11 August 2013

The Ashes 4th Test, day 3, Chester-le-Street

The Ashes 4th Test, day 3, Chester-le-Street:

England 1st innings:
238 all out from 91.6 overs
Nathan Lyon 4-42, Ryan Harris 2-70, Shane Watson 1-21, Peter Siddle 1-41, Jackson Bird 2-58
Alastair Cook 51, Jonathan Trott 49

Australia 1st innings:
270 all out after 89.3 overs
Chris Rogers 110, Shane Watson 68
Stuart Broad 5-71

England 2nd innings:
5/234 from 74 overs
Ian Bell 105*, Kevin Pietersen 44, Tim Bresnan 4*
Ryan Harris 3-74, Nathan Lyon 3-46

Match status:
England lead by 202 runs with 5 wickets in hand and two days of play remaining.
Day three was a topsy-turvy sort of a day as this entire Test has been in patches. Come the closure of day one and two we were on top, now we find ourselves down on the other side. There's been similarities too but after two days on top we find ourselves in a concerning situation in a must win Test match.

On the start of day two we quickly ended England's innings, lost quick top order wickets when we came into bat but found a centurion (Chris Rogers) and someone to partner him (Shane Watson). Come stumps we had five wickets in hand and trailed by 16 runs.
Day three arrived and England quickly ended our innings, with us only able to gain a lead of 32 desperate runs. We then came onto bowl and Ryan Harris picked up three quick top order wickets in elite style. Then England found a centurion in Ian Bell (105*) and he had support from Kevin Pietersen. England went into stumps with five wickets in hand, but a very good lead to have that edge on us.

If patterns were to emerge with similarity to the above mentioned passages of play, then it would be with hope we can grab England's last five wickets in quick succession to ensure they don't have a lead greater than 250 runs. It's a big ask and come the time of our innings we'd have to hope to not suffer a top order collapse, which has seemed to be an occurring theme when chasing targets - leaving it to some lonesome fighter.

Our day started dismally. To only secure a lead of 32 runs having had five wickets in hand is poor. Ryan Harris belted it about to advance it a bit more but we needed at least 75 runs and above. Chris Rogers is not in a position to be faulted. If it weren't for his innings with the support coming from Shane Watson (who is under injury threat watch now) we would have been slaughtered this innings after losing our top order for as good as nothing. Rogers had a soft dismissal with a mighty fine catch taken by Matt Prior off Graeme Swann's bowling. Hot spot showed just a tickle off the glove and Rogers' fine Test innings came to an end. He would have been so disappointed but his innings was one to remember and without it, who knows.

Brad Haddin is hot and cold these days. His work behind the stumps has been world-class but his batting is a bizarre spectacle. Some days he will impose himself and play glorious shots and dominate with an aggressive objective. Frustratingly it seems he gets out cheaply when playing the defensive role. We needed plenty of runs from him and after being removed plumb LBW by Swann - oddly reviewed - he walked off too soon from the middle of the wicket than what was desperately required. It was a huge loss.

With a lead of just 32 runs in the bag it was going to be a game where the teams would likely remain on par until the final days play.

Ryan Harris was unbelievable as he gave it everything he has. His body must be feeling the strain but he showed signs of nothing other than wanting to dominate each and every English batsman. He used the conditions to his advantage and picked up three top order wickets, giving us a sense of hope. His delivery to remove Joe Root is being compared that which removed Michael Clarke at Trent Bridge off the bowling of James Anderson. It was near identical and as unplayable. It was the delivery fast bowlers have good dream about, the one which is pitched on a good length and just nips away ever so slightly from the right hand batsman to clip the top of off-stump. Perfection!

Unfortunately Harris was not given the support required from the rest of our bowlers, especially with the loss of Shane Watson to injury. Watson was able to play a crucial role in the first innings by applying immense pressure upon the English batsmen, allowing our faster bowlers to pepper them. Not this time.

Nathan Lyon bowled a good gig for the day but his wickets seemed to have come a bit too late in the day, but better that than nothing at all and not his fault. Michael Clarke was also oddly slow with his field placements, especially when Ian Bell was just dominating the third man region, as he's done so often. We still have a chance here though. How realistic it is will be seen soon enough.

I think many Australian supporters will feel dejected having been in such a grand position come stumps on day two. Now we see England in control and in the strongest position either side has been in this Test. It's disheartening and even a score of 250 to chase down will be seen as a huge task given history in recent times.

Our younger batsmen in Khawaja and Smith have yet to step up to the greater challenges when presented and if they can't do it come our second innings I wonder when it will happen in a greater match. They've shown they can bat, no doubts there. Yet this is not our issue. It's about youngsters seeing an opportunity and doing what Rogers and Watson did in the first innings against what was easily the toughest barrage of bowling seen this Ashes series.

Then we need David Warner to fire, along with the experience of Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin. Bottom line is whatever target is set by England we need three to four batsmen to post big scores and this hasn't happened in a very, very long time (2011/12). If that doesn't happen it will leave supporters wondering when it ever will. We can't afford to lose this Test match. We need to see the scoreline at 2-2 before the home Ashes series - for the sake of pride and to leave people wondering "what if it hadn't rained at Old Trafford?"

Tomorrow's first session will determine much. Michael Clarke will need to be tactically and strategically switched on to a level like no other this series. It's obvious what we need to do. It would just seem many supporters are dreading the potential figures Graeme Swann will be looking to stack up come our second dig, the huge challenge to see whether we can walk away with pride from this series to end it all at The Oval.

Verdict: England joined in the game of topsy-tuvy and secured the day with the greatest advantage in the match thus far. Ian Bell has also more than likely secured the Player of the Series Award too after another century was registered to his name.

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