continue to be the savior for our team. When he didn't perform with sublime output we saw how we desperately need guys to step up. Rogers did but ultimately it all came too late. Clarke's back will hopefully be ready for the home Ashes series. That is his biggest worry and could effectively end his career sooner than expected.

Steven Smith's century in the final Test was an important one. Like Khawaja he didn't really assert himself as a batsman making the position in the batting order his own and imposing himself as the man for the future to secure a middle order role for Australia. Yet one cannot deny it was a big moment for him to score a maiden Test century in circumstances where our team could have quite easily lost their fight and just handed England the match. He fought hard, batted with confidence and showed another sign he is slowly coming of age. I wrote my thoughts regarding Smith's turn of events on day two of the recently concluded Oval Test.

Nathan Lyon bowled with an attitude I have never sensed. He had a hop in his step and was really turning on the revolutions with his deliveries, foxing a few of England's best batsmen. His battle with Kevin Pietersen was fantastic to watch and, like Smith, this series gave an indication of Lyon coming of age. Perseverance with him will only benefit him as the Warne-days are now long, long gone and there will never be a spinner of that class again, even if Warnie was a leg spinner.

James Faulkner one and only appearance added a good dynamic to this side. His selection may have put some pressure on Shane Watson to perform, despite Watson having stacked experience in all forms of the game. Faulkner grabbed 6 wickets on debut and 45 runs. Nothing spectacular but a fairly good start compared some of the other Baggy Greens handed out like candy to a bunch of kids at party.

Ashton Agar's 98 on debut was awesome. "Awesome" is the perfect word for that display. He helped us stay in the game and showcased his abilities with the blade in hand, something I saw a bit of at The Adelaide Oval between Western Australia and South Australia in March. He was selected though as a spin bowler. Nathan Lyon is still our best and will be for some time. Agar will come around, he is just 19 but will need the correct mentorship and career management. I am not talking about "career management" as Cricket Australia markets it. I just mean I hope the selectors don't stuff up another young spin bowlers career by throwing him in to soon, making him suffer only to then pull him out for good.

Questions will be asked though.

Was this Brad Haddin's final Test for Australia? What if Matt Wade and Tim Paine get off to solid Shield starts? Haddin kept wicket extremely well this Ashes series, a big turn around for him if you think a few summers back. He's endured a tough run as a family fan off the cricket field so it was a big achievement for him to make this trip but is he too inconsistent now? He has yet to taste an Ashes victory as a member of the starting XI.

Is Mitchell Starc going to remain and pitch and match player? He continues to show poor discipline with his bowling and just cannot seem to build sufficient pressure from his end. On one hand I defend him because he is always in and out of the side so how can he build a solid game plan to match his abilities. Yet one has to ask is the reason behind his pitch and match selection due to the possible inability he has at present to build a game plan that compliments the other bowlers such as Harris, Siddle and Pattinson?

Phillip Hughes was a young man unbelievable confidence and he was piling on runs like no other young Australian batsman had done since Ricky Ponting. Then he had poor career management, endless advice and his game went to the crapper. He has been dropped four or five times now. How is a player meant to handle that? Surely he deserves an extended run? A man who has dominated a county stint and stacked up runs in Australia during different seasons surely deserves a run of consistency in the side? This is a batsman who has also dominated some of the best bowling attacks.

David Warner can belt a ball but is also becoming an inconsistent batsman to watch. Is he an opener or is he a middle order batsman? We all know the destructive player he is but until there is another batsman ready to knock down the doors to any possible batting order plans the selectors have for him, where is going to be placed? What is the plan for him?

Ed Cowan did all he needed to earn a Baggy Green cap but he just hasn't delivered the goods. He has been consistently mediocre and he must be the most confused man in the side as he show cased all that needed to be at state level. Why can't he bring it together in the Test arena? The same can be said for Usman Khawaja who has been on the sidelines a while but I have read and heard many cricket journalists and past-players mention a lack of determination and eagerness in his attitude. Only Usman can answer this.

We also need to see consistency come in the selection policies. The signs are there that there's enough ability in this teams batting line-up. Most of the players have a Test century coming against strong Test sides. Some have great experience, others are starting to come of age. If this can all click in one series as we saw against India in 2011/12 will this make players at state level work harder to earn a place in the side, to target a specific spot in the team to earn that Baggy Green cap?

Tough times ahead still. It seems whenever we get so close it all goes a few steps back. I do remain confident though we can win the Ashes back this summer.

Why? Read my opening paragraphs in this article. England won the small passages of play which ultimately brought about their series victory. They had a few players, just a few, step up when needed to in order to secure those passages of play. Those passages led them to victory. It comes down to those small moments, small differences between the sides which end up painting a much bigger picture than a scoreline indicates.

If our players can perform to the best of their abilities with synergy and start to win those small moments to ultimately win Test matches again we will get back the urn this summer. Don't stop supporting The Baggy Greens!

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1 comment:

Chris Brown said...

I'm sick and tired of the nonsense being spoken by the English fans, media and ECB staff regarding bad light. It's the same as rain. Surely we can accept that cricket cannot and should not be played in rain and/or substandard light. Neither are suitable conditions. Even without the justification of danger, how on earth can it be fair to both teams if one or both cannot see the ball clearly enough to field or bat in suitable fashion? Yes it's a shame that bad light ruined what would have been a great climax to the match. But it would also be a shame had it started raining at 7.30pm. Even the commentators and cameramen couldn't see where the ball was going last night. The umpires and the ICC cannot control the light any more than they can control the clouds.

I can't help speculate that messrs Andy Flower and Giles Clarke would have been less critical of the ICC yesterday had it been Australia who had needed just one wicket for victory with the England players claiming they could not clearly see the ball. I didn't see them complaining in 2009 at Cardiff when, with at least 50 overs of the match lost due to rain the days before, Australia were denied the one wicket and 20 odd runs they required for victory (an hour or more earlier than play was halted last night), in perfectly reasonable light.

Time wasting and slow over rates? Those are the things that the ICC need to take a good look at. Of course England won't talk about this... I wonder why.