Third Test, Day 5, Parts 1, 2, 3: Credit to the Australian batsmen. Now about the bowlers …

By Andrew Gigacz

It’s a seemingly lost cause for Australia as Day 5 begins: 25 runs behind, 2 wickets down and 28 overs gone, which means it’s going to be Swing O’Clock for the English bowlers as soon as play gets under way.

PART 1: TWELVE HOURS BEFORE STUMPS

I’m writing this at 3:45 pm, with over four hours remaining before play even starts. Why? Because I want to get off my chest all the things that I think are wrong about Australia (and maybe some of the things that are right about England) before play, just in case we have some kind of miracle and Australia ekes out a draw or, even more impossibly, conjures a win.
No matter what happens on this last day, I think these criticisms will still be valid in my mind when the third Test is done and dusted.

The glaring thing for me is that the Aussie bowlers have bowled throughout this series without much thought. On the last day of the first Test, they toiled for more than an hour in search of the wicket that would give them a 1-0 series lead. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful, not for want of effort, but because they appeared to forget the axiom of bowling: attack the stumps. No matter what type of bowler you are, the stumps are your main target and they are the starting point and more often than not, if this axiom is observed, the end point. It doesn’t mean you can’t ever bowl a bouncer or a ball that’s a little full and wide. It simply means that the batsman must not expect it to happen. If 11 out 12 balls are on the stumps, then the batsman will expect the next ball to be at the stumps. This is what makes the short or slightly wide ball a weapon.

In that last session in Cardiff, the number of deliveries that would have hit the stumps could’ve been counted on one hand. Even if that hand was Daniel Chick’s.

It was the same story in England’s innings at Edgbaston. Hilfenhaus, Hauritz and Johnson bowled reasonably but they weren’t great. The “gem” balls were there but they were scarce and those in between were too loose. This meant runs kept ticking and no pressure could be built up. When Siddle and Watson took their turn, it got worse. Their bad balls were shockers. In Siddle’s defence, his non-bad balls were good. Watson’s non-bad balls were just nothing.

Glenn McGrath used the corridor of uncertainty almost unerringly. His plan was bowl the ball at the stumps, and have it move away, or bowl it outside the stumps, moving in. If the ball is heading towards the stumps, the batsman’s first though MUST be to prevent it from hitting them. If that’s not happening, he can go for his life as Flintoff et al did for much of Day 4.

This leads me to the second thing I think is wrong with Australia cricket: the coaching and selection panels. These blokes were all part of successful Aussie teams. They should know what I’m pointing out here. It’s the coaches’ job to make sure these guys are doing the basics. And it’s the selectors’ job to remove a bloke who can’t employ the basics and replace them with someone who can. And it’s not as though Australia doesn’t have someone who can. He’s been sitting on the sidelines for this entire series, with a Test bowling record that anyone would be proud of. And while Stuart Clark remains outside the Australian Test XI, it’s a record that certainly won’t get any worse.

My third criticism is reserved for Ricky Ponting. As a batsman, Punter is a superstar. Not many would argue that point. As a leader, he’s good, if not very good. He leads by example, is a good public face for the Aussies and hates losing. I wouldn’t deign to criticise him on those aspects. But tactically I think he is unimaginative and doesn’t seem to know when to seize the moment. Several times on Day 4, England batsmen showed a vulnerability to the short ball early in their innings. The moments were crying out for the captain to come in and turn the screws (by putting a short leg in immediately, for example). Whether he lacked confidence in his bowlers or he simply didn’t recognise the moments, they were lost opportunities. The batsmen navigated their way into more comfortable territory before counter-attacking and removing the match from Australia’s grasp. Regardless of whether a captain has doubts about his bowlers, he must never allow those doubts to be recognised by the opposition. The moment he does, the game is as good as lost. My impression is that Ponting didn’t have that confidence and made no attempts to disguise it. His demeanour was of a man bereft of ideas. Any half-decent team (and I’m not sure that England are any better than that) would see that and pounce, just as England did.

It’s now 4:30pm, Melbourne time. The start of the last day is still three and a half hours away, with a Birmingham forecast of cloudy weather and a 20 per cent chance of rain. Will I feel any differently in twelve hours’ time?

PART 2: STUMPS

Having started the final day at 2-88, Australia scored the best part of 300 runs, losing only three wickets in the process, to hold England at bay and finish at 5-375. How did they achieve it? In part, it was because the day offered nothing for the bowlers. The promised swing eventuated only occasionally and the pitch remained flat and unresponsive. The England bowlers toiled throughout but could not achieve multiple breakthroughs. They were good but not great; tight but not threatening.

But nothing should be taken away from Australia’s top order. With the exception of Ponting, they all played their part. Katich made only 26 but Australia were under the pump when the second innings began and he and Watson saw off the early storm. Putting aside Watson’s bowling – and he himself has made a strong case for it to be put aside permanently – he has staked an unlikely claim as an opener, with a half-century in each innings. Hussey is still scratching for form but played an important part.

Predominantly though, it was Clarke and North who steered Australia away from a 0-2 precipice. When they came together it was 4-161, with Australia less than fifty runs ahead, and the pressure was intense. Notwithstanding the conditions favouring them, they showed amazing concentration and almost without fail chose the right balls to attack.

So, twelve hours down the track, have my thoughts changed? I have to acknowledge that Australia showed some pretty spirited resilience, not for the first time in this series, on this last day. The batting might not be as brittle as I thought. The next two Tests will tell.

But I don’t need two more Tests to make up my mind about Australia’s bowling. I don’t even need one. A good effort by the batsmen won’t paper over those cracks. My pre-Day 5 arguments remain as sound in my mind as they were twelve hours ago.

PART 3: TWELVE HOURS AFTER STUMPS

Things for those involved in this Test match to think about when their hangovers subside:

* Captain: Ponting could take a look at the points in this match where he could have been more aggressive. In the early parts of the innings of Flintoff and Broad, when they looked ill at ease with the short ball, the short leg should’ve been brought in immediately. And he could have mixed the bowlers up a bit more when things weren’t working.

* Selectors: the fast bowling unit MUST be built around Stuart Clark. Siddle didn’t come up to scratch and should lose his spot. I wouldn’t pick Brett Lee, even if he’s fit. But if he must play, it should be at the expense of Johnson.

* Bowlers: Spend some time thinking about strategy. Any meathead can steam in and bowl short balls endlessly at the batsman. You might hurt them every now and then but you won’t get the good ones out. Talk to Glenn McGrath and ask him about working around the stumps.

* Administrators: What a great game you have in Test cricket. And what a great finish to this Test their might have been had there been another day. And when an entire day’s play has been lost, why not let it happen? Sure, it would mean the break between this Test and the next would be two days instead of three, but I think the players would have had a pretty good rest on that day with no play. It was an opportunity lost. Maybe for Australia. Maybe for England. Definitely for the fans.

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Neil Belford says:

    Lets just have a look at the performance of Ponting in the English first innings at Edgbaston. He sets a lamentable one day field giving his bowlers no particular direction – so they may as well bowl anywhere. If Ponting had put in 5 slips, point, cover, mid on, and deep fine leg, and got the bowlers to bowl off stump (to the best of their abilities) Australia had a chance of running through England. The ball was swinging around like a dodgem car and the bowlers were looking hungry. You cant ‘defend’ a first innings score of 250, and you certainly haven’t got a hope of defending it when you have less than two days to play and twenty wickets to take. Australia’s only chance was to risk everything to get England out cheaply, if they couldn’t do that England were always going to control the game, with Australia struggling to save it. Ponting is no student of the game. Time and again he just makes the wrong decisions.

  2. “Ponting is no student of the game.” I think that sums up the point I was trying to make about Ponting’s captaincy beautifully, Neil. Contrast his efforts with those of say, Ian Chappell. He captained to win, regardless of the position his team was in. In Ponting’s defence, he probably hasn’t had to do that too often in his tenure, such has been the dominance of the team at his disposal. As the team’s strengths have waned, his tactical deficiencies have been exposed.

  3. Craig Little says:

    Great wrap-up Gigs — your dead right about our batsmen not being able to paper over the cracks of our lamentable bowling (the term ‘meathead’, most apt).

  4. Ed Kosmac says:

    Absolutely. Ponting lacks the killer touch, the ability to finish off a team. At Cardiff he appeared resigned to a draw by bowling North. It’s fine to try something different in order to break a partnership, but when time is running out you need to bring your best bowlers on and apply pressure to the tailenders…. some fearful bowling and close in fields would’ve been more positive.
    Interestingly at Edgbaston he probably would’ve been better bowling Hauritz to Flintoff early in his innings, not later when he had already settled and Watson had provided the necessary fodder to relieve any pressure there may have been.
    And finally, what about turning the screws and possibly the tables back on England? Once the draw had been negotiated, how about declaring and sending England in? Many a team has lost in 30 overs chasing small totals…. giving them a sniff and then taking early wickets to frighten the life out of them. True, the most likely scenario would’ve been a draw, but the psychological advantage would’ve been with Australia going into the fourth test. That is the true worth of a captain… the ability to put the other side under pressure regardless of the balance of the game.
    The issue of Stuart Clark is a non issue. He has a test bowling average not far off the great Dennis Lillee …. what more can one say?

  5. Andrew Starkie says:

    Great report and thoughts, Andrew. Most Aussie cricket fans appear to have similar concerns to yours. I think the selectors got it wrong from the start – we needed a leggie. McGain should’ve gone to England. I know he was smashed in SA, but he deserved a spot for the Ashes. Having said that, Hauritz has done a fine job.

    Another batsman should be there. Hodge is the obvious choice. Excuse me for being Victorian conscious. The selection of Watson for this Test was bizarre to say the least. Sure, he made runs, however, is he a long term choice for opener? I am a fan of his, by the way.

    The bowlers we have used haven’t been able to sustain pressure on the English batsmen. They have allowed too many four balls. The bowling to Bell and Flintoff are examples.

    And as mentioned in your report, field placements have been too defensive.

    Lee cannot come in for the next Test. If any change is coming, Clark must be brought in. For Johnson, not Siddle.

    We’re still in the series. Come on, Aussies!

    PS: The Aussies give too much repsect to Flintoff. Our batsmen need to tell him to get back to his bloody mark and bowl!

  6. Ed Kosmac says:

    Flintoff took only one wicket this test and he was let off the hook when batting by some seriously loose bowling. Absolutely correct… he needs to be put back in his box and some aggressive captaincy decisions should make the rest of his last series a more humbling experience.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    Played Gigs.
    Well reasoned, as are the comments above.

  8. Steve Fahey says:

    If you look at the series to date, the bowling team has only convincingly won four sessions – sessions 1 on day five of the first two tests, and session one on day two of this and the previous Test. Are they both ordinary attacks ? Have the pitches been too lifeless ? Australia’s biggest problem has been the inability to tie down the batsmen and thus build pressure for any length of time – read Stuart Clark has to come in and should have played in this Test, notwithstanding Johnson’s improved form – he could really only improve from the very low levels of the first two Tests, especially Lords.

    Australia managing a draw continued a trend started at the start of the South Africa series in Australia, that is it covers the last 9 tests -Australia hasn’t won when it has batted second and it hasn’t lost when it has batted first (I haven’t gone back to the scorecards but I’m confident in my memory). Could be coincidence (and has been aided by weather in 2 of past 3) but it could say a fair bit about the bowling – able to build pressure on the opposition when the bats have put a reasonable score on the board, less able to do so without a big total on the board.

    I just read that Flintoff is doubtful for Headingley – apparently his eyes are exhausted from all the glaring down the pitch. He is a very good player and needs to be respected for that but I agree that he should not be treated with either kid gloves or awe.

    I agree that Ponting lacked aggression in this game but also think that he was unfairly criticised at Cardiff. One team achieved 6 wickets, the other 19 on a totally lifeless strip. I agree that he could have made different decisions in the last hour, but think that he showed some imagination and flair for the team to be in a winning position – e.g. perfectly timed declaration, putting Hauritz on early on the last day even after the quicks took 2 early wickets, and he did score 150 to set the lead up!! Would love hime to get more runs in the remaining two Tests. Is there a better captaincy alternative right now ? I reckon not.

    Still not convinced about Watson as a long-term or even short-term opener. Hope that I’m wrong, especially until the end of this series.

    Love reading these blogs when I can !

  9. Craig. I actually used to play cricket with a guy known almost universally as Meathead. Ironically, he had a great cricket brain and was an excellent captain.

  10. Ponting’s biggest fault as a captain is that he is a manager, not an instinctive tactician. He is surrounded by the “process” built up in the last few years and is loathe to take detours. He presses on regardless. Thus, the fields to certain batsmen are immediately in place as soon as that batsmen arrives at the crease, but if the circs dictate that, say, a short leg is needed instead of the ubiquitous sweeper (leg or off, take your pick), he will stick with the sweeper and hope the original plans work.

    However, the later part of his tenure is bad timing. Tubby was once asked how he would go about winning a match and he replied “Win the toss and let Warnie loose on the last day.” Ponting is now without Shane and it will take Aussie cricket and us fans a long time to get used to it.

  11. Very true Tony, but he just projects such poor vibes. I still blame him for 2005!

  12. I blame the government.

  13. I blame tanking.

  14. Yeah. And Mary MacKillop.

  15. Especially Mary MacKillop.

    I remember when she umpired the Sydney Test against England in 1978/79 and didn’t give Derek Randall out when he was plumb off Hoggy. England would have been 2/0, but instead Randall made a big ton and England won the Test after being rolled for rock all in the first innings.

    Or, I could be mistaken.

    England might have been 2/1.

  16. Spot on Tony. If she hadn’t made that clanger at the SCG, she’d have the sainthood in the bag by now.

  17. johnharms says:

    Gigs

    Really interesting analysis.

    I think R.T. Ponting lacks imagination as a captain, and has little support around him. Listen to Warney’s commentary and see what R.T. Ponting has lost. Warney has a boundless cricket imagination.

    I think the selectors have failed to fulfil their repsonsibilities. To take so few batsmen to England is arrogant. To take 15 players in total is arrogant. if you take so few you ahve to have some Aust county players on standby.

    This next Test will be a real Test, the narrative of this season is fascinating. It is set up for a brilliant finish.

    they may not be two great (or even good) sides. But they are evenly matched. And the skills and mental strengths of both are about to be tested.

    JTH

  18. I totally agree about Warney, John. A great thinker and student of the game as Neil put it. It’s a shame his extra-curricular activities prevented him from ever having the chance to captain Australia.

    Also agree with your arrogance comment. I think you mentioned it in one of the live blogs and I was nodding in agreement when I read that.

    And yes, they are evenly matched and the series remains alive. Bring on the fourth Test.

    I still do not understand why they are no longer 6-Test series in the UK.

  19. Andrew Starkie says:

    Everytime I hear Warney speak about cricket, I regret the fact he wasn’t Australian captain. He has a very intelligent cricket mind. I’m not saying that he should’ve been captain after all of his stuff-ups, but still, what a great loss.

  20. No Live Blog so I will add a comment here. As I write it’s lunch on Day 1 at Headingly. England are 6/72. S. Clark’s figures 6.5-3-7-3.

    Long way to go in this match but surely this confirms that Stuart Clark is Australia’s best bowler and should be first pick when fit.

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