The Ashes 2015 – First Test, review: How to respond?

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The manner of the drubbing that Australia received in Cardiff told us much about the team. But how this group responds – in both selection and on-field – will tell us so much more.

From the very first morning, the Australian team looked flat. Even from my prime bar-stool position in the front bar of the Prince Albert Hotel last Wednesday evening, I sensed that the Aussies were going through the motions for much of the time. All cricketers talk of the Ashes being the pinnacle, so why were they so subdued?

In truth, Australia was fortunate to have England in early trouble. There was too much leg-side and wide of off-stump bowling, and it appeared that the bowlers had little if any rhythm. Clarke’s decision to throw the ball to Lyon in the tenth over of the match was an act born of frustration more than funkiness, but the latter delivered – winkling out the out-of-form England skipper. The dismissal of Bell soon after had England reeling at 3/43, and Starc was beginning to look like he would run through this batting line-up. I reckon Starc may well have done so had Haddin not grassed Root second ball (England would have been 4/43). That was the last moment at which Australia would be in control of the match.

However, just as culpable as Haddin were Smith and Clarke in Australia’s first innings. Rogers was building a foundation, and Australia was looking capable of easily overhauling England’s 430 when Smith danced down to Ali and threw away his wicket. Up until then, Smith had looked untroubled – it was a dismissal which smacked of impatience and arrogance. Clarke’s wicket was much the same – and possibly worse in that he threw away a golden opportunity to build a big innings and bat himself back into form. Australia was 4/207, and I felt at that moment that the game was over for them.

And so it proved. Australia always needed to be leading by at least 100 runs on the first innings. The fact that they trailed by 122 meant that England had the whip hand for the remainder of the match, even given the hosts’ failure in the second innings to make Australia really pay.

Come Saturday, I was surprised at the number of commentators and analysts who were actually contemplating an Australian victory. At first glance, 412 may not seem so huge a total. But add to the mix the following vagaries: a fourth and fifth day wicket, a batting order in so-so form, and the fact that very few teams in the 138-year history of Test cricket have achieved such a feat. 412 suddenly seems like 1412.

Amazingly, given the weather which greeted Cardiff on Sunday, Australia could have salvaged a draw had it been able to bat through day 4. For me, the key dismissal was that of Warner. He is not in great nick (and wasn’t in the Caribbean), but had unconvincingly battled through the early part of the morning. Cook, again more in desperation than good management, gave the spinner the final over on the stroke of lunch. Warner, obligingly, missed a straight one, and from 1/96 just prior to the break, Australia tumbled  to 5/106 just after. The only positive for the tourists was Johnson’s lusty lower-order hitting.

And so, on to Lord’s. A quick turnaround, as is the custom in these concertinaed contemporary tours, where players and watchers alike barely get time to draw breath between Tests, and we are back into it.

There will be changes to the Australian team. In the face of such a heavy defeat, there must be. To go in unchanged would pile on the hubris.

Due to injury, Starc may not play. This is a shame, as he constantly looked the bowler most likely to take a wicket at any given time. To see him bowling on day 3 whilst in obvious discomfort was to acknowledge that he has a toughness greater than for what Shane Warne gives him credit. The workhorse Siddle could be the beneficiary of Starc’s misfortune.

Shane Watson will be the main casualty of the Cardiff walloping. To see him meandering from first slip to first slip at the completion of each over unleashes from me an exasperation more pronounced than when he is unsuccessfully challenging an lbw decision. In a revealing moment during England’s second innings Ian Healy – after watching Watson take five minutes to prepare to bowl – unleashed his displeasure at Watson’s lack of urgency. Clarke’s sparing use of Watson with the ball told another tale. The First Test loss was not Watson’s fault – but he is a symptom of the greater malaise: an ageing Australian team which, for much of the time, was going through the cricketing motions.

When an ageing team is winning, the players’ experience is lauded. When an ageing team is losing, they are decried for being, well, old. Australia need some urgency, vibrancy, pep. Mitch Marsh will provide some much needed youthful enthusiasm, but he is not the panacea to all problems. England are a good team – not a great team – and very beatable at Lord’s. Johnson needs to find the mojo which has been missing for almost twelve months now. Clark needs to find some form. Warner needs to break out of his funk.

However, my nagging fear is that this all easier said than done. But nonetheless I eagerly await Australia’s response. If the team cannot get fired up for a Lord’s Test Match, they never will.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Great summary Smoke. The Aussies lost this battle between the ears. They need to reinvigorate but shouldn’t make wholesale changes. Hazelwood showed some quality and will be good at Lords. But Watto is out.

    Haddin is the conundrum. He should go, but not just for the last Test but because he has been on the wane for a while. However is Nevill the right replacement? Would it be a panic move.

    The big question is the skipper. Was way too flighty on the first morning. And his batting is very brittle. His series form could decide the final result.

  2. Peter Warrington says:

    still trying to understand Clarke’s unwillingness to try any of his FOUR part time spin options. It’s not like the others had the run rate udner control.

  3. John Butler says:

    Pretty good summation of all that went wrong Smoke. That slap we heard was complacency falling flat on its face.

    You’re right, the real issue is the response. And that’s where the squad they picked constrains their options.

    I’m worried about the effect Clarke’s back is having on his bating. If he can’t return to something near his best that lineup looks pretty thin.

    Interesting times.

  4. Bob Utber says:

    Great work Smokie.
    My conundrum is attitude not helped by Lehmann,s ” small hiccup”. Making too much money these boys and having all their respective families around made it look like a holiday.
    If families are come by all means but make it later in the toour.
    Complacency at its best.

  5. Luke Reynolds says:

    Straight after winning a World Cup would have been a wonderful time for a couple of players to retire. Or be retired. The two Tests in the Windies were wasted, some other players could have received extra exposure.

    Think we can still turn it around. With changes.

  6. So what are the changes? There is an expectation of M marsh in watson; youthful enthusiasm replacing experience, but as i’ve previously alluded to,if Starc is out injured the quandary is replacing him with Siddle. The latter is an experienced bowler, though never performed well in the UK. M Marsh for Watson should be a no-brainer, but who replaces Starc, if he needs replacing, requires some thoughtfulness. Haddin is a player who should no longer be in our best starting XI, but you drop him right now? There are hard choices ahead for our selectors, but that’s their role. Let’s hope we have a winning X! at Lords.

    Glen!

  7. All, thanks for the comments. I am sure that you understand that
    this review could have been 4 times as long, but I culled it slightly
    in the interests of brevity.
    Dips,
    Haddin’s form has been a concern for quite a while> It’s interesting
    that Ian Healy – one of our greatest ever keepers – was virtually
    forced out, but it seems the hard decision has not been made on Haddin.
    It really seems as if the senior blokes are allowed to go at a time of their
    choosing these days. Clarke is a huge worry, looks a shadow of his former
    self.
    Peter,
    That is an interesting point. It’s obvious that Clarke’s back is precluding from
    much bowling these days, but Voges has been a handy left-arm spinner in
    short-forms.
    JB,
    See comments above re Clarke.
    Bob,
    The issue of families on tour is one worthy of further discussion. Alan Border
    was very much against this, from memory.
    Luke,
    As I mentioned above, there seems a reluctance by selectors to make the hard calls.
    The good selectors know when to regenerate and the correct balance also.
    The series isn’t over by a long stretch, but this Test is crucial.
    Glen,
    M Marsh should have played in Cardiff. If Watson plays at Lord’s and scratches out
    a 50, what does that achieve? Haddin will be retained for the series. Siddle wasn’t
    too bad in the 2013 Ashes (17w @ 31) which was second only to Harris, and Sids did
    much of the grunt work.

  8. DBalassone says:

    Gents, you are forgetting about Wato’s surprise-packet factor with the ball. Very handy at times.

    Btw, I note that Watson’s 4 tons and 24 fifties in 59 test mean that on 28 occasions he has passed the 50-mark in his 59 tests. Not bad. Botham, widely regarded as the greatest all rounder, only did so 36 times in over 100 tests. The great Botham averaged 33, where as the much maligned Wato averages close to 36.

    You have to look at the overall picture. If as you gentleman seem to imply, Wato’s cards are marked, he should at least be allowed a farewell test at Lords.

  9. Smokey,

    Good work. An interesting test to analyse. Many of the questions arising out of the 1st test have been around for a while now, hidden by recently defeating an ordinary West Indian team and an Indian team in disarray and on the rebuild.

    Although it is stating the obvious that Watson should go, why was he in the 1st test squad in the first place? leads me to believe that he will get one more chance probably. Our batting is fragile and we struggled really in the West Indies, the 1st test being a continuation. Smith will not go out and make hundreds every innings to make up for the other deficiencies. I was disappointed with the starts in the first innings of all the batsmen and the lack of application to go on with those starts. The bowling was tight and the desire to hit Ali out of the attack and reduce, in the mind of Cook, his worth as a bowler, thus placing greater pressure on the frontline bowlers over the 5 test series was understandable. However, patience is a virtue and unfortunately our batsmen don’t have it, with the exception of the retiring Rogers. Our test batting looking forward, both at this series and beyond, against disciplined bowling is questionable.

    Our bowling was very ordinary. Hallowed was honest enough, however, due to the lack of pressure from the other end his line and length didn’t get the rewards it probably deserved. He needs to bowl in a good tandem to get the full benefits and pressure wasn’t maintained from both ends. Start is a wicket taker but he needs to also tighten up a bit. Johnson has looked off his game for some time. I personally think he has been bowled into the ground over the last 18 months. His pace was generally down and on a track like that aggressive bowling isn’t bowling short, but bowling quick at the stumps. Lyon – lucky to have 150 test wickets. I don’t understand why a bloke who hardly spins the ball doesn’t bowl over the wicket and work with flight and speed to gain his wickets. this nonsense about bowling around the wicket from the jump gives me the jimmy brits. He tends to be too full or too short. For a bloke who has been around the scene for such a long time i don’t understand his approach and why he is permitted to bowl this way.

    Clarke was outplayed by Cook in captaincy. Clarke’s approach of regular bowling changes, particularly in the first dig didn’t help the bowlers get their line and length right. In the context of the series this should have been the primary goal I would have thought, particularly on the first day. Although frustrating in the short term, despite the fact the Poms only had to play 4 of the first 24 balls bowled by Starc, they were still in the pooh and only for the dropped catch by Haddin they could have been rolled for 120 odd.

    Unfortunately, I hope but doubt changes will be made for 2nd test. Maybe there shouldn’t be and make these guys get us back into the series – they are capable enough with the exception of Watson, but those photos he has are just too much to ignore. He will be playing when is is 80!

  10. Sal Ciardulli says:

    The urn is at stake here! There are no niceties or farewells to be had.

    Watto has been farewelled often enough. I agree his bowling is an important component in fact so much so that it justifies his selection. However it was well short of the mark at Cardiff and labored. Mitch Marsh must play.

    Smokie’s assessment of the Australians is on the mark, but what of the English. Whether it is through Bayliss or not their batting was very positive and did not give the Australian bowlers any margin for error. Their bowling was steady and consistent, but so many wickets were gifted through arrogance and inability to leave the wide ball.

  11. Mark Branagan says:

    It is missing the point to look at Watson’s average and compare it with Botham. For a start, in most of his Test career Watson has in fact been selected as a specialist batsman particularly as an opener or number 3. In those roles, batting returns averaging 36 are unacceptable. Botham on the other hand was a pure middle to late order batsman at 6 or 7 where his runs were a bonus to his immense bowling contribution. And it’s when you get the runs that count as well. We all know what Botham did. Watson scored 176 in the last Test at the Oval in the last series when it was all over.

    The Australian batting order has been shuffled around for years to accommodate Watson, at times to the detriment (extinguishment?) of other careers. He chews up DRS reviews on lost causes. His status as an all-rounder is questionable in any event because of the limitations on his bowling output over the years through injury.

    Great Test careers and reputations are forged by scores in times of adversity. Last weekend was just another example of Watson having the golden opportunity to make his mark and promote his reputation. He missed out again. I am not quite sure why there is such a fear of making change and selecting new talent. Time for action, not teary testimonials.

  12. Watto can barely get through a few overs these days so that’s no longer a factor in his selection. Really, he must have compromising photos of the coach or some exec at CA to even make the squad.

    We have about 4 keepers who could all do better than Haddit but it seems the selectors can’t decide who is the pick of the bunch so the old bloke gets to linger past his best before date.

    A big concern for mine is the 2013 version of Mitch Johnson is back and the pitches will all be tricked up to be devoid of the crucial bounce he needs. Siddle does little more than tie up an end so we’re left with Hazelwood and Lyon having to take most of the wickets.

    I can see us being 0-2 after Lords.

  13. DBalassone says:

    Re Botham vs. Australia, take out 1981 and you have year upon year of under-achieving.

    Re Wato’s farewell at Lords, why stop there? Surely a test farewell at the Gabba, SCG & Belreive given he represented all these States & then a testamonial at the MCG. We can coincide his farewell with a pie-chucking festival.

  14. DBalassone, one does beg to differ re Botham V Australia. In his debut series of 1977 he bowled well in both tests he played; i think he got two bags of 5 ? In 1978-79, he was an important contributor in the team which crushed the WSC less Aussies, 5-1. In 1986-87 he again caused us grief with his bowling.

    His 1981 performance, or at least the final four tests still brings back bad memories for me. No one could repeat his superhuman performances because he set such an amazing standard. He never under achieved against us but his 1981 performance is the stuff of legends.

    Glen!

  15. DBalassone says:

    You can’t count 78/79.

    Maybe I’m thinking more of 82/83 where there was a lot of hype about Sir Ian and he did not quite hit his straps that summer.

    In 86/87, besides a century early on, I can’t remember him doing much. I seem to remember the grumpy spinners Embury and Edmonds taking a few wickets, but not Botham.

    I would like to see his record vs. Australia in Australia, but then again Warne’s record in India doesn’t stack up so I’m being harsh I know.

  16. Phil Hill says:

    Has everyone missed the point that we have a recent 4 to 10 win loss record when we play away. We fluked (??) a win against the South Africans, beat the hopeless Windies but were trashed by the Indians, Pakies and the Poms.

    Oops, sorry, the record is now 4 to 11.

    I cannot believe that people has us as favourites in an away series. I watched the Poms against India last year and their younger players started to make ground.

    Balance does not play ‘daft’ shots, Root, Ali and Stokes will have long English careers

  17. Barry McAdam says:

    Botham 383 Test wickets @ 28.40
    Watto 74 wickets @ 33.09

    Huge difference.

    14 Test tons to Beefy compared to Watto’s 4.

  18. Shane Watson is indeed a polarizing figure.
    But never in my wildest dreams did I think he would be compared to Ian Botgam

  19. Botham

  20. DBalassone says:

    Okay, perhaps Beefy has him covered.

    In defence of Wato, one thing you can never take away from him is his success as an opener circa 2009 to 2010.

  21. Haddin gone; for another NSW keeper !?! In light of this change you would expect Watson ‘s retention, on the basis of ‘experience’. The discussion goes on.

    Glen!

  22. DBalassone says:

    It is now official – Wato has been dropped and is most likely gone forever.

    And with him goes all the jokes and angst that always accompanied his selection.

    I loved him being in the XI just for the jokes & banter. A bit like that dentist on Seinfeld who converted to Judaism just for the jokes….

    Long live Wato!

  23. Fintan Magee says:

    Great summary Smoke.

    Having been away in the USA during the test, I had no real idea what had happened.

    See you Friday.

    Cheers

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