Aussies On The Run

Another bore draw eh. I can see why this test cricket lark is dying. Ahem.

The Lord’s test might have started as a damp squib, with five sessions and an hour ruined by the weather, but it turned out to be an absolute classic. Both sides had a legitimate chance to win the game heading into the final day, and there was drama and controversy aplenty.

There was just one problem: I missed the whole bloody thing. I’ve been on holiday for the last week (I’m back today) so I could only follow on Cricinfo and Twitter. This basically involved crafty looks at my phone in between my Mrs giving me disapproving looks for not giving the kids my full attention.

Consequently this ‘report’ comes with the enormous caveat that I literally haven’t a clue what I’m talking about. I suppose it was ever thus! You might have to help me out by adding / correcting my analysis in the comments.

The first thing that struck me about this test match is how genuine pace influences proceedings. Who’d have thunk it. I’ve been banging on about England adding some pace to their attack for donkeys’ years.

Nothing unsettles good batsmen like the risk of physical danger, and nothing’s more likely to knock over the tail. Just ask anyone who watched the 2013 Ashes whitewash down under. Mitchell Johnson was unplayable.

After six years England finally got their own back at Lord’s. Jofra Archer was brilliant by all reports. I’ve seen some of the highlights and it looked like proper old fashioned West Indian style chin music. In fact, Archer officially delivered the fastest over ever bowled by an England bowler in test cricket (since speed gun records began). The Aussies should thank their lucky stars that Mark Wood wasn’t playing in tandem. Wood bowled even faster than Archer during the World Cup.

Obviously the specific moment that changed the game was the ‘flooring’ of Steve Smith. I’ve seen it from many angles on YouTube and it looked horrific. I’m so glad there should be no long-lasting effects. However, two things struck me. A) Why wasn’t old Smudger wearing a neck protector? and B) how terribly, appallingly actually, he played the delivery.

I’ve been trying to work out how such a class batsman could’ve played that particular ball so badly. I think a player who stays predominantly legside of the ball (like Jonny Bairstow) might have simply swayed out of the way. However, Smith walked right into it, and then compounded his error by taking his eye off the ball. It was weird.

Perhaps Smith got himself into a tangle because he likes to work balls outside off to leg (so his weight was naturally falling away to the off-side), or because he’d previously pulled Archer to the boundary and was trying to repeat the dose; therefore self-preservation and defence wasn’t really on his mind?

Either way it was a shocking incident and I do think it will have a psychological impact for the rest if the series. Australia’s kingpin was knocked out of the game, and the other Aussies batsmen will have taken notice big time. It’s hard to feel confident about your work when your team’s best player – someone a lot better than you – can’t cope with the barrage. Kudos to Marnus Whatshisface for surviving for so long after suffering a blow to the helmet himself.

The other thing that struck me about this game was obviously the batting of Ben Stokes. I know it was only the World Cup, which is totally different environment to test cricket, but I thought the seeds of his hundred yesterday go back to the Sri Lanka and Australia group games, plus the final itself. Heck the seeds might even go back to the Bristol incident.

Ben has batted with a lot more maturity of late. And with Root horribly out of form – he now averages considerably more at 4 than 3 rather than significantly more – Ben looks like our best batsman. I think he could bat anywhere from 3-6 and not look out of place on current form.

The thing I like about Stokes as a batsman, and this was apparently from his maiden hundred in Perth, is that he simply doesn’t get flustered by either the opposition of the match circumstances. He also has a sound technique, which can’t be said for many of our other batsmen. As he bowls less and less (which seems inevitable as he gets older) I expect his batting to take centre stage and eventually average over 40. He’s definitely good enough to achieve this.

As for England’s other specialist batsmen the less said the better. The Jason Roy experiment is going the way many of us expected it would go – he looks completely out of his depth – but we can’t be too harsh on the guy because it was always going to be a steep learning curve and their are few alternatives out there.

I remember writing a month ago that opening with Roy was a shit idea but probably the least shit option available. Yes the selectors could call up Sibley but there’s no way an ego as large as Ed Smith’s is going to admit that he got this one horribly wrong after a couple of tests. After all, Joe Denly is still in the team!

There was also some murmuring on Twitter yesterday that the knives are starting to come out for Jos Buttler. I find this extraordinary really. Before Lord’s Jos was the only player in the squad to average just under 40 over the last year. Root was next on 32. Why on earth would you drop someone who’s been your best player in recent times?

Although I have still have a few doubts about Buttler – I’m not at all surprised that a short ball proved his undoing yesterday – he’s done much better than I expected since ‘earning’ a test recall. He looks a better player now than he did 3 years ago, and he’s officially played more innings longer than 100 balls than any other player in the world over the last 12 months. That’s a fact. So all those accusing him of being a mere white ball wonder can go hang. He IS developing the mental side of the game.

What’s more, it’s hardly like England are blessed with alternatives. If you dropped Jos who would you replace him with? And would that replacement average more than 40 over the next year? Personally I severely doubt it. England supporters have to accept that we live in imperfect times – yeah, thanks for that ECB – so we have little alternative but to back the incumbents for now.

Yes Buttler has struggled against Pat Cummins; but Cummins is a world class cricketer. He sorts out most batsmen. To drop Buttler now would be ludicrous.

The last England player I want to mention is Jack Leach, who bowled rather well yesterday evening from all reports. I like Leach because he’s a bit like Monty Panesar and Phil Tufnell i.e. he’s not your prototypical international athlete but he can definitely bowl a bit. Players like this often become part of English cricketing folklore and we love them for their flaws as much as their talent. I hope Leach plays many times for England. It’s good to have a proper real life human (someone like us!) in the team.

Although England are still 0-1 down, the series is set up rather nicely now. With Smith likely to miss the 3rd test – I’m no doctor but as a rugby and NFL fan I know that concussion protocols usually take at least a week to pass – England will never have a better chance to level the series. If we can seize the initiative and actually get a decent total on the board I think there’s a good chance the Aussies will buckle quickly.

Before I sign off, however, I’d like to ask why the Aussie doctors allowed Smith to carry on his innings on the 4th day? This seems like sheer stupidity to me and someone should probably lose their job. Imagine if he’d been hit again. From all reports he didn’t look right after resuming his innings.

We shouldn’t forget that Stuart Broad never recovered from a nasty blow to the head. Smith is obviously a much better batsman than Broad, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Smith wears the mental scars for some time. He is, after all, human. And I wouldn’t blame him if he did.

Finally, I simply don’t understand why cricket should allow concussion substitutes. I know this has only very recently come into play but I raised an eyebrow (before the game) when I read about this rule change. It seemed like cricket jumping on a bandwagon to me. Yes they allow concussion replacements in other sports, but these tend to be sports where they already allow substitutes for other injuries e.g. rugby union. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I have to admit that this is just a knee-jerk reaction, and I’m yet to really think about this issue, but why should cricket allow substitutes for concussions but not for broken fingers or, to employ some Ashes vernacular, a ‘broken fucking arm’ or jaw? It seems like a fundamental shift in the way the game approaches injuries to me.

Teams soldiering on with ten men – like England had to do at Edgbaston – has been part of the game for decades. So why tinker with the laws now? And if you are going to tinker with the rules then why not allow subs for all injuries?

I’m guessing (off the top of my head) that the authorities want to allow concussion subs because they want to encourage players to ‘own up’ when they feel groggy, and discourage them from playing on. Well, if that’s the case then didn’t work at Lord’s did it! Smith went out bat again anyway.

Hmmmm. As a famous Jedi master once said “meditate on this, I will”.

James Morgan


  • Every paragraph there is spot on, James.

    Looking forward to Headingley, shouldn’t we be looking at horses for courses and (with Neil Mallender being unavailable) try to get Sam Curran into the team? I’d be looking at leaving out Denly and moving Stokes to 3 (and bowling him less). The alternative would be to go without a spinner.

    Unfortunately I’m struggling for once to find a way to crowbar Foakes into the team unless I can persuade Leach to stroll out as the earliest ever nightwatchman, in which case Roy can be left out.

  • According to TMS, Sibley was the named concussion replacement for England’s top order. With that in mind, it wouldn’t surprise me if he came into the side to open with Burns, and Roy dropped down the order, replacing Denly.

    Then again, it might be felt that the ‘moral’ victors(?) of the Lord’s test should remain entirely unchanged.

    On the subject of concussion, I think it was a tremendous error to allow Smith to resume his innings. As soon as he came out, Archer started warming up again – the prospect of a wholly avoidable ‘second impact’ could have been a very real possibility.

  • For me, concussion subs are about the protection of the player from himself. I genuinely believe it’s a good initiative to stop players from letting pride and ego get in the way of their long-term health. I remember Graeme Smith batting against Australia with a shattered finger to save a game. He may well have damaged it further in the process, but how much would he have lost overall? He might have had a gnarled finger for the rest of his life, but that’s about it. Yes, cricket doesn’t normally allow subs (unless you include the old super-sub system which gave Vikram Solanki a bit of an international career) but most injuries don’t have life threatening effects down the line if they’re exacerbated.

    Cricket, like most sport, is played in an environment that is toxically masculine, where players are expected to shrug things off and get on with it – just look at Joe Burns’ treatment for the onset of post-viral illness – and that includes an ingrained belief that, if the team is in trouble, one should throw on their pads to try and help (a la Smith with his fucked up finger) regardless of the personal situation. It’s unhealthy already, without encouraging the risk of long-term medical issues. By leaving it up to the doctors and allowing for a player to be brought in as replacement, there is no pressure on the player to come out and put themselves at further risk. Given that the long-term effects of concussion can be conditions like ALS, other neurological problems, and physical disability this is a good move.

    As to why Smith came back out, simply he didn’t appear to be concussed. It wasn’t until the next morning that his concussion became evident, at which point he was pulled out under doctor’s orders.

    • Your reasoning about why concussion subs are a good idea seems to me spot on. But surely Smith showed plenty of evidence of concussion as soon as he got back to the middle, batting in a way completely unlike his normal method, and betraying a pretty scrambled consciousness.

      • True. And I do think it was irresponsible to let him go back out. That being said, if the medical staff couldn’t find any evidence of concussion in those early tests and he wanted to go back it, it would be hard to stop him. That he appeared so rattled once in the middle isn’t something the medical staff could have foreseen when the concussion tests were negative at that stage.

        So, yes, a mistake – but also within protocol. Just irresponsible from the medics and, to a lesser extent, Smith himself.

  • Sam Curran is out injured. I would also love to see Foakes in the team, but I can’t think of how to find a place for him. We will have a big enough problem of who to replace when Jimmy is fit. There are too many injuries. I say this time and time over but the ridiculous schedule is to blame. Maybe when we don’t have a bowler left standing, something will be done about it.

  • Speaking as an Aussie, it should now be one Test all. Who dares wins but Joe doesn’t do either very well. Declaration an hour earlier would have made the difference. No team under those conditions could chase anything like 200. Especially after the massive psychological impact of Steve Smith being made to look mortal.

  • On the question of “Conussion subs”, once Smith had been declared fit and resumed, then whatever happened the next day should not be a consideration. Obviously the CA protocols for concussion are different than the ECB, and probably other countries as well. This will be borne out when Australia name their team for Thursday. If Smith is in that team, then they obviously haven’t followed the 7 day protocol. Does that constitute coming into a game with an already assessed injury? In which case, should he get hit again, they couldn’t invoke the substitute rule. Surely??

    As for England, James Taylor and his gang need to be finding a partner of equal “fear” factor for Jofra. After years of taking it, it must surely feel good to be able to give some back.

    Oh, and judging by Aussie media reports, hasn’t Jofra got them whingeing!

  • It was the height of irresponsibility to allow Smith to return. I would guess that, because of impaired reaction times, a concussed batsman is at least twice as likely to be hit as he was before the first blow to his head.

  • “and B) how terribly, appallingly actually, he played the delivery.

    I’ve been trying to work out how such a class batsman could’ve played that particular ball so badly. I think a player who stays predominantly legside of the ball (like Jonny Bairstow) might have simply swayed out of the way. However, Smith walked right into it, and then compounded his error by taking his eye off the ball. It was weird.

    Perhaps Smith got himself into a tangle because he likes to work balls outside off to leg (so his weight was naturally falling away to the off-side), or because he’d previously pulled Archer to the boundary and was trying to repeat the dose; therefore self-preservation and defence wasn’t really on his mind?”

    The (most likely) reason is that he’d already been smashed on the forearm (with so armguard, so lengthy medical treatment), and then again on the bottom hand 2 overs later. After the hit on the arm, he was shaken up and started hooking and pulling at everything, so was already properly on the ropes before the ball that hit his neck.

    One of the reasons why it was such an amazing spell to watch. Jofra took the best batsman in the world – fully set on 60-odd, in the form of his life, mocking every other bowler with samurai leave, and preparing to bat England out of yet another game – and worked him over with a 60-over old non-reverse-swinging ball to such an extent Smith had no idea where to go or what to play.

  • I hope we are not totally relying on Jofra to win us the Ashes – Root is going to wear him out!

    The best bit was Mitchell Johnson complaining about the booing. Nothing better than a wingeing Aussie!

    • A number of people have stated that Smiths play after he came out differed – no doubt it did but he was already hit on the arm and apparently said “I can’t play a forward defence”. I think that actually explains why he was trying to belt the attack and get as many runs as he could and why he was trying to avoid the ball the way he did when he got hit.

      He played 7 balls between getting hit on the forearm and the head.

      3 of those were very aggressive hooks and pulls for 2 fours and a single. The other he knocked down near short leg. He also played 3 balls from leach the forward defensive push had him pulling his hand off in pain. He was clearly trying to keep off strike in this period.

      In no cases did he play a normal defense and I think that explains why he ducked into it so awkwardly. He was trying to avoid playing his normal way because of his arm.

      It also explains why when he returned he tried to hit out to quickly reach a century and score as fast as possible and didn’t even attempt to defend the Woakes delivery that trapped him leaving it on the basis it pitched in the same spot as the previous delivery which went through on 5th stump line. Obviously he may have been thinking poorly but I think its clear he had a plan.

  • I agree. Root is over bowling him. His weapon is his pace and to maximise that he should bowl in short spells.

  • Smith couldn’t play a bunch of shots like forward defense and anything top hand after the hit on this arm so he started swinging with his bottom hand. It started before he got hit on the head 3 of 4 balls he faced from Archer in between the hits on the arm and head were hooks and pulls. he then came out and did the same to woakes. As soon as they bowled at the stumps he was gone. He couldn’t defend it.

  • Anyway England have to win 2 tests and lose none to regain the Ashes from here. Australia either have to win one or not lose two. At this stage England has not bowled Australia out twice, which they will need to do in two of the three remaining games.
    Its possible sure, but not definite.

  • So more people shuffling Roy about.. again, what exactly has he done both in FC or tests to deserve more of a chance than denly for example..

  • We’ve been looking for Smith’s Achilles heel, well pace seems the key. We’ve all been wondering what might happen when he came face to face with the genuine article, well now we know. He hasn’t a clue. Imagine what damage the likes of Holding, Roberts, Marshall, Garner and Ambrose would have inflicted on a player who takes his eye off the ball like that. Archer bowls straight and gets lift from just short of a length, but nowhere near the likes of Garner and Ambrose. Can’t be.ieve the Aussies let him back into the fray so soon after his accident. He looked punch drunk and would never have succumbed to Woakes in that fashion beforehand. This could be the defining moment of this series, even he plays at Headingly. If Roy hadn’t dropped Head at 96 the Aussies might well have lost and they know we have the X factor now. Warner looks like a fish out of water and with the others refusing to get on the front foot they’re prime candidates for LBW.

    • Snith is over 60 matches into his test career What makes you think he’s never played real pace before?

        • Johnson and Starc, have both gone above that and bowled spells around that mark. Sure its in the nets mostly but both of them hit that speed and above on occasion and smith has faced them. .

          He’s also played against Johnson in 1st class cricket.

          Cummins has even been clocked at around 94.

          There is no doubt that Archer is the fastest going around in this series, but Smith has played enough at pretty close to this pace.

    • But both teams are shelling catches. God knows Warner alone has dropped about four now and Khawaja is generally poor, you think that doesn’t influence the game? The fielding has been fairly abysmal, what are the coaches doing in both camps?

    • There are stats on Smith against measured real pace, where his average before Lord’s was (from memory) 97.5. So he must have faced enough balls of real pace to make 195 runs for twice out. In this case, of course, Archer didn’t get him, so his segment average has probably improved, misleadingly. Archer seems to be right up there, with Andy Roberts the nearest comparison – very sideways action, delivering from very close to the stumps, with an extra turn of pace when required. I don’t recall any of them bowling consistently over 90mph, in any case. It was the cumulative effect of having to face it from both ends that did for the batsmen of those days. Archer seems designed to find the technical chink in Steve Smith’s game, and it seems likely Smith will have continuing difficulties with the fuller length bouncer on 4th stump, as his eye cannot be on a ball of that speed while trying to move inside it.

  • Totally agree with concussion substitutes – and the same should also apply to players unable to take any meaningful part in the game due to injury. The loss of Anderson after 4 overs was a massive part in England losing at Edgbaston. Every other major team sport would allow a full substitute. Cricket is way behind the times on this and needs to change.

  • I don’t agree he hasn’t a clue at all. No batsman even Bradman likes real pace however good they are, whatever they say. I don’t remember many batsmen who had the answer to the Windies attack for that matter.
    The only real chance England had of winning was to offer a carrot, and 267 of 48 wasn’t on that wicket. Should have declared earlier and tempt them to go for it, but in fairness they couldn’t risk a loss.
    Aussies In The Run? Not really more wary perhaps, but they are in poll position. England have to win two. Odds anyone?

    • It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question of technique. You can’t compare Archer to Bodyline. If your technique takes your eye off the ball you haven’t a clue. It’s that basic. Even Bancroft played it better, swaying out of the way, not turning your back on it. It wasn’t just the one ball it was Smith!s constant shuffling accross the crease that means he’s never in a position to take proper evasive action. He’s always on the move and moving towards the line, which means his only alternative is ducking into it, so his eyes are averted. Archer bowls so straight that if you miss he hits a lot of the time.
      Totally agree about the Windies pace attack, but what we’re looking for is a chink on the previously solid Smith armoury. It’s not about the past it’s about the present. Allan Lamb managed his fair share of tons against Lloyds army, where there was little respite from Archer style pace, so it can be done.

      • The interesting thing is that Smith averages high 70s against 90mph bowling and 90+ against short bowling. Rarely in combination of course. Anyway I have no doubt he will face a constant barrage this series until Archer breaks down or hits him again.

        Funny that before the game it was slow left arm that was apparently his weakness.

        • Define 90 mph bowling. Archer can do It petty accurately ball after ball not just a couple an over and seems to take little out of himself in the process.
          There is no doubt Smith’s technique against pace, as he shuffles round the crease, makes him vulnerable to accurate short of a length bodyline. As he’s never still his eyes can’t possibly focus properly. Swaying out of the way has always been the best evasive action rather than ducking and you can’t do that if you’re on the move.

  • I understand the Concussion rules have been brought in to stop batsmen batting on whilst concussed but having too much bravado and a sub batter is allowed because the injury was inflicted during the current game whilst with Jimmy, he was carrying an injury going into the last match and so couldn’t be subbed.

    I think England have a real find in Archer and if Smith is missing in the next Test, the Aussies could crumble in face of the pace barrage. Just imagine Archer and Mark Wood bowling very fast on the hard quick wickets in Australia. Beware the Aussies.

  • Maybe too much protective equipment is the problem? In the past batsman seemed more able to get out of the way because they didn’t have a helmet, so needn’t rely on it.

    • Would the idea of a compulsory 24-hour rest from the field of play after any blow to the head encourage players to watch the short ball properly? Temporary subs could be brought in, but then – much as in pre-helmet days – the smack to the head would be something to be avoided at all costs rather than just something to be battled through.

      • So effectively make hitting on the head a form of dismissal…..Erm seems like a lot of incentive to hit people on the head. Under that rule I can see a not stop barrage from both sides until no players remain on the field and the test is called off. Of course we could have 20 spare batsmen sitting on the side.

        People get smacked in the head watching the ball eg Manus lambushange and phil Hughes who was playing a shot and missed it, Its very easy to comment on this being poor play when you aren’t having to face the balls bowled at that speed with irregular bounce.

    • Before helmets I don’t remember much ducking. Cowdey was the best I ever saw at swaying out of the way, so keeping his eyes on the ball and he hardly cut the most athletic figure. Bancroft played Archer pretty well I thought by doing just that. You can’t possibly keep your eye on the ball if you duck.

  • I’m posting this rather late. I’m a new fan and live in the US and have followed baseball for many years. I thought this test was fascinating and I rooted for England. But I have been puzzled by the reaction to Archer’s short bowling which seems deliberately intimidating and obviously capable of inflicting very serious injury. In baseball similar pitching would likely draw at the least a warning from the umpire and a pitcher who struck 2 batters in the head with a fastball would almost certainly be ejected, Law 46.1 seems to allow similar penalties for dangerous short bowling. Is there any possibility that this rule or law could be applied to Archer in later tests? I would be interested in hearing folks’ views on this! Great blog!!!

    • Its part of the game and has been for years – even back when there was no helmets. As far as I am aware the dangerous short bowling rule has rarely been applied since they restricted the number of short balls above the shoulder. Prior to that they used to use it to restrict endless overs of nothing but short bowling.

      Aggressive short bowling has been done by both sides and probably more by Australia over the years (most recently Johnson in 2013-14 as the hard pitches in Australia tend to favor the development of faster bowlers where as English conditions and the amount of seam movement from the balls used tend to favor accuracy and relying on movement off the pitch rather than beating batsmen with pace.


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