Fifth Test – Day 3: England drop anchor, drag the chain

England vs Australia: Fifth Test, Oval, Day 3

Australia 492/9d

England 247/4 (116.0 ov)


As Australian cricket’s decision makers contemplate the summer ahead they can at least console themselves that they will face an opposition that is beatable. England is a good side, but not a great side. The sobering realisation must be that we currently trail that good but not great side 3-0

Earlier this year your correspondent happened to be in New Zealand while England barely held off a modest home side over three drawn tests. They demonstrated then an abiding inclination to caution when pressured. This tendency was indulged in extremis through the course of the third day at the Oval where England set themselves for the sole purpose of grinding out a draw.

The bald figures of 4-215 in 98.3 overs barely begin to describe the tedium of a day that amounted to England effectively raising a large extended middle finger to a sell-out crowd.

Australia’s bowlers found their considerable efforts blunted by a slow pitch and the absence of an opponent willing to take the game on to any extent. Michael Clarke’s frustrations became apparent just before tea when yet another Kevin Pietersen stalling effort proved one too many and a slanging match ensued. Given the haplessly ineffectual way the game is now administered, it is likely that the only incident to attract any scrutiny will be that verbal altercation. I would argue that the cynical time wasting efforts of the home team constitute the much greater offence to the game.

With the day’s crawl scarcely warranting the effort to describe, it feels more profitable to look ahead to the return series in our summer. Sadly, contemplation of our likely options only serves to highlight how poorly the period since our last Ashes defeat has been handled by selectors, administrators and managers alike.

For all the selection permutations of recent times, we seem scarcely closer to being able to identify our best team, let alone maximise their efforts. The inclusion of James Faulkner for this game seemed a case of avoiding the difficult question. A team continually let down by batting fragility should have at least given one final middle order opportunity to either Hughes or Khawaja. If a line has been drawn through both names, then it is difficult to see an obvious replacement. This is only one of many selection questions left hanging.

Deposed coach Mickey Arthur has recently spoken of a two-series strategy to these successive Ashes series. This implied that the current series was about setting us up for a better chance in the Australian summer. If we ignore the many contestable aspects of this thinking, how have we fared? What advances can we claim?

Batting-wise, the only gains in this series have been the efforts of Steve Smith and Chris Rogers. Smith personifies the modern inclination to select Chosen Ones. Promoted to test status on promise rather than performance, he deserves credit for surviving the subsequent travails in his career to achieve what he has this series. But we must remember, he wasn’t actually selected in the initial touring party.

Chris Rodgers has been grinding out runs in much the same manner at Shield level for more than a decade. As warming a story as his success in this series makes, it raises even more questions about Australia’s selection policies. When we have been begging for a stable opening pair, how has he evaded selection for so long? Overlooked as a succession of Chosen Ones were picked instead, Rodgers represents the extent to which actual performance in first class cricket has been marginalised by those who claim to know better.

Our strong suit at present is fast bowling, but even here there is reason for concern. As young tyros of infinite promise are continually let down by their bodies, rather too much has depended on the tireless Siddle and the creaking bones of 33 year old Ryan Harris. As commendable as Harris’ efforts have been, it is hard to see them as much of a platform for the team’s future.

The future is the big question for Australian cricket. Despite Argus Reports, increased revenue for the game, the hiring of numerous managers and trainers, and assorted experts as far as the eye can see, Australia’s team is currently a stitched together assortment of veterans enjoying some late career sunshine and youngsters who largely have failed to establish themselves. And Michael Clarke and his dodgy back. It’s hard to make a case that much has been achieved in recent years.

The pity of all this is that England are allowed to bask in a current glory that has been pretty easily achieved. Alastair Cook remains an unconvincing, conservative tactician who is rarely seriously challenged because of the shortcomings of so many opposing teams. England’s modest virtue of performing the basics with consistency has seen them ascend the current test rankings. This says more about the current state of test cricket than anything else.

As far as two-series strategies go, next summer should present as a real contest. Given the current state of affairs, who amongst us holds out genuine hope that it will?

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. We’ll give them a contest alright JB, don’t you worry about that. Whether we’ll win it not is another matter. I, like you, just can’t see from whence the heroes are going to spring from. I’d like to see more contribution the from heroes past, other than well paid com entry jobs.

  2. Daniel Fanshawe says

    Great analysis JB

  3. Grand summary JB.
    The Poms have squirmed. The Australians have fired a scattergun selection.
    The staid & conservative approach of England is disappointing, but then, I guess they don’t need to win.
    It’s a mindset foreign to me that would seek to draw from half way through Day 2. Like you, I hope to see them under a bit more pressure out here.

  4. Well argued as always JB, but who cares about Test Cricket these days. Clearly neither country’s team puts any value on entertaining the crowd, and the administrators are too busy working out the marketing rights to Humongous Hits or whatever it is called.
    I find myself checking the score on Cricinfo after the footy/BBC Drama finishes and going ‘ho hum’.
    Test cricket will eat itself. No loss.

  5. John Butler says

    PB, I would disagree profoundly in regard to Test cricket. But I can see your point, and agree that those who are charged with looking after its future, and who profess that they wish to, are singularly failing to live up to their responsibilities.

    The dollar is ruling cricket as it does everywhere else in professional sport now.

    E. Reg, England’s danger is that they appear to believe you can just turn form on and off like a tap. If they’re influenced by the chorus of ex-captains in the commentary box, they have an inflated opinion of themselves. Playing as they did on day 3 is an excellent recipe for losing form. But will we ever position ourselves to take advantage?

  6. Peter Flynn says

    Thanks JB.

    England has no depth.

  7. Peter Flynn says


    I’d persist with Smith.

    He’s a bit loose but has ticker.

    That’s ok for a number 6.

    I would not play Hughes or khawaja ever again.

    I understand they’ve been shuffled around,

    However they are plain dopey. No Test match batting brain or ticker.

  8. John Butler says

    PJF, you’re not wrong about depth. They’ll be praying Monty stays out of further difficulties.

    Agree on Smith. He’s actually earned his place this time around. Also on Hughes. Had enough chances.

    Khawja I have some sympathy for.He’s been handled appallingly. They dropped him when they should have persisted with him. Then dragged him on tour after tour never playing him. His obvious anxiety in this series has to owe something to that. But he hasn’t helped his own cause either.

    But who bats at 6?

  9. Peter Flynn says

    Whoever makes the most runs in the shield bar Hughes and khawaja

  10. 6 is Smith’s only option…scary technique but good fighter ( do not let him bowl).
    Cook should declare right now and test Clarke’s nerve.

  11. would Clarke declare immediadely and run the gauntlet?…Australia has been bullish about “result cricket”

  12. John Butler says

    PJF, what a radical idea. Pick a bloke who’s actually making runs. :)

    Crio, I doubt Cook has it in him. No imagination.

  13. I’d tell Brad Haddin to give up the cut shot, except I’m on the second bottle so who am I to talk about self destructive old habits.
    Faulkner looks a good #8 and ODI batsman, but too agricultural for a serious Test batsman. He just got out, so I reckon he just became a trivia question.
    Agar has the technique for a serious batsman. There’s your Test #6. Or someone not on this Tour like Callum Ferguson.

  14. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Hughes and Khawaja have both been dropped when they shouldn’t have been who knows where they both could be . Burns and Fergusson are the 2 but who ever is played needs a genuine run not the Tampon selection Policy in for 1 out for 3

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