03 January 2014

The Ashes: 5th Test, day 1

The McGrath Foundation Pink Test.

England won the toss and elected to field first. They trail us by 318 runs with 9 wickets in tact.

Australia 1st innings: 326 all out from 76 overs

Steven Smith 115, Brad Haddin 75, Shane Watson 43
Ben Stoked 6-99

England 1st innings: 1/8 from 6.0 overs

Mitchell Johnson 1-3

Plays: The best pattern followed heading into this Test was an unchanged starting XI. That is real unity for you and uplifting to see some tired bodies just keep fighting for the team to be out there.

A pattern was identified this Ashes series and this slightly different pattern continues. This pattern, or trend, sees our top order struggle for runs in the 1st innings, with our middle order (notably Brad Haddin) bailing us out.
Our bowlers then stand up and deliver aggressive spurts of bowling to rattle England. Our batsmen then come in with a strong standing and manage to see our top order put big runs on the board - taking the pressure off the middle order. The lead ends up being relatively secure in place, or the game turns to our favour after this occurs.

As written in an article covering day 3 of the 4th Test, "Brad's fight to keep our 1st innings a float is a trend that has been apparent this series, a reason he is my Man of the Series right now, despite Mitchell Johnson's unreal performances.
However, as outstandingly pointed out by Brydon Coverdale (ESPN Cricinfo) if we look back to Newland's 2011, we didn't have the saving graces of Hads that day as we were rolled for 47. He can't do it all the time but thank our lucky Southern Cross he was able to bail us out again.

Thanking our lucky Southern Stars, Hads brought the goods to his home ground and entertained. So did Steven Smith though!

There has been a rumor surfacing that Hads will retire after this Test. Perhaps, it is a great time for him to bow out on an almighty high. We've won the Ashes, he's been sensational, and he can leave the game with little scrutiny from the media. However, with a tough tour to South Africa, he may be eager to help this team fight to number one. He may hang on, along with Ryan Harris and skipper Michael Clarke.

Before a quick look into the outstanding input from the two New South Wales representatives, David Warner brought up his 500th run for the series. He was hitting the ball crisply and confidently before Stuart Broad rattled his stumps. With one innings left in this Ashes series, he has a tally of 507 runs at 63.37.

Brad Haddin finds himself with a mighty fine collection of runs for a man coming in at number 7.

465 runs at 66.42 with 5 half-centuries and a century. This has come from just 6 innings and when you consider the manner and pressure with which he's earned this return it's not only outstanding but also very inspiring. On top of this his wicket keeping has been world class and he's been the real difference between the sides. He just stands out as my Player of the Series right now. We may not have the urn if it weren't for his rescue missions. He deserved a century today but fell 25 runs short with a soft dismissal.

Steven Smith was able to carry on though. After the WACA innings, I wrote that was Smithy's coming of age, the defining innings of his career. He delivered today with his second century of this Ashes campaign, and don't forget his maiden century in England at The Oval.

Today at the SCG though it was 115 runs, invaluable runs. He moves to 320 runs for the series and, as a result, he went ahead of Kevin Pietersen which means the top six run scorers this series have been our Australian boys. Domination!

The freedom which he played with is what really struck me today, especially after Hads departed.
We were 5/97 and somehow these two guys were able to put us into a mighty strong position by stumps with fearless cricket - a brand of cricket we lost until the return of Darren Lehman. Both played their aggressive strokes, Hads preffering the leg side, while Smithy put away some glorious cover drives with a tighter technique than his slightly "floppy" technique of the past. This was just a sign of confidence and self-belief. Just terrific, boys.

Smithy's century came with a six on 93, followed by another to go beyond 100. An example of good footwork and a thriving challenge against spin bowlers, which we got to see glimpses of in India. Nearly a year later we see the progress. Just after, instead of ducking into his shell he took full advantage of a full toss and dispatched it for six with a powerful pull stroke. A century for Steven Smith when the team needed it, as he did so at the WACA with Brad Haddin.

Ryan Harris played a good knock to score 22 runs, which helped Smithy keep our fight going. Ryano got some big shots of his own in there.

Earlier in the day though Shane Watson made another start but got out before the lunch break. Concentration? Who knows but the frustration of Watson continues, a man with immense talent but just unable to keep in the game when the opportunity of definition presents. The likelihood of him bringing some big runs in the 2nd innings is high.

George Bailey will feel not pressure but probably a bit of sadness with his own performances, not the teams of course.

He knew this was an opportunity to hang onto making his debut at a later stage of his career. It was through limited overs cricket he earned it (why many said he was lucky), but he hasn't been able to deliver enough for the team with the blade in hand. This shouldn't take away the fact he has been a member of a winning team and played a role for us in the field. Just sad he wasn't able to give much more earlier on. It's okay, he still has another innings to try and enjoy and just live for moment. Keep going Georgey!

With our last wicket falling, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris kept the English openers on their toes and we got the breakthrough. Great tactics implemented from Michael Clarke, but Mitch bowled to the plan and it came off with Nathan Lyon taking a wonderful catch at leg slip. The crowd went mad!

Mark Taylor nearly lost his mind in the commentary box when the catch was snatched, waxing lyrical about Nathan Lyon summer.

That wicket of Michael Carberry gives Mitch 32 wickets for the series. Unreal stuff, but very real he could break some more records.

He needs just 3 wickets to claim the most wickets for an Australian fast bowler in a 5-match Ashes series.
He needs 6 wickets to break the record for the most wickets by an Australian bowler in any 5 match Test series. Record was set in 1910-11. Back our left-arm fast bowling bringer of destruction tomorrow.

Verdict: At 5/97 is wasn't looking like our opening day but going over 300 runs and an English wicket in the bag, it would have to be our day given their struggles this tour. Oddly enough I didn't worry, which I something I do a fair bit of, despite the optimism you read right here at the Baggy Green Supporters Blog.

It's been a remarkable turnaround for our boys looking back 10 months ago.

5-0 is now a very possible outcome after the performances from Hads and Smithy. However, as written here many, many times, cricket is a game that presents many sudden and dramatic twists and turns. Given England's confidence, or lack thereof (throw in three debutants) if we have a cracking opening session tomorrow (any by Mitchell's watch) it will be bloody hard for them to comeback at all. That is quite obvious, as is the possibility of the trend to emerge which, if it does, will be the end of England to see us go 5-0 up.

Still plenty of cricket to soak up. Come on Australia!

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