22 August 2013

The Ashes 5th Test, day 2, The Oval

The Ashes 5th Test, day 2, The Oval

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

England: 0/32 from 17.3 overs

Prior to this series Darren Lehmann stated we needed centurions every Test if we wanted to win. We knew our bowling stocks could get the job done, especially when Ryan Harris came into the mix. Harris' efforts were left in vain as our batsmen failed to collectively find ways to combat the English bowling attack and Lehmann's ambitious pleas for those centurions ended up being too scarce come the English securing both the urn and the series.

We can now see the men who needed those centuries and what the possible impact could have been had they believed in themselves earlier on in the series. This team hasn't played a great deal of cricket together and as they now reach their fifth Test, there may now be a light at the end of the tunnel for the home Ashes series. Connectivity is as important as collectivity to find the winning edge and winning ways in Test cricket.

Ashton Agar nearly reached a century on debut, sadly it wasn't to be and our momentum caved in. Michael Clarke was our first centurion, no surprises. Chris Rogers brought up his maiden century and has shown why he has value for our team and further provokes the question as to why the selectors just didn't look for his experience in earlier years as we gradually brought in younger batsmen. Shane Watson was the third, scoring a career saving ton at the number three role this Test (first century for a number three batsman since Shaun Marsh versus Sri Lanka in 2011) and now we have Steven Smith (138*) who, like Rogers, has secured his maiden Test century which will ensure he is a member of the home Ashes series end of the year.

We now have four centuries listed, whereas England have five - three of these coming from Ian Bell. It further illustrates the manner in which we lost the urn. Our batsmen just didn't bat through crucial passages of play as our bowlers have certainly tied England down and Ian Bell truly has been the stand out batsman and the ultimate difference. Good to see Watson, Clarke, Rogers and Smith all in the top four.

Smith resumed the day on 66* and much of the hype was surrounding Shane Watson's highest Test score and the manner with which he demanded a battle for the all-rounder spot. Smith however made the day his own. The first session was washed out but the covers came off and he played as Watson did - "no fear"!

He found the further 34 runs needed to get his long awaited century (not as long as Watson mind you) and when on 94 runs he did something that reminded me of a young Phillip Hughes.

In his second Test match at Kingsmead versus a strong South African bowling line-up, Hughes plugged Paul Harris away for consecutive sixes to bring up his maiden century. Smith decided to go to his maiden century in a similar sense, by smacking Jonathan Trott down the ground for a maximum. There was relief on Smith's face, not pure joy and excitement, it was relief. This has put him on the map.

Smith has been used for a variety of purposes but I felt for him as his role was never truly realised by the selectors and this couldn't have been easy. At last he knows his purpose, knows that batting is his priority and this match will make him realise why he is there. He's gone from being a player who fished outside of off-stump, became a specialist fielder who could just bat and bowl a bit, to a confident emerging Test batsman. He was put into the mix too early but now he's coming around and looks to have that self-belief.

Hughes had the opposite treatment. He was a man with no fear (as has been the case with these two centurions) and had so much self-belief. His technique was wild, his approach was unique but we had a young man come into the side with a purpose. How times have changed for Hughes with so much meddling in his game and the constant series of being in and out of the team.

I wrote the following about Smith during the third Test which seems to have greater meaning right now:

Smith has shown incredible application to his game when I think back to 2010/11 when he was plain and simply not ready for Test cricket. I was always frustrated with the selection of Smith as he was put into the Australian team well before he had sufficient first-class exposure.

This was made worse by the former selection panel not giving him a specific task. He was called in as a leg spinner, who was a part-time spinner at best. He was made to bat in a variety of positions but was impatient, fidgety and easy picking outside of off stump in the Test arena. Then he was just a specialist fielder, keeping out better players. It wasn't his fault but he took flack for it. The new selection panel kept him out the side until the time was right. He is now a better cricketer and is asserting himself as a batsman.

The aggression from our lower order to put us into a dominant position appeared fantastic, especially seeing debutant all-rounder James Faulkner put Stuart Broad away for collection of boundaries. 172 runs were added after Peter Siddle's dismissal and these runs came from 34 overs with a run-rate of just over 5 runs an over.

It allowed us a chance to bowl at England with 492 runs on the board. An eagerly awaited scoreline for our bowlers. England managed to see the day through to stumps with ten wickets in hand, so tomorrow will be a big session or two for our bowlers. Nathan Lyon will hopefully come into the equation earlier than expected, especially if Trott and Kevin Pietersen find their way to the wicket. Pietersen versus Lyon has become an exciting battle to witness.

Verdict: Australia take day two and should be content with the scoreboard having seen one session washed out.

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