26 December 2013

The Ashes, 4th Test, day 1: Boxing Day

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Australia won the toss and elected to field first (interesting move by Michael Clarke)

England 1st Innings: 6/226 from 89.0 overs
Kevin Pietersen 67*, Michael Carberry 38
Ryan Harris 2-32, Mitchell Johnson 2-59, Shane Watson 1-11

Here's a quick run down regarding the highlights of day 1:

The legend himself, Bill Lawry, was back in the commentary booth ("Oh he's got him"), the MCG saw a record Boxing Day attendance of 91,092 (earlier 90,831 on the scoreboard) fanatics, Shane Watson has managed 50 Tests in an injury burdened career span of 9 years, Brad Haddin took his 50th catch of 2013 (further boosting his Man of the Series prospects), Hugh Jackman was interviewed by Michael Slater and his crew on The Cricket Show, there were a lot of flies at the MCG today, my mates Sylvester and Dan Stapo texted me that they are now deaf after sitting in Bay 15 having endured never ending drunken singing/ chanting, and we dropped Kevin Pietersen twice as England already seem to be in shut down mode, playing for a drawn result. Yes, it was Boxing Day.

Play: Our decision to bowl first was an interesting one. It would seem with the cloud cover and a bit of drizzle about that there would have been a lot in it for our bowlers to rattle England's top order. I am a bat first bloke and it's hard for me to consider the idea of fielding first, unless in England or possibly New Zealand, but it would seem Clarkey didn't make a bad call. If anything we simply lacked some luck today and, for the first time this series, our fielding standards were a bit below the benchmark set to not fully capitalise on the decision.

The main thing I admired today was our bowlers discipline shining through yet again. Ryan Harris has been unlucky this series, and his input has deserved much greater output. Today was a prime example.

Economically he was first class, discipline wise with his line and length he was first class, his subtle swing movement was enough to keep England's top order batsmen stuck on the crease, and his bowling was executed to the plans and fields set by Michael Clarke. It was first class, pure class.

Sadly for Ryano, having claimed Joe Root and later Ian Bell, there was man he should have had - twice. That man was Kevin Pietersen and he is a player currently short on confidence, despite his PR work that all is well. We needed to mow him and our fielding was a bit scrappy out there and not only cost us two golden opportunities, but blundered two brilliant pieces of tactical bowling to try get that one prized wicket. Frustrating!

The first was luring KP in for the hook shot and Nathan Coulter-Nile, who was on for Shane Watson who'd injured his groin, took the outfield catch but made the error an outfielder should never make. He had no idea where the boundary was! So, he took the catch, but had no control over his balance once he realised how close he was to the rope. His momentum was too much and his footing was incorrect to drive his balance forward. In a desperate attempt to throw the ball back in play - partly in panic - he ditched it over his head and into the crowd. It was shattering for us, but imagine poor Nathan. He will have nightmares about it tonight.

The chance went down and fortunately we worked hard to grab two more wickets before stumps as soon as we secured the new ball in the hands of mighty Mitchell Johnson.

There was however another chance that went down, and that was the wicket of KP - round two. He spanked a pull short which flew directly to our man at short mid-wicket. This was George Bailey whose taken his catches and been alert in the field. He blundered the chance and although it was traveling bloody fast, it was a chance that by our standards was one to be claimed. He didn't and KP survived.
I think he then swallowed a fly and threw up on the field, but that may be just pure disgust at how lucky he was today.

All in all I was pleased with our bowlers. When they bowled superb spells they were of the highest quality and England had little room for confident stroke play. If anything they seemed hesitant to play with any natural flair. Nathan Lyon was equally impressive with the grip he was able to get early on in the day. He troubled Michael Carberry in particular with a very, very tight line leaving Carberry minimal room for error. He had a bit of pace to with a consistent delivery of 90km/h which had a few batsmen struggling for smooth footwork. Brad Haddin's keeping was good once again.

Peter Siddle never saw Pietersen play him comfort, just further working in the "bunny" tag. It was entertaining to watch.

Tactically England were in the crapper with their slow run rate.

Sure, it is Test cricket but at their slow scoring rate, the risk they faced was that with the pitch being a bit on the slow side, flattening out as the day progressed, and their top three batsmen in the shed when they did have some passages of opportunity, the new ball when taken would be a handful and if Australia were able to claim another two wickets late in the day, it would make that patient, conservative approach one in vain. And so it happened! They needed to be about 350 runs by stumps with what was on offer, but as soon as Mitch Johnson ripped those last two wickets with the new cherry, it set them further off course and, as a result, should they find themselves a few more down early tomorrow they will have quite easily lost 150 runs from their potential tally.

Verdict: Tomorrow our boys will have worked off Christmas dinner, and they will have clear objectives. I believe England will be hazy with a game plan and they lost the day - even though KP had luck which is a part of this tough game.

Given we have the Ashes now many want a bit more fight from England. Yes, with a Test series against South Africa around the corner I want some pre-tour fight for even more from our players but I also want a 5-0 result here which will help us get closer to the goal to become the number one Test side again.
So come tomorrow I'd like a nice aggressive session, with clear  tactics executed and much better fielding standards from our boys. The only thing I was upset about today was our fielding. We have much better standards, but all in all it was a fairly ordinary day of Test cricket by Boxing Day standards. Still, we were the top side for the day and tomorrow awaits.

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