Sophia, Sophia, so fine. This is turning into a very promising test match for England. Although we’ve only just got our noses in front, and there’s still plenty of time for the usual capitulation (remember Brisbane?), the pre-series doom and gloom is looking a little premature now. Obviously we’ll have to wait and see what happens, as this particular England test team oscillates between the glorious and the gruesome, but even the most pessimistic of us must be encouraged by events at Sophia Gardens so far.
The three most encouraging signs for me were (a) Moeen Ali’s batting and bowling, which were a nice surprise, (b) the speeds registered by Mark Wood, who bowled just as fast as Johnson and Starc, and (c) the fact that the pitch seems a bit more lively. Yesterday I feared two days of pancake purgatory. Thank heavens there’s a little more carry now.
It was very much a team effort by England yesterday, but Mo deserves a special mention. His innings was entertaining, if a little fortuitous at times, and his bowling was fine. He looked like a perfectly respectable test off-spinner.
Although Moeen clearly has flaws – his batting is going to frustrate us at times – he definitely brings something exciting to the team. His batting is absolutely gorgeous to watch. His high back lift, which makes him looks as good as Saeed Anwar at his best, and his penchant for driving anything in his half, makes it hard to take your eyes off him. There’s always something happening. Ricky Ponting was clearly impressed.
Moeen also looked pretty comfortable against the short ball. Because he’s looking to pull and hook, he’s keeping his eyes on the ball much better now. His judgement was also good yesterday: he simply swayed out of the way if he didn’t fancy a particular rising delivery.
He also showed a lot of spirit with the ball. He didn’t panic when the Aussies went after him and he picked up two incredibly valuable wickets. No doubt Mo’s critics will argue that the Smith dismissal was a bit of a strangle, and that Clarke played a bad shot, but this ignores the broader context. Mooen has a habit of dismissing excellent batsmen. Now he can add Smith and Clarke to a list that already includes Sangakkara and a number of India’s best players of spin.
What’s more, Mo has proven himself to be a resilent bowlers at county level. He bowls well under pressure in T20 cricket and his strike rate is more than agreeable. According to a tweet that was doing the rounds yesterday, his strike is better than both Swann and Panesar. Not bad more someone who’s only been a frontline spinner for two or three years.
With Australia’s top five all back in the bunny hutch, England have a great opportunity to seize control of the test this morning. It won’t be easy, as the Aussie tail has a habit of wagging vigorously, but we’ve got the bowlers to break through. Mark Wood looked hostile on the sedate strip, Jimmy Anderson has the guile to trouble Haddin and Co, and Broad looked in decent rhythm. We’ll just have to keep our heads if the boundaries start to fly.
This is when Cook will need to be at his very best. The skipper has frequently looked short of ideas against the tail. How he responds today will be crucial. He had a decent day in the field yesterday, and he’s showing signs of improvement as a captain, but the acid test is probably yet to come.
Let’s just hope the skipper isn’t suffering too much after that sickening blow he took to the nether regions. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Golden balls is now officially swollen balls.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on day two, and day three as it progresses, in the comments below. Are you optimistic that England can force a result, or will the Aussie tail bite back like a dodgy prawn jalfrezi?
I should also mention that we’ll be without Maxie for a few days. He’s on paternity leave and we wish him well. If it’s a little boy, rather than a little girl, I wonder if they’ll call him Kevin?