England 215 and 326 for 6 (Bell 95*, Broad 47*) lead Australia 280 by 261 runs
Welcome to the third instalment of Test Match Review. It was a fascinating day of Test cricket, with the balance of power shifting throughout until Ian Bell and Stuart Broad made their most telling contributions with the bat for some time to leave England with a lead that even if Alastair Cook were to declare after one ball, which admittedly is about as likely as him waking up in Garfield Sobers’ body (the cricketing remake of ‘Freaky Friday’ the world has most assuredly not been waiting for), would probably be enough to secure victory. As it is, England are now in a position where if they bat for long enough they could all but guarantee that Australia will be reduced to digging in to try and save the game.
IAN! RONALD! BELL!
The Duke of Bellington (not his most ridiculous nickname, thanks to some amusing Wikipedia vandalism) has a reputation as a flat-track bully whose mid-40s average belies his tendency to crumble like a biscuit dipped once too often into a particularly hot cup of tea. I’ll leave that debate to others, but this innings showed for the second time this year that Bell has augmented his crisp strokeplay and at times exquisite timing with plentiful reserves of mental fortitude (newfound or otherwise). Matt Prior rightly got the plaudits for England’s Dunkirk re-enactment in Auckland, but Bell’s 75 off 271 should not be overlooked.
However, should England win, this Test match will represent new ground. Bell has registered eleven 50-plus scores at a slower strike rate than this one, and none of them have resulted in an England win. There have been seven defeats and four draws: the aforementioned game in Auckland; the snooze-fest in Nagpur last winter; the first innings in the drawn Old Trafford Test of 2005 which was a rare if scratchy high point in a tortuous series for him; and the great escape in Cape Town that is widely regarded as his finest hour in an England shirt. There is no doubt that if England do head to Lord’s 1-0 up, there will be a new contender for that honour.
An interesting statistical sidenote: Bell has only faced more balls than his close of play 228 eight times in his career. Apart from the anomalous trench-digging effort in Auckland, all of the others have been hundreds, and big ones: the lowest score of the lot is 115. We’ll see how tomorrow pans out, but don’t be surprised if Bell ends up with a big, big score.
Broad returns to form with fighting 47/1
First things first. Yes, we all know he nicked Agar to slip. He hit the bloody cover off it. Aleem Dar clearly wasn’t watching the same sport, let alone the same game, and in an ideal world will be lucky to retain his place on the Elite Panel for any length of time. But there has been and will continue to be more than enough written and said about that, as well as the tedious ‘walk or no walk’ debate. The only thing I want to throw in is that James Pattinson has not attracted nearly enough criticism for pressuring a now desperate Michael Clarke into wasting Australia’s last review on a frivolous LBW appeal.
But let’s concentrate on Broad. The last eighteen months have been frankly dire as far as his batting is concerned; he hasn’t scored a fifty since scoring an unbeaten 58 against Pakistan in January 2012, and since that innings he has averaged a mediocre 16.45 compared to his career figure of 25.13. Perhaps more pertinently, in the matches up to and including that one in the UAE he had demonstrated serious all-rounder credentials with an impressive batting average of 28.93. Broad too came out of Auckland with credit, and England fans will be hoping that this more aggressive effort will be the rebirth of Stuart Broad the bowling all-rounder.
Turns out he can bowl too
Before we run through the dismissals, a quick word on Australia’s bowlers. The pitch got slower and slower as the day went on, as Kevin Pietersen alluded to in his post-match interview in front of Ian Ward’s giant mounted iPad, and while there was some uneven bounce and occasional turn for Ashton Agar, who showed that his inclusion hadn’t been just a roundabout way of strengthening Australia’s batting, and the old ball did reverse before it basically fell apart, this was not the sort of pitch where you could expect to rip through an opposition batting line-up if they showed any kind of application. Having said that, it was not the pitch for extravagant strokeplay either, which Pietersen also evidenced with his dismissal. Australia kept it tight and at no point apart from when Matt Prior was in full flow did England threaten to get away from them. Shane Watson’s figures of 15-11-11-0, while ludicrous, demonstrated the deck’s two-faced nature. In short, it was a Test match in the truest sense of the term. Groundsmen of the world, take note.
Good ball, bad shot
This is more the kind of day I was expecting when I decided I’d evaluate every wicket.
Kevin Pietersen, b Pattinson 64, 121-3: Bad shot. Bad choice of shot, badly executed. The diagonal bat is always a danger even to well-set players on a slow pitch. He had made a concerted effort throughout to present the full face of the bat either horizontally or vertically, and this dismissal showed that was the right way to go.
Alastair Cook, c Clarke b Agar 50, 131-4: Not a bad first Test scalp (and not half important: the last six times Cook had reached 50 he had made a century each time at an average of 141.5). And a good ball to get it with, bowled with a lot of overspin to get the dip and bounce that caused Cook to turn his wrists a little early and send it high towards the acrobatic Clarke who took a fine catch. Obviously that dodgy back is alright for now.
Jonny Bairstow, c Haddin b Agar 15, 174-5: A very nice delivery indeed. Agar’s slowest of the day, Bairstow was always reaching for it and it turned just enough to take the edge. Bairstow had played solidly and had looked in little trouble (despite what the volley of abuse he was getting on Twitter might suggest) and shouldn’t dwell on this dismissal too much.
Matt Prior, c Cowan b Siddle 31, 218-6: Spanking a long-hop (Siddle will tell you it was an attempted bouncer but on this pitch every short ball is a long-hop) to the fielder never looks good. Unlike with Pietersen this was the right shot, he was just very early on it and it was just within reach of the spring-heeled Cowan – that was not the jump of a man who had been on and off the field with a stomach complaint. An important breakthrough; Prior had looked in ominous form as he dined on the surfeit of wide filth Australia had bizarrely decided was the best way of getting him out.
That’s your lot for day 3. I’m away for the weekend chasing a frisbee round a field near Cardiff (don’t ask), so if I do manage to do anything for the last two days it’ll be brief and might just be a summary of the wickets that fall. If I don’t manage to put anything out, I look forward to writing at you for the second Test at Lord’s. Goodbye, and may Adrian Shankar never darken your door.