England 361 and 31/3 lead Australia 128 (Swann 5-44) by 264 runs
Hello from the North London Riviera. And before we begin, congratulations to Shane Warne on his induction into the ICC Hall of Fame. And congratulations to the Lord’s crowd for ironically cheering Liz Hurley.
This was probably the type of scorecard most would have expected going into the series, particularly after Australia’s horror show in India. But don’t let that detract from how unprecedentedly weird today has been. It was like something dreamt up by Salvador Dalí after snacking on an over-ripe pre-bedtime camembert. There can be little doubt: surrealist Test cricket is here to stay. Australia found increasingly stupid ways of getting out on a pitch that, the odd big turner out of the footmarks apart, was probably as good to bat on as it’s going to be for the whole game. Time and again, they dug their own graves, and then beat themselves over the head with the spade.
Clarke or bust
Michael Clarke may not have fired in this series so far, but don’t let that fool you. He is by far Australia’s most important player. He was even before the retirement of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, and now the over-reliance has become almost total. Since becoming captain at the start of 2011 he has scored 2,584 runs at 64.60, the highest tally of anyone from any country and the third-highest average (assuming a minimum 15 innings). Of the Australians playing in this game, the next highest is Phil Hughes with a somewhat less imposing 822 at 29.35. Even more damningly, in the same period he has scored 18.65% percentage of Australia’s total runs, a scoring burden matched only by Brian Lara in recent times (for a list of most relied upon batsmen over a career, look no further). A telling contribution from Clarke is Australia’s only chance of a decent score, and even then it might not be enough.
How did he drop that???
Good ball, bad shot
Tim Bresnan, c Haddin b Harris 7, 289-8: Good ball, Bresnan had to play. On the ideal length, slap bang in the middle of Geoffrey Boycott’s Corridor of Uncertainty™, and as with the one that got Pietersen yesterday moved away up the hill.
James Anderson, c Haddin b Harris 12, 313-9: Good ball, but a pretty loose shot from the most inexplicable night-watchman in Test history. Harris used the slope well throughout and got this one to jag away alarmingly down it. Top work, and a well deserved place on the honours board.
Stuart Broad, c Haddin b Pattinson 33, 361 all out: It was a waft, but I think we can excuse a waft in the circumstances. This partnership was exactly what England wanted from Broad and Swann, although let us be clear – it did not, repeat not, justify using Anderson as a night-watchman. All involved with that decision should be fined, and David Warner should be allowed a free swing at their testicles.
All of which entertaining biffing brought us to Australia’s omnishambles of an innings:
Shane Watson, lbw b Bresnan 30, 42-1: The most typical of typical Shane Watson dismissals. He’d played like a dream, murdering a few through the off-side and looking almost unfairly fluent. Then Bresnan bowled one straight. Watson planted his front foot, swung the bat hopefully in the vague direction of the ball, and was absolutely plumb. The combination of the shot and the absurd review put this one firmly in the ‘bad shot’ category.
Chris Rogers, lbw b Swann 15, 50-2: Jus…wha…um…I don’t know. Box before wicket off a full toss just isn’t supposed to happen, ever. I said yesterday Steve Smith nicked the one he got Ian Bell with from a proper bowler, and clearly that bowler was Swann and this was revenge. And it was missing leg. And he didn’t review it, probably because of Watson’s stupid review. An all-round cricketing abomination that made me ashamed the sport was ever invented.
Phil Hughes, c Prior b Bresnan 1, 53-3: Terrible shot. Feet nowhere, bat at an ugly angle. The kind of shot that drives under-12s coaches mad the world over. Again DRS involved, although given how faint the nick was Hughes was probably just about within his rights to ask…but from then on Australia had no reviews. WATSON [shakes fist]!
Usman Khawaja, c Pietersen b Swann 14, 69-4: Doubleplusungood shot. Batting by numbers: block, block, block, slog. He came out of his crease like he was being pushed down against his will, and even though it went straight into the sun, as Pietersen made sure everyone knew, there was no chance England were going to drop him again – only much better players get that kind of luck.
Steve Smith, c Bell b Swann 2, 86-5: Good ball, good captaincy, really good catch. Bell had just been moved in front of square by Cook, and when this one reared off a length he was just close enough to it to get both hands around it despite the fact he was moving the other way.
Michael Clarke, lbw Broad 28, 91-6: Good ball, speared in on middle and leg. Clarke ended up in an almighty tangle with bat and front pad getting snarled up together. Clarke seems to be attracting very good deliveries in this series, which England will not mind one little bit. A quick mention for Broad would not go amiss either, this was a very good spell which will garner few headlines.
Ashton Agar, run out (Prior/Anderson) 2, 96-7: And to top it all off, a ridiculous run-out. Agar had been carrying an injury since the very start of the game, and after setting off like a startled rabbit and then being sold down the river by Haddin he had very little chance of beating Prior’s accurate throw. This is the sort of run out that only happens to struggling teams.
Peter Siddle, c Swann b Anderson 2, 104-8: Good probing line and length, but a pretty feeble prod. Anderson bowled a beautiful spell in the morning session with no luck at all, so all in all was probably due a bit of a gift.
Brad Haddin, c Trott b Swann 7, 104-9: Haddin had little option but to swing from the hip by this stage. Swann dangled the carrot, Haddin tried to hit the cover off it and Trott was able to make amends for shelling Khawaja with not too much damage done. Or at least, not to England.
Ryan Harris, c Pietersen b Swann 10, 128 all out: Swann’s drop didn’t count for much either in the end. Harris decided he didn’t trust his defence, got the 9 iron out and tried and failed to chip it over Pietersen, who took a very good catch over his shoulder. One of the stranger five-fors Swann will get, but maybe this makes up for the one he didn’t get a chance at against New Zealand.
Unsurprisingly given the dryness of the pitch, England decided to bat again. And almost instantly regretted it.
Alastair Cook, b Siddle 8, 22/1: Bowled with a bit of venom, and Cook became the latest to fall victim to the Angled Bat of Doom. Not quite a bad shot, but distinctly sub-optimal.
Jonathan Trott, b Siddle 0, 22/2: Good length, tight line, a little bit of nip back in. A drag-on never looks good, but Trott shouldn’t get too much flak for this one.
Kevin Pietersen, c Rogers b Siddle 5, 30/3: More Bizarro World cricket. A wide not-quite-half-volley that swung a bit and really should have been left, and Pietersen thrashed it straight to cover point. Then with England 263 ahead, out walks…Tim Bresnan. The mind boggles.
What tomorrow will bring us is anyone’s guess. A pitch invasion led by penguins escaped from London Zoo seems like a distinct possibility on present form. Farewell, and may you be in heaven half an hour before Darrell Hair knows you’re dead.