Test Match Review: England v Australia 2013, First Test, Trent Bridge – Day Two

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England 215 and 80 for 2 (Cook 37*, Pietersen 35*) lead Australia 280 (Agar 98, Hughes 81*, Anderson 5-85) by 15 runs

Hello, reader. I have no idea what’s just happened.

Good luck making sense of this one

We saw three matches in one today. First, England’s ever-reliable portmanteau demon bowler Grammy Anderswann ripped through the Australian lower-middle order, and then at the end Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen steadied the ship after Mitchell Starc (in combination, allegedly, with Marais Erasmus) took two in two for the second time in about 24 hours on the stroke of tea.

Cook and Pietersen were both described as becalmed, but in truth Pietersen simply looked too bored to bother playing an attacking shot. Other than an outside edge off Ashton Agar (of whom a lot more later) that would have broken Brad Haddin’s leg had he not been wearing pads, and the contemptuous cover drive for four he played next ball as though he were an old-school headmaster caning a pupil for ‘answering back’, there were few signs that Pietersen had any intention of leaving his bubble. The evening session was little more than a two-hour outdoor net against some disciplined but unthreatening bowling.

In between…

Phil Hughes and Ashton Agar came together at 117/9 after Australia had lost 5 wickets for 9 runs in 5.1 overs to Anderson, who produced a superb spell of controlled reverse swing that was wasted on this batting line-up, and Swann, who made a mockery of his previous struggles at Trent Bridge, turning one square to bowl Haddin and then trapping Swann with one that had just as much work on it (as Sky’s rev-counter revealed) but went straight on. Agar changed everything. While Hughes looked like he had learned nothing from his torrid winter against India, his partner’s uncluttered approach took all the pressure off him. Steve Smith had had a similar effect before his needless dismissal, hitting Swann for 16 off 19, but it was Agar’s sustained agression that meant Hughes didn’t have to worry about scoring runs and could just concentrate on trying to get down the other end to face the quicks, against whom he looked infinitely more comfortable.

Just as well, really: before the carnage began in the 29th over, Smith had contrived to face 11 of the 16 balls sent down by Swann and had scored at a good rate (16 runs including 2 fours and a big six in Swann’s first over), but with his partners giving the impression that Trent Bridge had fitted a revolving door to their pavilion during the ground’s remodelling before the remarkable final wicket partnership, Hughes was stuck groping around against Swann for 9 of the 11 balls he faced in this period of play, which garnered the grand total of 1 leg bye, and that ball drew a close but unsuccessful lbw appeal.

Then came the new boy. The bare facts are remarkable enough: 98 off  101 balls (the spirit of Virender Sehwag is alive and well), highest score by a number 11 (just), highest ever 10th wicket partnership, the statistical avalanche kept coming (so much so that Cricinfo’s stats search engine, friend of scorers everywhere, crashed midway through the afternoon session).

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Agar was delighted to receive the coveted ‘Sehwag Thumb of Approval’.

Not only did Agar take the pressure off Hughes by stroking the spinner around at a run a ball (yes, I know he was probably out stumped on 6 but the third umpire would have been better off flipping a coin) but he joined in his newly liberated senior partner’s the attack on the suddenly loose England pace attack. Broad and Finn were far too short throughout and were rightly punished, but even the hitherto metronomic Anderson did not come out unscathed. The contrast between his pre- and post-Agar bowling figures tell the story: 16-2-41-5 as against 8-0-44-0 is as much a ‘spell of two halves’ as you could wish to see. Cook’s bizarre field placings and insistence on providing Agar with easy singles like he was his wingman in a provinical nightclub on a Saturday night did not help.

When Agar looped another Broad long-hop down Graeme Swann’s throat the crowd barely knew how to react. Swann tried to encourage them with a double-fist pump and roar of encouragement, but the groan was unignorable. The standing ovation as he walked off the field, a sheepish grin on his face, will join Clarke b Anderson 0 in the pantheon of great Ashes moments produced this extraordinary Test series. And we’ve only had two days of the first match. Phew.

What’s that? Oh yes, England batted, Starc got Root and Trott in successive balls, Jonathan Agnew moaned about the technology on Twitter, and then Cook and Pietersen had a practice session until close of play. It felt like the cricket universe needed a breather, and it wasn’t alone.


Good ball, bad shot

Here we go again! First up, Australia:

Steve Smith, c Haddin b Anderson 53, 108-5: Bad shot. Not just on its own merits, but for the timing. As we discussed earlier he was looking comfortable, particularly against Swann, and until Agar’s explosive entry onto the world stage the Smith-Hughes partnership was the only time Australia seemed to have anything approaching a plan. The ball did reverse away, but it wasn’t there to hit.

Brad Haddin, b Swann 1, 113-6: Good ball, but a loose shot. It turned square and caught Haddin by surprise, but the bat came down at an angle that was asking for trouble.

Peter Siddle, c Prior b Anderson 1, 114-7: Bad, bad shot. A good diving catch from Prior but this was not a shot you’d readily associate with a man of Siddle’s proven fighting qualities.

Mitchell Starc, c Prior b Anderson 0, 114-8: Good ball, indifferent shot from someone with a Test high score of 99. Anderson showed his skill with the old ball, reversing it away from the left-hander, but Starc allowed himself to be suckered into this one.

James Pattinson, lbw Swann 2, 117-9: Good ball, bad review. Pattinson didn’t even fool himself when he reviewed this, it was absolutely stone dead. Great areas from Swann though, if it had spun it would have troubled the outside edge but as it was it thudded into the pad.

Ashton Agar, c Swann b Broad, 98: I’m not going to criticise a ‘tailender’ (he’s clearly a hell of a lot better than that) for trying to go to his hundred in a blaze of glory, particularly bearing in mind the earlier Sehwag comparison (Sehwag is the only man ever to go to 300 with a six). It was definitely a bad ball, another half-tracker from Broad, and deserved to end up about 30 rows back. Instead, Swann pouched it at midwicket (and was subsequently inundated with sarcastic suggestions that he should have dropped it in sympathy with his fellow spinner, much to his chagrin).

In mitigation, Anderson and Swann bowled beautifully in the early part of the morning, and what bad shots there were were induced by their precision and sheer skill. So let’s wrap this up with a look at the two English wickets to fall today:

Joe Root, c Haddin b Starc 5, 11-1: The leg-side strangle is pretty much of a giveaway that this wasn’t a great ball. It did swing but from far too straight, and Root will be annoyed that he didn’t clip this away for four. It’s possible he didn’t hit it at all, but Cook seemed to decide it wasn’t worth the review, so we’ll never really know.

Jonathan Trott, lbw Starc 0, 11-2: A fantastic delivery to a set batsman let alone one facing his first ball. This too swung in late but this time the line was perfect and it would have knocked middle out of the ground. The lack of side-on Hawkeye due to badly designed hardware drew complaints, but there was no clear evidence that he hit this.

That’s all from me for today, it’s been an enthralling and at times exhausting day of Test cricket and leaves the game on a knife-edge going into the third day. See you tomorrow, and may Hashim Amla guide your steps.

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Test Match Review: England v Australia 2013, First Test, Trent Bridge – Day One

Ashes

Australia 75 for 4 (Smith 38*, Hughes 7*) trail England 215 (Trott 48, Bairstow 37, Siddle 5-50, Pattinson 3-69) by 140 runs

Hello, fellow cricket tragics, and welcome to what will hopefully be the first of many of my Test Match Reviews. There will be stats. There will be facts. There may be attempts to prove that everything that’s wrong with cricket, and indeed everything else, can be blamed on Jonathan Trott.

Teams
England:
Alastair Cook (c), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, James Anderson

Australia:
Shane Watson, Chris Rogers, Ed Cowan, Michael Clarke (c), Steve Smith, Phil Hughes Brad Haddin (wk), Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Ashton Agar

First day madness

The word ‘frenetic’ was much favoured by the experts to describe this first day of the series, particularly by Sky’s Michael Atherton, and I would tend to agree. Australia’s three pacemen (plus a rather token 11 overs from Shane Watson and the debutant Ashton Agar, whose fluent action was rightly praised but was never likely to produce dramatic results on a first-day pitch at Trent Bridge) were creating chances and dishing up boundary balls in almost equal measure. Indeed England’s Baldy Brigade (Slaphead Squadron?) Trott and Prior got out to deliveries that were both at the same time, as did an uncharacteristically tentative Graeme Swann. This impression is backed up by the stats: England scored at 3.64/over and hit a boundary approximately every 9 balls, but lost wickets at a rate of one every 6 overs.

And when Australia’s turn came, far from things calming down as Darren Lehmann would have wished the pace became if anything a little more frantic. Australia’s run rate may have been fractionally lower at 3.57, partly due to the ducks recorded by Cowan and the bewildered Clarke, but England averaged a wicket almost once every 5 overs. The teams combined racked up an unlikely close-of-play total of 290/14 in 80 overs (overall run rate 3.63, a wicket roughly every 5.4 overs).

The explanation offered up by Sky’s collection of luminaries (and Ian Ward, mercifully confined to stat-screen duty alongside first Andrew Strauss and then the newest addition to the Sky team, Smart Casual Nasser) was the supercharged nature of Ashes series, and in particular first days of Ashes series. While certain first balls stick in the memory – we remember Michael Slater demolishing poor Phil deFreitas, and Steve Harmison rattling Justin Langer’s cage and then warming Andrew Flintoff’s hands 18 months or so later – since 2005 the first day has indeed tended to be a drama magnet.

Strauss: 'How many Test hundreds did you score again?'

Strauss: ‘How many Test hundreds did you score again?’

That year, a packed Lord’s saw 287 runs and 17 wickets in 77.2 overs (3.71/over, a wicket very nearly every 4.3 balls). While the subsequent ‘Greenwash’ tour was an anomaly in terms of wickets as England toiled in the heat for a mere 3 scalps, Australia did score 346 runs at 3.84/over on that first day at Brisbane and smacked a boundary every 14.2 balls (which if anything puts into sharp relief how generous Australia were at times today). Even on the most sedate Brisbane pitch many can remember, the opening salvos of the most recent series produced 285 runs and 10 English wickets in 83.5 overs. That’s 3.4 runs/over and a dismissal roughly every 8.2 overs, which even though comparatively lower still translates to a strike bettered only by Fred Trueman, Colin Croft, Alan Donald, Malcolm Marshall, Shoaib Akhtar, Johnny Briggs (the only spinner to make the cut), Waqar Younis, the statistical freak S.F. Barnes and Dale Steyn (assuming a minimum 25 Tests played). I’ve conveniently glossed over the only ‘normal’, although still run-heavy, first day of recent series where England racked up 336/7 at Cardiff.

Ashes fever? I’ll say.


Good ball, bad shot

*Recurring Feature Alert!*

Throughout the series, I’ll be going through the day’s dismissals and deciding whether we should be showering the bowler with praise or the batsman with bricks. Or at least Boycott-esque unfavourable comparisons with elderly relatives. So, here we go. First up, England:

  • Alastair Cook, c Haddin b Pattinson 13, 27-1: Bad shot. Pattinson was spraying it around all over the place, there was no need for England’s skipper to go after this one.
  • Joe Root, b Siddle 30, 78-2: Good ball. Great ball, in fact, a fast yorker with a late hint of outswing  would be right up there on any batsman’s list of ‘balls I would give up my firstborn not to have to face ever again.’
  • Kevin Pietersen, c Clarke b Siddle 14, 102-3: Good ball, bad shot.  Siddle jumped wide on the crease which was probably what drew Pietersen into the loose drive, but it still wasn’t one he’ll want to see again. Unless it’s in the second innings and he spanks it over extra cover, in which case he’ll probably take his chances.
  • Jonathan Trott, b Siddle 48, 124-4: Bad shot. Really, really bad shot, and he knew it. He was timing the ball as well as he ever has in an England shirt, and the wall-of-stat-wielding Hussain in fact attributed the fact that he went anywhere near this in the first place to precisely that. Still, an atrocious way to get out given the start he’d made, he was easily the most culpable of all the English batsmen (see, told you it’s generally always Trott’s fault).
  • Ian Bell, c Watson b Siddle 25, 178-5: Good ball. For once, Bell didn’t really get himself out, this was similar to Pietersen’s in that it swung late from a wide angle but Bell was fairly compact.
  • Matt Prior, c Hughes b Siddle 1, 180-6: Bad ball, worse shot. Spanked a long hop straight to point. Cricket was the loser.
  • Stuart Broad, c&b Pattinson 24, 213-7: Bad shot. He’d shown more fluency than most of the top order, but this was just lamely swatted in a gentle parabola into the bowler’s hands. Slightly mitigated by the later revelation that he had a hurty shoulder on his top hand.
  • Jonny Bairstow, b Starc 37, 213-8: Good ball, indifferent shot. It was full, fast and swinging back in, but as the analysis highlighted Bairstow fell victim to his over-active bottom hand after struggling to keep the bat straight throughout what was a promising Ashes debut innings.
  • Steven Finn, c Haddin b Starc 0, 213-9: Good ball, awful review. This couldn’t even be excused as a tactical review, Finn is hardly a prize wicket and the whole world and his dog could see he’d nicked off first ball. Would have been a bad shot if he’d been a real batsman.
  • Graeme Swann, c Hughes b Pattinson 1, 215 all out: Bad shot. The softest of soft dismissals, especially from someone who’s normally so positive. A fitting end to an ill-disciplined batting display.

A decidedly mixed bag from England. So how did Australia fare?

  • Shane Watson, c Root b Finn 13, 19-1: Bad shot. Or rather, Watson shot. He’d monstered Finn for a few boundaries earlier on, but this was a typically leaden-footed flail which flew to Root who took a smart catch.
  • Ed Cowan, c Swann b Finn 0, 19-1: Bad shot. An airy-fairy push which would have had Darren Lehmann tearing his…um…scalp out. Cowan is in this team to provide solidity and to grind the bowlers down, so what he was doing playing at this first ball is anyone’s guess.
  • Michael Clarke, b Anderson 0, 22-3: Good ball doesn’t even come close. This was reminiscent of Dale Steyn or Wasim Akram at their finest: initially angling in towards middle, bending away past the edge and neatly displacing the off bail. It was unplayable, and it’s a measure of Anderson’s skill that he produced it to the one batsman Australia have who’s worthy of getting out to a ball this good. Clarke looked shocked, and frankly who can blame him?

    Anderson to Clarke

    See the shock!

  • Chris Rogers, lbw b Anderson 16, 53-4: Good ball, slightly unlucky review. Anderson had been probing at Rogers’ off stump all evening, and this one zeroing in on leg-stump and straightening late was too good for him. Dharmasena made a refreshingly bold ‘out’ call which meant that the slight hint of swing was enough to have Rogers ‘umpire’s call-ed’ out on review.

Half and half, and no surprise that it was the more technically assured Clarke and Rogers who come out better than Watson, although it might well be best for him in the long run to bat in this aggressive manner, and the surprisingly and needlessly expansive Cowan.

I’m aware this is getting overlong, so we’ll wrap it up here. I’ll be endeavouring to write one of these for every day of the series, although I’m away for the fourth and fifth days of this Test so those reviews may well be a) late and b) very, very patchy. Goodnight, and may Ravindra Jadeja go with you.