The Ashes: 5th Test, Day 4 Preview

After a slow day at the Oval yesterday, Day 4 beckons with England trailing Australia but some 245 runs with 6 wickets still in hand. There will be another packed house at the Oval desperate to see a contest and to see if England can go past the follow on and press towards a draw. I say draw because it seems like there is no other result open to England in this game. Australian fans in the ground and watching late into the night will obviously be hoping for a more fruitful day.

It is a big day for:

Nathan Lyon: I said yesterday in my preview that it would be a big day for Nathan Lyon on Day 3. Unfortunately he did not get as much bowling as many would have expected however his captain did not deign to bowl him much in the first 50 overs of the innings. He bowled exceptionally well on day 3 and will enjoy a further deteriorated wicket. In order for the pressure that is on him to retain his position that is seemingly on him from selectors, some further players and fans alike he will need to bowl Australia to a dominant position today otherwise that pressure will continue to rise.

Michael Clarke: I questioned some of the tactics of Michael Clarke on day 3 and he will need to show better acumen on the field today in order to lead his team to an improbable victory. Seemingly caught between attack and defence some of his fields were set strangely to say the least. He must show faith in his off spinner today and crowd the bat failing which any semblance of a chance Australia might to win this game will be gone by the lunch adjournment.

Chris Woakes: On debut and arguably batting for a place on upcoming summer tour to Australia Woakes will never have a better opportunity to solidify that spot than on Day 4. The pitch is benign and Australian bowlers are backing up after a long day in the field. Positive intent coupled with quality defence in support of the player of the series for mine, Ian Bell, will see him on the plane to Australia for mine.

What does winning the day look like?

Australia:

It is simple for Australia: they must have England out by lunch time if they are to be any chance of a victory in this game. Any other result on day 4 will constitute a loss for the baggy greens.

England:

Same as yesterday: bat, bat and then bat some more. Forget the “controversy” over the slow batting run rate of the English. There is nothing wrong with batting defensively and, indeed, batting for a draw and England proved on day 3 they can do that. A repeat on day 4 will see this game, in fact, end up a draw.

Talking Points:

All talk will again be around the pitch today. Even the players are getting on the bandwagon (see Joe Root’s interview at the end of yesterday’s play) about the pitch being slow and difficult to score on. No matter how the day pans out here there will still be much discussion around the preparation of the wicket.

Weather Report:

The BBC weather report states as follows:

A cloudy start with some locally heavy rain in places. Becoming brighter through the morning with some sunny intervals developing but also the risk of further showers or thunderstorms. Locally torrential downpours may lead to some localised flooding.

Needless to say it is looking likely that rain will play a part in the days play at some point.

Final Word:

This is the second last day of the first instalment of the Ashes for 2013/14. Both sides can gain much from a good day today. Australia can gain confidence whilst England can get back some momentum. Another interesting day beckons at the Oval.

The Ashes: 5th Test Day 3 Talking Points

It was moving day at the Oval in the 5th and final Ashes test. Unfortunately for Australia the only movement that occurred was backwards as England defied the Australia to end the day 4/247. Here are my talking points from the day:

1. Slow Scoring: Shocker or Tactically Brilliant

Much is being made in the press this morning and was being made on social media last night about the slowness of England’s scoring. Yes scoring at 2.19 runs per over and scoring just over 200 runs in a day constitutes slow scoring but is that approach as shocking as it seems? I say that England’s performance was a brilliant tactical response to the state of the game (they were well behind) and conditions (the forecast is a shocker tomorrow). They knew they could not win but have obviously dug their heels in to ensure that they will not lose. It is a shame that the art of batting for draw has not been seen for such a long time that people know only recognise it as a negative because this was acting for a draw that ought to have been hailed rather than maligned.

2. Captain Cook: all at sea?

Last Ashes series Cook was the dominant player for England with 766 runs in seven innings. This time around for the English captain he has failed to meet expectations and, after another failure on day 3, his return for this series of 243 runs at an average of 27 is as good a marker as any of his lack of form. His dismissal last night was mother one that pointed to a muddled mindset: a Cook in form would have left the ball he knicked and, more to the point, if he had have played it his feet would not have been plugged to the crease. If this form line for the captain of England continues into Australia on the bouncier, faster wickets his form may get worse before it gets better.

3. Captain Clarke: needs to trust his spinner more

I commented on social media, somewhat vociferously I concede, that Clarke’s failure to bowl Nathan Lyon more than 3 overs in the first 50 of England innings was strange tactically and I am sitting here now still scratching those few hairs left on the top of my head. I know this is an Australian line up stacked with fast bowlers however on a pitch clearly designed to take spin with foot marks already available for Lyon bowling to right handers I still think Clarke made a tactical blunder by not bowling his spinner earlier. Then when he did bowl I don’t believe the captain attacked enough with his fields. Given the state of the game, the field that needed to be set had to be based around 4 close fielded around the bat whilst trusting Lyon not to leak runs. At no point did Clarke attack the batters and they were able to play with too much pressure of fielders under their noses.

4. Ryan Harris: Ironman

Playing in his unprecedented 4th test in a row, Harris has again shown why he is in the top handful of bowlers in word cricket when he is fit. With a bustling approach and seeming to hit the bat harder than any other bowler in the game, he consistently hurried batters and bowled some spells of the utmost quality. It was obvious that the batters were more than happy to play him out and then focus on playing the other bowlers and that is the best compliment an opposition can give to a fast bowler.

5. Brad Haddin: the best gloveman in the squad

Brad Haddin’s selection caused some wrinkles on the brow of some fans, particularly those of Victorian origin, however it must be said he has repaid the faith with some excellent work behind the stumps (where his best work should be). He is now in the shadows of Rod Marsh’s long standing world record for dismissals in a test series and, off the back this performance, he would be a worthy holder of the record for mine. Wicketkeepers are to often judged by their work with the willow in the current game so it is good to see a wicketkeeper actually receiving plaudits for his work in his principal job behind the stumps.

It was a slow day of cricket but a day that fans to the test form of the game should recognise as being a tactically brilliant game for the English.

Day 4 will likely be a continuation of the same from England albeit a cursory examination of the weather forecast indicates that it is the weather that could play a bigger role in the outcome of the day.

The Ashes: 5th Test Day 3 Preview

It is day 3 of the 5th test at the Oval with Australia in complete command of the game. Here is my preview of the day to come:

It is a big day for:

Jonathan Trott

Trott has been in woeful form in this series and has found ways to get out that are bizarre, for him, to say the least including edging down the leg side and playing on. This pitch is made for his style of batting and he will need a big score here to get something, aside from being on an Ashes winning team, out of this series.

Nathan Lyon

This pitch has been set up so that it will take spin and, despite the rain yesterday, if certainly looks like it will start taking more and more spin from today. Nathan Lyon has the opportunity to prove many, including the Chairman of Selectors of Australia John Inverarity, wrong and play a leading role in pushing Australia towards victory and also secure his position in the team for the return bout of this series with a strong performance today.

What does winning the day look like?

Australia

A win on day 3 for Australia will hinge on dismissing England for less than the follow on target. If England breach the follow on that the game is going to meander to a draw one suspects.

England

Being still at the crease in their first innings no matter how many wickets are down will be a win for the English. One would expect that if they are still at the crease at the close of play they will have passed the follow on any thoughts of an Australian victory will have waned.

Talking Points:

1. Over rates will on the tip of many tongues today again after England’s go slow tactics yesterday. It is not to Australia’s favour to slow the game down but many eyes will how quickly they get through their overs.

2. There have been no real umpiring dramas as yet in this game so all eyes will be on the men in white and black today.

Weather report

The BBC Weather service gives the following outlook for the weather today in London:

Dry at first with bright or sunny spells. Becoming very warm or hot and feeling especially so in light winds. Into this evening some showery rain is likely and some of this could be on the heavy side.

By the look of it a full day of play will be in the offing for the teams.

The Ashes: 5th Test Day 2 Talking Points

It was a rainy day in London which cost players and fans of 3 and half hours of play to start the day. Under gloomy and bowler friendly conditions to start Australia re-exerted their control on the game through first solid defence and then, using the foundation laid, through blistering attack. Australia are well on top in this game having declared at 492 but with a menacing forecast to come day 3 will be moving day if there is to be victor from this fixture.

Here are my talking points from day 2:

1. Steve Smith: Not just a cartoon character anymore!

Smith resumed on 66 not out having been made wait a long time because of the weather and upon resumption focused on survival whilst the conditions favoured the seam up bowlers. After seeing off the dual threats of Anderson and Broad and as the sun started to break through and dry the pitch Smith flourished and pressed on to a maiden test hundred brought up with an audacious straight six of Jonathan Trott. Since Smith returned to the test team in India he has been one of Australia’s best players and, if there was any doubt before this innings, he has not locked down his place in the team for a long time to come.

2. Captain Cook … Captain Conservative?

Is it just me or has Alistair Cook waved the white flag a bit early in this game? For a captain of some note some of his decisions on day two were strange to say the least. Can anyone give me a cogent reason why J Trott was bowling his military mediums to a batter in the nervous 90s? Graeme Swann only getting 3 overs on his specifically designed pitch is also a strange one and not bowling “Darryl” Kerrigan again smacks of a captain with the cue already in the rack. 32 overs of medium pace bowling for limited returns cost England 137 runs and yet when Swann came on he was immediately successful. If nothing else it certainly was a strange day for the England captain.

3. Time wasting: tactics or a ruination?

Slowing the play down has been part of the game since its inception. There is no use whinging about it: umpires are powerless (or more pointedly too spineless) to do anything about it. To say that England are the best in the business at the moment would be an understatement. From Broad fixing his shoe in the first test through to the first hour after tea on day 2 they are winning the delay game. Their post tea performance was up with their best: 11 overs (including Swanns 3) in an hour is up there with the rate of the great West Indian quartets of the 80s. Let’s be honest though: none of the bowlers from England are in that class and the delays seemed to be borne of a need to dry / whinge about the ball more than anything else. The problem is: the fans hate the delay no matter which side they are on. Maybe it is time for the ICC to empower the umpires to take more forceful steps to stop these shenanigans.

4. Faulkner: finally a good debut!

In a game where the debutantes have been less than stellar to date, James Faulkner looked comfortable and self-assured with both the willow and the ball as he had his first on field involvement in a test match on day 2. To be fair, with the bat he entered the fray in a position that he is used to from his one day experiences and immediately went to the task of chasing quick runs. With the ball he was accurate without being menacing but still he did not suffer from the stage fright that befalled his follow English debutantes.

Day 3 beckons as moving day for one team to press for a victory. Australia can do so with early wickets whilst for England it is looking more and more like a draw is the only option for them.

The Ashes: 5th Test, Day 2 Preview

Australia won the first day of this final test of the English swing of the 2013/14 Ashes contest. In fact they won the day be a very long way off the back of Shane Watson’s rollicking 176 and the failure of the debutantes selected by the Poms.

Day 2 presents an opportunity for Australia to press their advantage in the game whilst for England they can regain their ascendancy with a strong showing. Here are my keys to Day 2:

1. Bat long Australia … bat very long

Australia’s position at 4/307 puts them in the box seat in this game but given the state of the pitch they will need to score many more runs today to secure their position in the game. One suspects that if Australia can bat till tea or, even better, stumps their position will be impregnable. Steve Smith and Brad Haddin, when he bats, hold the key to a big score for Australia. Smith is 34 runs away from a maiden hundred which will go a long way cementing his position in the team.

2. Early wickets … both for England and Australia, if they bowl

This wicket is at its best for bowling when the ball is new or newish so for England they need to collect early wickets in the first 30 minutes of day 2 whilst the new ball they took last night is newish. It seems likely that Australia will bowl at sometime on day 2 and given that they have only selected one spinner they will be looking to their new ball bowlers to get them off to a start which, if it does not arise, could see England very quickly on top.

3. Things can only get better for the debutantes … can’t it?

In order for England to regain the ascendancy in this game, if they are unsuccessful in the first 30 minutes of day 2 they will need their bowlers on debut to improve markedly on their day one performance. There are only so many overs that Graeme Swann can bowl so “Darryl” Kerrigan will be called to the crease at some point. If his stage fright remains from yesterday then he might be consigned to the ranks of Messrs Tahir and McGain in only 2 day of test cricket. That said, if he can return and take a couple of wickets he will not only help out his team but also regain some confidence.

4. Dusty, dusty, dusty … Is this the Oval or Madras?

This pitch took turn, albeit slow turn, within the first hour of play and, by that point, Graeme Swann was already at the crease bowling. The more turn the pitch takes the more England will be confident of resting Australia’s advantage in the game given the quality of Swann as a bowler and the lack of ability in the remaining batters for Australia in combating him.

5. Trott: he is due …. very due

I mentioned in my preview of the game that Jonathan Trott is a key man for England in this game and, noting his out of character and woeful form, he is certainly due for a big score. This is precisely the pitch that Trott thrives on batting on so him breaking his bad form line will be vital in England’s chase of whatever total Australia puts up.

Day 2 commences at 8pm Australian time (Eastern Standard) with Steve Smith chasing his maiden first class hundred.