The Ashes: 4th Test Day 2 … keys to winning the day

It was a great day on day one for Australia with the English 9 for 238 at stumps after the last wicket partnership kept Australia at bay and added 20 runs to the total.

As day 2 beckons, here are my keys for the day:

1. State of the pitch: The Chester-le-Street wicket has been difficult for sides in the first innings of games in first class cricket this year and, whilst the 2nd day of use of a test match cricket wicket is by custom considered to be the best, how this pitch plays today (and which team takes advantage of the conditions) could have a large determinant on who wins today.

2. Oh Jimmy Jimmy: I mentioned in my preview of the test match that Anderson struggled for wickets at Old Trafford. He will be looking to right that “wrong” in this test match and, if as expected, he will have “fresh meat” to bowl to with the new ball in the form of “The Myth” Warner.

3. Captain Clarke: When Clarke scores runs for Australia, Australia generally wins the day of play and, by extension, the test match. He is the biggest wicket in Australia's top 6 and his innings will be keenly watched by English fans hoping for brevity and Australian fans hoping for a long stint alike.

4. The Myth rises?: Davey Warner is projected to be at the top of the order for Australia at some point today. Australia's opening partnership has actually performed better, when considering average opening stand, than the English and yet Australia seems certain to make this change. The weight of expectation will be on him and it is fair to say that if he does conjure a way to score some runs then Australia will inevitably be off to a good (although quick) start.

5. Umpiring sponsored by OPSM: It stood out like the proverbial that the umpires in the game, particularly Tony Hill, are down on confidence. Missing the Root edge was indicative of that and they really need to lift their game today to avoid one of the teams being disadvantaged by the terrible decision that one senses is not far around the corner.

Play starts at 8pm Australian time.


The Ashes: 4th test, day 1 talking points

The first day of the first test after England retained the Urn at Old Trafford courtesy of the intervention of rain was always going to be interesting to see how the teams reacted to that result. It was Australia's day to be sure and here are my key talking points arising from the day:

1. England's tactics …the devil and the deep blue sea

England's batters seems to not know whether to attack or defend and were oft caught out and dismissed as a result of their mindset. The ease of Anderson and Bresnan's stand in the shadows of stumps surely will have given the others who came before them a moment of pause. It will be interesting to see what the captain's tactics are in the field because he already has the look of a man playing for a draw.

2. Nathan Lyon: haters are still gonna hate

Nathan Lyon justified his selection here with fantastic display of quality spin bowling. His control was a key factor to his success overnight and he got wickets the way an off spinner ought: LBW, caught at short leg, caught behind and caught at mid off. There will be the usual people who do not rate Lyon (bizarrely mainly from the Australian press corps) who will snipe that Lyon has performed when the pressure is now off but I can believe that any fair minded fan could say that it was not a mistake to have left him out for the first 2 test matches.

3. Jackson Bird: Bird is the word

Another one from the why wasn't he selected sooner files for mine. Was brought in for Mitchell Starc and bowled with nagging accuracy to strangle an end whilst the other bowlers did their work at the other. His ball to dismiss Cook was one of the balls of the season so far. He did a job that Starc has been unable to do to: create pressure and not give up easy runs. The question after this series will be: how do we find a place in the team for him, Siddle and a fit Pattinson when there are only 2 spots to fill between them?

4. The Pitch: Has England's bespoke pitch request backfired?

Andy Flower has gotten the pitch that he requested and it is probably too early to answer the question posed in this talking point but one expects that it is going to be better for batting today before breaking up and suiting the spinners. If Australia can post 450 using the best of the conditions, with Nathan Lyons form England may find themselve hoisted metaphorically on their own petard.

5. Tony Hill: is he really an Elite Umpire?

I know I am a massive advocate of respecting the umpires decision at all times but I have to say that Tony Hill is just not up to test match standard. If you needed more evidence after the Old Trafford test match you only had to see his miss of Joe Root's edge. Everyone on the ground, in the ground and watching on TV thought it was an edge. The only one who missed it was Umpire Hill. That was a decision of a man either not confident in his decision making OR how simple just missed. Either scenario does not bode well for his continued engagement in this series.

Day 1 ended with Australia all over England continuing the position from basically the whole of the 3rd test. Day 2 will be interesting to see the tactics that England use when they get on the field and with Australia can press it's advantage on what presents as the best day for batting on the Chester-le-Street pitch.


The Ashes: 4th Test Preview

Time has travelled at break neck speed at times during this Ashes series: it seems like only yesterday that fans were debating the selection of Agar over Lyon for the first test. All of a sudden the Fourth Test is upon us from the Chester-le-Street ground in Durham. The good news that this brings is that Australian fans are only 2 test matches away from hosting the return battle between these two teams.

The Ashes will remain in the hands of England regardless of the result of the next two test matches but for the Australians there is much to be gained from pushing for a draw in this series, particularly given the thoughts of most when it came to Australia’s prospects at the start of the tour and again after the Lords debacle.

Here are my keys to victory for the fourth test:

1. The Pitch: Reports from England suggest that the pitch that has been presented for this fixture again meets the guidelines for pitches set by Andy Flower and the ECB: it is again dry and hard. Only four test matches have been played at this venue and all of them have been won by England. That said I do not really consider there to be a form line coming from this result given that past combatants at the ground were Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the West Indies. Wicket takers at the ground have been the fast bowlers rather than the spinners so the doctoring of the pitch may have little play in the result. That said, if the wicket turns, as it would appear it is designed to do, the match will really be in the hand of Graeme Swann.

2. England’s tactics: There is less to be gained for England in a win than in just playing for a draw given that they have already won the Ashes. The English can afford to play defensive cricket and are, seemingly, quite proficient at it. That said, a negative or defensive mindset may play right into the hands of Australia who will be going all out for a victory.

3. The Toss: The winner of the toss in each test match has been the team in this series so far that has had the better of the test. This again looks like a test match where the team batting first will be very difficult to best. That team will be looking to score, as a minimum, 400 and bat midway into the second day.

4. Is Ryan Harris fit? The best bowler in the third test was Ryan Harris and he has a history of not playing three test matches consecutively. If he plays for Australia in this test match it will be a massive fillup for the team. This focus on Harris is not to say that Jackson Bird will not be a good replacement however Harris provides an X factor to the Australian team which is hard to define. Simply, if Harris is in the team I think Australia has a better chance of victory.

5. Can Jimmy bounce back? England’s best bowler and a bowler many argue is a better bowler than Dale Steyn (I respectfully disagree) had a test match he would rather forget at Old Trafford. 0/116 off 33 overs does not make for pretty reading and whilst he secured two wickets in the second innings they were when Australia was chasing fast runs and where lower order. When Anderson bowls well and takes wickets England are very tough to beat.

This will be another enthralling test match. For England there is an 11 game streak of failing to lose a game at stake whilst Australia is trying to avoid adding to a 7 game losing streak. Cue the late nights, coffee and banter!

The Ashes: 4th Test fun fact or worrying statistic depending which team you follow

Many people have wondered where England’s recent dominance of cricket at Test Match level has had its genisis. One only needs to look at this fact for an answer: in the last test match played at Chester-le-Street Englands bowling attack was Anderson, Broad, Bresnan, Onions and Swann. For this test match their bowling attack will be made up of four of those very same five bowlers. Whilst there have been some minor tweaks to the English bowling line up in the intervening period it is apposite to note that there has been remarkable consistency in the selections of England’s bowlers in the last 4 years. Steve Finn and Monty Panesar aside, players selected outside of the five “in play” for the fourth test match (Tremlett, Tredwell, Patel, Shahzad and Sidebottom) have been selected as injury cover on basically all occasions.

If you need further convincing of England’s consistency in this area consider this: England have played in 53 test matches inclusive of the last time they played in Durham on 14 May 2009 and since that time Messrs Swann, Anderson and Broad have played in 49, 49 and 44 of those test matches respectively.

Conversely, in the same period the Australian selectors have deigned to select the bowlers from the following phalanx of players:
PM Siddle
MG Johnson
BW Hilfenhaus
NM Lyon
RJ Harris
NM Hauritz
SR Watson
DE Bollinger
JL Pattinson
MA Starc
JM Bird
SPD Smith
PJ Cummins
XJ Doherty
GJ Maxwell
TA Copeland
SR Clark
MA Beer
AC Agar
PR George
MC Henriques
JW Hastings
CJ McKay

During the same period in question Australia has played in 49 test matches. At the top regarding number of test matches played during the period is Siddle with 37. Thereafter, players no longer in the mix for test selection in the form of Messrs Johnson and Hilfenhaus are the next most used during this period. It has been argued that Australia’s bowling attack has been in a state of flux since the retirements of McGrath and Warne and these numbers do not lie. What these numbers also suggest though is that Australia has either suffered an injury epidemic during the same period OR simply has not had the confidence in its own bowlers to stick with them after a poor performance.

It is amazing that after a 51 month hiatus in test matches at Chester-le-Street that the same bowlers will be used by England as the last time a game was played there. It is not amazing that England have retained the Ashes and have been dominant during that same period: they have been consistent in their selections and their players have responded. That fact is a sad indictment on either the efforts of the Australian NSP OR their medical staff.