Oh what could have been. That’s my overriding thought at the moment. England bowled really well today and we should win the 5th test from here. The holes in the Australian batting line up seemed wider than Kings Canyon in Northern Territory. If only we’d got our collective act together earlier in the series.
A lead of 78 with all ten wickets in hand is nothing to be sniffed at. And unless there’s a Steve FFS Smith miracle I wouldn’t fancy the Aussies to chase much more than 250 batting last on a pitch that generally looks like a good cricket wicket. It’s decent for batting but doing enough to keep the bowlers interested.
Let’s start today’s report by looking back at England’s 294. It wasn’t great, was it. But you should never judge a pitch until both modern batting line ups have had a chance to collapse on it. Now a score near three hundred looks pretty useful. Runs on the board etc.
England’s innings was the usual curate’s egg. The skipper’s contribution summed it up really. He scored a reasonable looking 57, which most batsmen would be reasonably happy with, but as always the scoreboard didn’t tell the whole story. Yes he played some lovely shots as usual, but he was dropped three times, and failed to convert his fifty into a hundred.
This was the 9th time in a row that Root has made a half century against Australia but failed to turn it into 3 figures. And he hasn’t scored a test century (against anyone) for two years now. What the hell is going on, Joe? If it’s the captaincy then give it up. You’re not a difference maker as a skipper anyway. But you should be as a batsman.
The other two batters who impressed in our first dig were Burns, who’s now scored 374 runs in the series at an average of 41, and Jos Buttler. Let’s talk about the Surrey opener first.
I think Burns has been one of the few positives of the test summer. He’s not always pretty – who cares about that when Steve Smith has been damaging our retinas for weeks? – but he’s got guts, can occupy the crease, and knows his red ball game. We need more players like him! I’m hopeful he can become a reasonably successful and respected test opener. A bit like Sir Andrew.
Did you know that Burns has now scored more runs in this series than Alastair Cook ever managed in a home Ashes summer? Plus he’s got that priceless Ashes century too – another feat Cook never managed on home soil. I like Burns. He’s done fine. it’s just a shame about his haircut.
And now to Buttler. To be honest I didn’t know what to make of his innings. If you want him out of the side then you probably thought it was a bit of a slog. And if you love him even more than people used to love Cook (and there are plenty of Jos fan boys around) then you probably think the innings confirmed his ‘truly special’ status.
Personally I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t think Jos gets enough credit for his unexpected ability to occupy the crease. People call him a white ball specialist but this completely ignores the number of times he’s batted for over 100 deliveries since his recall. He’s done it a lot. More than any other player in the world over the same period. He can clearly get his head down when needed.
However, although Jos also plays some lovely shots, I still think there’s something missing. I can’t put my finger on it but he still looks somewhat out of place. His dismissal this morning summed it up really. It was a horrendous shot. He got his feet into a terrible position you usually only see on a village green when a fat slogger tries to launch another Exocet missile over cow corner and misses. And yet, most of the time – and especially in defence, -Jos looks pretty sound technically.
Personally I think Jos has just about done enough to earn a longer run in the side. But it’s close. The main problem is where he bats. In my opinion he has to bat 5 (with Stokes at 6) because England can’t yet afford luxury players in the lower middle order. And there’s lots of competition for places in that particular area.
The other issue is what we do with Ollie Pope, who most observers agree is the best talent in county cricket by some distance. Pope’s best position may also be No.5. In which case, the selectors need to stop philosophising and decide which player is the future of English cricket: Buttler or Pope? The answer is probably the latter in terms of longevity and red ball pedigree. It’s a tough one.
So now let’s get to the good bit: Australia’s pretty grim batting performance today. Wasn’t it great!
Jofra Archer and Sam Curran were excellent. It’s pretty clear that Jofra is going to be a world cricketing superstar (if he isn’t already). His 6-62 was pure class. His pace and intent were back and he was too much for Australia’s lesser lights (i.e. most of their batsmen) to handle.
However, the player I’d like to focus on today is Sam Curran. He bowled very nicely indeed. Fair play to the lad.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not the greatest fan of young Sam’s bowling. And for good reason too. He’s pretty innocuous when it doesn’t swing, and I can’t see him playing a major role overseas.
However, this test match is in England. Good old Blighty. The land of Neil Mallender, Martin Bicknell, and Toby Roland Jones. Pace isn’t everything in the land where Darren Stevens has become a demigod. And Sam Curran has some skill.
Curran’s spell immediately before lunch had Steve FFS Smith in all sorts of trouble. He looked genuinely clueless for the first time this series. And it all made so much sense. If a batsman jumps across his stumps like Smith in such a decisive and ungainly fashion, the last thing he needs is a left arm seamer pitching the ball up and swinging it back into him.
Some of the positions Smith got his feet into were terrible against Curran. It almost looked like he was playing croquet or French cricket at times. Had Root stuck with Sam after tea I think we would’ve got Smith out sooner. But once again captaincy by numbers seemed the order of the day.
One wonders whether Curran should’ve played earlier this summer? His left arm does provide variety and he might even have gained half a yard of pace since we last saw him in England colours. The problem moving forward is where England might find room for him? He’s only playing in this test because Stokes can’t bowl. And he’ll probably always be a fourth seamer rather than a first change or opening bowler.
So how do you see the rest of the game shaping up? I’m feeling very confident tonight – although I’m slightly fearful that Ed Smith and the ECB will use any consolation victory to claim that everything in the garden is rosy and changes aren’t really necessary after all. A 2-2 result does rather open the doors for the spin doctors, even though Australia have clearly been the better side this summer and should really be leading 3-0 or 3-1 at this stage.
I’d also be interested to know if you think the Aussies have taken their foot off the gas somewhat in this game? They’ve dropped a lot of catches. When the hapless Marcus Harris put down Denly in the final over – a very routine catch at test level – it summed things up really. Do they seem as intense and focused as normal?