Sunday, 4 August 2013

Unexpected: Australia Fighting and No Rain

Bell was superb
The third day at Manchester was a war of attrition, with England scoring at two and half runs an over and Michael Clarke constantly rotating his bowlers in order to break though. Its a Test match, like all that remain on this current tour, that Australia must win, so there is no nicety about it, for Australia must not let England escape the follow-on.

Clarke, like most modern captains, doesn't believe in the time honoured wisdom of follow-ons. There has been a paradigm shift that old hard-nosed Oxford man Douglas Jardine would never have approved of ... one which seeks to conserve the fragile bones and muscles of fast bowlers lest the little dears break. As physically well developed and nutritionally enhanced as the modern quick is, he isn't allowed or expected to be the hard man of yester year.

For Australia captains, the spectre of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid and the Eden Gardens miracle, is also a prominent page in their training manual.

As a result, the follow on is seldom enforced.

Necessity is very much the mother of invention and despite their heroics at Trent Bridge, the utter capitulation at Lords has left Australia with no choice.

By stumps, inspired by a Kevin Pietersen century which encapsulated everything about this South African/English hybrid that can only be termed enigma, England are close to retaining the Ashes. There should be sufficient resources left on a wicket that is still playing very well, for them to secure the last 34 runs to take the game to a draw.

Kevin Pietersen 113
Pietersen blazed drives on the off side, man handled Nathan Lyon with sixes over mid wicket and mid off, cut the ball fiercely and tucked the ball off his legs with finesse ... and he also snicked the ball to third man and inside edged to fine leg with enough regularity to show his vulnerability. On 62, he would have been out lbw to Watson but a combination of his advance down the wicket and Michael Clarke's fear of another poorly judged DRS appeal, meant Watson's claims for support were denied. There can be some defence of Clarke's refusal to refer the appeal. In days gone by, no one would have questioned the umpire's decision on the basis of how far forward Pietersen was. Even so, it was the turning point of the day.

The innings of the day belonged to Ian Bell, who looked completely at ease with
another classy display of cover drives and back cuts. He looks so composed at the crease and it was a surprise when Ryan Harris shaped one back on off stump and castled him. It ended a century partnership with Pietersen which has probably retained the Ashes.

Starc claims Pietersen
Mitchell Starc picked up three wickets and bowled a better line than his previous outings, although without the reverse swing he was employed for. After Harris had found Jonathan Trott's outside edge, it was Starc who had Alastair Cook caught brilliantly down the leg side by Brad Haddin. Falling away to the off again, Cook took the ball fine off the face of the bat - repeating previous dismissals in this fashion - and Haddin snaffled it at full stretch to his right. Apart from the other prize wicket of Pietersen, Starc had Jonny Bairstow caught at first slip by Watson. Bairstow may have used up his last chance for the time being, with James Taylor's likely to earn another chance at No 6.

Harris, Peter Siddle and Watson all bowled well under the conditions which were still plumb for batting. The Australia bowling unit, at its best, can toil on the right lines for hours, a trait needed to remove the Englishmen. Lyon, who ripped and tore on the previous evening, was surprisingly largely infective, extracting no frightening turn and was rather easily intimidated. He is the one bowler Clarke would like to bowl in long spells but wasn't able to. He looked fragile.

Where there is life there is hope but with noted bat swingers Prior, Broad and Swann amongst the remainder and the second new ball already halfway through its use, that follow on target looks too close.

However, after Lords, these three days have been a massive improvement. Australian cricket fans are still burping on the richness of the feed they received during the twenty years before Ricky Ponting retired and wondering when the next course will arrive. As a result, everything coming from the kitchen is expected to be cordon bleu.

Perhaps bangers and mash might do for a while.

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