21 August 2013

The Ashes 5th Test, day 1, The Oval

The Ashes 5th Test, day 1, The Oval

Australia: 4/307 from 90.0 overs
Shane Watson 176, Steven Smith 66*
James Anderson 2-52

It was bittersweet seeing Shane Watson reach his first Test century since 2010. It’s been a long wait and I felt the weight that was lifted off his shoulders! Even though it was a great moment to witness him bring up a career saving century, most surely felt it came a bit too late for the team this series - knowing what Watson is capable of doing for the team.

It was a demonstration that a Shane Watson who can mow on from a strong start is able to crush most bowling units. He has always been a crisp hitter against the new ball – no doubts there. He plays with confidence, but the element yesterday was one of “no fear” to coincide with that confidence in stroke play. This is something that has lacked in Watson’s game and the confidence in the stroke play is there, but not in the application from a mental dynamic as a Test cricketer.

Watson is able to change games but his poor conversion rate has never allowed the masses to see that pure potential Shane Warne saw in Watson so many years back. The poor conversion rate has led to some psychological weaknesses, a shuffle all around the batting order and a man who has found himself fortunate to still be in the side after a very poor run. The benefit of being an all-rounder has paid off for Watson to have faith kept in his abilities and this brutal innings of 176 at The Oval, in the manner we recognise with him, is a relief for everyone.

We need to win this Test for pride. It is also important for a number of reasons. This team needs to rally together!

Watson may have felt himself under immense pressure with the inclusion of James Faulkner (Baggy Green #435), which to me seemed more a move for a bloke who “gets things done” as opposed to a genuine tactical decision.

Two all-rounders in a side was the call. Faulkner is an aggressive cricketer, just like Watson, only with age on his side, strong State performances and few injuries to burden him. I believe Faulkner was in this side to put the pressure on Watson to perform, to force him to stand up and showcase his skills. Faulkner was there to remind him he is not the only all-rounder anymore. Someone new is in the system and the best of Shane Watson came out. Congrats Shane!

Healthy competition is what this team needs and the more men we have knocking on the door after biding their time at State level to take the place of a cemented Test cricketer, the greater our stocks will be. Pride will return for the players, it will no longer be fear for a position. A stable side is needed though too.

Steven Smith (66*) was able to step up. He started his Ashes series off strongly but slipped into the same bracket as every other young cricketer. Before this Test, Mark Taylor said that this was a game about the younger men. The older players have stood up – Rogers, Harris, Clarke – and it was now time for the younger players to show why they are there and to actually do something. Smith did something right yesterday.

Smith and Khawaja are two players who have had incredible opportunities this series to show ability beyond the batting skills. They needed to show case their hunger and self-belief to want to hold down a long term spot in this side. Both needed to perform to grab a piece of Ashes history to propel their careers forward.

Khawaja may have lucked out on that now, but Smith’s time with Watson proved vital as he played with confidence and assisted us over the 300 mark – something that has been too rare a sight this series.

Chris Rogers (23) was out for just 23 runs but it was so much more than that. He supported Watson and together they put together a century stand of 107 runs. Both have stated their enjoyment batting together and this was proven. Yes, it was only 23 runs but for those 100 deliveries Rogers was out there and the few less that were spent with Watson may have been the exact man who was needed at the crease to push Watson in the right direction. A stat alone doesn’t always tell a true tale.

Michael Clarke was peppered by Stuart Broad, who bowled a wild spell of short fast paced bowling at Clarke and Watson. Watson took a serious knock to the back side of his head (believe me, it really hurts!) and was down on the ground, but he soldiered on to score a big century. Clarke however looked rattled. He wasn’t picking up the shorter deliveries from Broad and even though he did counter-attack a few times with some good looking pull shots, he was far from comfortable and he was bowled once again this series, oddly enough but a ball that wasn’t short leading to his downfall. The man to get him? JamesAnderson.

The plan for tomorrow would be logical. This pitch will start to seriously favour the spinners. There will also be enough irregularity on the surface to assist to seam movement for the fast bowlers. It may not be easy but all that Clarke will want is from his batmen to come is to mow that score along too as many runs as possible.

Verdict: Australia takes day one. We also won the toss and if we were to play mind games, the only toss we won the series ended up being a drawn result, easily looming to be a win. The games we lost the toss ended up being a lost result. Let’s see!

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