Friday, 2 August 2013

Australia Perform A Manchester Miracle

Clarke made 125x
It was a day Australia had hoped for in the first Test, for although they were competitive at Trent Bridge, they lost. Lords followed with a disaster.

Michael Clarke won a toss - his first since India - with a team that defied the critics and common sense, by making more changes to the bowling line up than the batting. Gone was James Pattinson (injured) and the wonderkind, Ashton Agar, who despite his heroic first Test batting, has failed to produce with the ball. Nathan Lyon returned to the spot he probably shouldn't have lost and Micthell Starc was preferred to Jackson Bird. The latter was a strange decision in the light of Australia needing someone who could mount pressure.

Dave Warner returns at six, sending Phil Hughes, the regular outcast of the modern Australia team, back into training gear yet again.

Australian cricket supporters, so hungry for success that they have started to feast on their own team, were choking by lunch and deep into the last session when the captain raised his bat to celebrate his only Test century batting at number four, all was forgiven as they suddenly acceded to the wisdom of batting selections they had been lampooning six hours earlier.

Clarke's innings wasn't the free flowing massacre that Australians have seen from him in the past two Australian summers. This was the stuff of burden, of adjusting to change, of needing needing runs ... really needing runs for fear that the future would never connect with this group of players.  Broad and Bresnan beat him outside the off stump regularly but he won he battle over England's best, Anderson and Swann. His joust with Swann was the real delight of the day.

It was an innings which can stir men of lesser ability into believing they have great things in them.

He was not alone. Earlier, Chris Rogers played his best Test innings of a short career, refusing to miss any opportunity to score and rattling up fourteen boundaries in the process. As a result, when Shane Watson was beaten by a perfect Bresnan leg cutter and edged to Alastair Cook at first slip, his contribution to an opening partnership of 76 was only 19. It didn't matter, for it was a day of partnerships, always a key tenant in the Australian mantra.

Steve Smith (70) added 174 with
his skipper
Steve Smith played a long way from the young, reckless slasher many of us continue to cast him as. This was an innings a great maturity, great poise. It was the innings a Test batsman. Just as he did in scoring a wonderfully controlled controlled 92 in India, Smith played like a man who wanted everyone to know that this was his spot. He was clearly out lbw before scoring, straight after tea, but it was more of the DRS nonsense which saved him, because although the ball would have cartwheeled leg stump, the order of decision making saved him. Forty minutes later, Smith survived further controversy over what might have been a fine snick behind but was far from convincing and England's reviews were gone. Despite these istractions, throughout the afternoon, he was his captain's first officer, blunting anything Cook could throw and when the opportunity came, taking boundaries. His expansiveness outside the off stump was so contained that 75% of his runs came on the legside, mostly from firm pushes into gaps.

Of course, the elephant in the room was again the use of technology and this time, not its failure. All the failures were with the umpires, on and off the field. The worst was the ludicrous sending of Usman Khawaja, who was convinced from the moment of appeal that he had missed it by quite a margin. Matt Prior cannot be blamed for the appeal, for there were noises but if the first decision on the field was a poor one - even at first glance in real time speed - then the ridiculous interpretation of the information by the third umpire was about as bad as it can get. So much for removing howlers.

England toiled hard but Anderson, for a change, was disappointing. None of his tricks were working. Broad bowled without luck and deserved better figures in his quest for his 200th Test wicket. Tim Bresnan was probably England's best.

Australia won all three sessions but need to keep doing that, cautioned by a morality tale from these parts involving a solitary swallow not determining the warmest season.