England v Australia – First Test, Day 3: The Hunter Becomes the Hunted

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Second Test prices – Lord’s


England 430 & 289
Australia 308
England lead by 411 runs with two days remaining

Three days play in Cardiff have been sufficient to remind Australian fans that some modern cricket reputations are cheaply earned, and that a conservative approach will usually only succeed if your opponent lacks resolve. Facing a highly improbable victory target of 412 on a wearing wicket, the Australian camp will most likely be facing a hurried reassessment of their approach to this Ashes defence before the remaining two days play are concluded.

Having initially selected a conservative touring party, Australia confirmed their mindset by favouring reputation over form for this test. Darren Lehman has overseen a resurgence in Australian fortunes since 2013 based largely on astute veteran career resurrections, and some outstanding individual performances. Australia’s brains trust was obviously hoping their Dad’s Army had one final hurrah left in them. It’s a strategy without much of a Plan B. We may be about to learn how well Australia can improvise.

The fortunes of Australia’s lower order on Day 3 made telling comparison with England on Day 2. Where Moeen Ali had attacked an often ragged Australian bowling line up, Australia never got out of the blocks. That Shane Watson would play around his front pad, miss, then unsuccessfully appeal the LBW decision, was comic in its predictability. Watto always leaves the field in these circumstances affecting the air of a man who can’t believe his luck. The truly unbelievable fact is that, at this late stage, anyone would expect much different.

Hemmed in by disciplined England swing bowling, the rest of Australia’s lower order meekly submitted, conceding a crucial first innings deficit of 122. The wasted starts by top order batsmen on Day 2 looked increasingly costly.

Under pressure to break through quickly, Australian spirits would have improved as England were reduced to 2-22. Given his wretched recent run, Ian Bell might have been expected to proceed with caution at this point. Instead, he and Adam Lyth counter-attacked, consistent with England’s refreshingly revamped approach to this match. Lyth wasn’t especially convincing, but he added 51 with Bell at a crucial point. By the time he departed, the lead was approaching 200. Bell and Root then sailed their team into relatively safe waters with 60 apiece. Ben Stokes added a sound 42 for insurance, with Mark Wood providing the cream in an entertaining cameo. Stokes has provided a valuable all-round contribution in this match. Mitch Marsh might have hoped to contribute likewise for the visitors, but was denied the opportunity.

No Australian bowler was disgraced, but as a unit they again leaked runs too freely to maintain any tactical hold on their opponents. Australia’s default approach is aggression, and it often serves them well. But when an opponent returns that aggression in any sustained manner Australia can quickly look brittle. Like their continued reliance on verbal aggression as a psychological prop, Australia’s tactics still have a strong flavour of flat-track bully about them.

In this match, England’s batsmen have twice rebuffed an initial onslaught, and in doing so revealed our limitations. Playing the two Mitchells will always contain an element of risk. Both look to shock, not contain. This places a heavy load on the inexperienced shoulders of Josh Hazlewood. Though Hazlewood looks a likely type, it is a lot to ask of a bowler in his fifth test. Many will be quick to point out the sudden loss of Ryan Harris, but you don’t need the benefit of hindsight to suggest that a strategy reliant on a 35 year-old pace bowler, who has largely got through the preceding two years on will power alone, was a strategy fraught with risk from the beginning.

Which brings us to Australia’s other ageing great hope. Mitch Johnson’s glorious Indian summer of 2013-14 was the catalyst for Australia’s unexpected whitewash. That summer, he sustained a purple patch few have matched. Subsequently, he has only occasionally revisited that form. Now pushing 34, it is asking a lot to expect him to reproduce those heroics. He still looks imposing, and could have had better fortune at times in this match, but his record on English pitches is hardly inspiring. It would greatly surprise if the hosts offers up a wicket in the next four tests that suited him much better than Cardiff’s dry, shorn affair.

The other crucial aspect of Australia’s 2013-14 success was England’s capitulation. The Johnson onslaught provided the pressure that brought the various fissures in the England dressing room to fracture point. A hitherto resilient unit collapsed in spectacular fashion. They have spent much of the intervening time trying to repair the damage. Their approach in this test indicates they might have got their timing just right. Alastair Cook has been rightly accused of conservative tactics in the past, but there have been few signs of that in this match. England have seized the initiative and largely maintained it through three days. It is risky to presume an opponent can’t learn from past mistakes.

For Australia to threaten 412 from here, you fancy two of Warner, Smith and Clarke will have to play absolute blinders. None of them are Bradman, so it remains a faint hope at best. More likely, Australia will chase credibly without really threatening to win. This will not be a calamity. In fact, it could set up a fascinating series.

As well as they’ve played so far, England are hardly unbeatable. Australia has the ability to remedy the failings of this game. But a squad where Adam Voges (aged 35 years 280 days) is the new boy, and much-tried Shaun Marsh (32 years 1 days) is your only alternative, can’t be said to give you many options. Unless Watto can produce some major last innings heroics, Mitch Marsh should be first man picked for Lords. If Australia is 1-0 down, and Mitch Starc unfit, Pat Cummins should also be risked. He lacks match hardening, but may possess the X factor the situation requires. Australia’s campaign has suffered from an excess of caution thus far. They wouldn’t want to die wondering.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. The Wrap says

    Watto’s luck is holding up, no worries JB. You watch him get selected for the next Test.

    My To & From mates are being so sarcastically gentle in their emails, so patronizing, I’m resorting to prayer for an unlikely win, or even less unlikely rain.

    Had don’t dropped catch a huge difference.

    Where to from here? Fortune favors the brave.

  2. The Wrap says

    Damned auto correct. That’s Haddon’s dropped catch.

  3. I think that Had don’t sums it almost perfectly – maybe Had can’t (anymore) a tad better!

  4. John Butler says

    Had don’t/can’t does sum it up pretty well so far, Nose.

    Will Australia be brave? Cummins would represent a risk – he could break down mid match. But if the plan doesn’t extend beyond hoping Mitch J will blast them out again then it could quickly become a long series.


  5. Rick Kane says

    Great summary Mr Butler, and all I have to add is that England’s best bats (in this test), Root, Bell, Balance and Stokes have looked the stronger, more confident and creative run machine, playing many more middle of the bat shots and controlled well-placed shots, including taking almost a mocking advantage of our third man-less field placement. While our Dad’s Army team might be showing their age, this English batting line-up, I feel, would have tested even the best bowling attack we have.

    On day one we might have been able to lump the blame on Haddin’s pathetic dropped catch but by end of play on day three it’s not the lone ranger in Aussie mistakes.

  6. John Butler says

    I agree RK. If we content ourselves with blaming one dropped catch then we’re asking for trouble.

    Not so sure about England’s top 3, but the middle order has shown it’s a threat. Especially if our bowling doesn’t lift.

    But I think our bowling can lift, if they show better consideration of the conditions we all know will be served up.

  7. Cat from the Country says

    I do not usually commdnt on cricket matters.
    AL, I can say is … The Aussies need to get wriggle on and make lots of runs over the next two days!

  8. crankypete says

    one thing that crept up on us I reckon is that Lyon generally goes for 3.5 an over now, often more than 4. he is neither a very attacking bowler nor an economical one. would rather have the leggie taking 5-80 from 20 myself.

    (Lyon has been going at an average economy rate of 3.6 since the start of the Dubai frolic, each wicket costing 38 and a strike rate of 63, boosted significantly by the 12-for in Adelaide. He is striking at 75 if you exclude that – but his economy rate would come down a tad, too. But not much.)

    He is a decent bowler and “good around the team”, but I really hope we (a) risk the leggie at Lords; and/or (b) send for Maxwell, to cancel out Ali’s fantastic contributions.

  9. crankypete says

    and what’s with Clarke not giving a single over to any of the part-time spinners? 1981 Hughes captaincy again?

  10. John Butler says

    Cranky, it’s a worthwhile point you raise. But I wonder if we’re ever going to see a return to the old days of the containing offie going for only 2 an over throughout a day (unless the wicket is helping). New bats, shorter boundaries, and the general expansion of imaginable possibilities that T20 has provided for batsmen all make that harder. I suspect test spinners will increasingly be judged by wicket taking ability, rather than economy rate.

    PS: I was a tad optimistic in thinking our run chase would be “credible”. That was a poor effort from the top order – Warner excepted. Not a lot of inclination to grind it out. Only Johnson’s efforts saved complete embarrassment. Much to rectify for Lords.

  11. Luke Reynolds says

    Excellent points here JB. Like your thoughts on playing Cummins, however if a similar pitch is offered up at Lords as was the case in Cardiff, would like us to at least consider playing Fawad Ahmed alongside Lyon.
    Thought Lyon was very good in Cardiff.

  12. John Butler says

    Luke, the one thing against the leggie may be the number of lefties in the England line up. Having said that, if that was going to worry you, why bring him on tour?

    If the pitch has much grass on it at Lords you would be very surprised. Boof’s rather plaintive comments would indicate he thinks likewise. Makes you wonder what they were expecting.

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