Reaction: day two at the Oval

Are a semi-engaged England merely suffering from a dead-rubber hangover? Is Australia’s dominance a freakish reflection of their nothing-to-lose sense liberation? Or is this match revealing the true dynamic between the sides? It’s an amalgam of all three factors – but mainly the third.

England are taking this match seriously. And look at the score. At this rate, the presentation ceremony might be a bit embarrassing.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, we often squeaked a consolatory test win once the series was decided – but usually by a tight margin after a lively scrap. We never threatened to make Australia follow on, or reduced them to a first-innings 107-8.

I’ve argued here before that these Ashes were won by England not by an overwhelming and complete team performance but because of (a) Joe Root; (b) excellent bowling by Stuart Broad and good bowling by the other seamers; and (c) disastrous Australian batting.

The first two days of play in this match have only underlined the truth of that narrative – to which you can add England’s vulnerability on unhelpful pitches.

Today, England’s batting stripped off the veneer to reveal gaping cracks in their edifice. Any way you argue it, they do not have a robust or resilient line-up.

Adam Lyth’s test career may already be over. Jos Buttler is in jeopardy. Ian Bell is giving the impression Edgbaston was a false dawn.

Alastair Cook was undone by a peach, but overall he’s made a lightweight batting contribution to this  – 245 runs at 30.6 – and has only one innings left to score his first home Ashes century in thirty attempts, encompassing fifteen matches and six years.

On Twitter, Ian Sweet pointed out that apart from Joe Root’s centuries, English batsmen have only scored one hundred in the last eleven Ashes tests.

More to the point, today, was England’s general haplessness – a slew of thoughtless strokes and kamikaze attitudes – which is hard to explain away by the dead-rubber context, especially as the pitch is a feather-bed. As Jonathan Agnew said on TMS:

When the going gets tough, they run for the hills.

For Australia, this is a galling case of what-might-have-been. What if Siddle had played earlier in the series? What if they’d bowled as consistently throughout? And what if they’d batted with such patience and resolve at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge?

The simple answer, overall, is that this series has been contested by two mediocre and brittle sides, neither of which has the means to fight back when under the cosh. It may also be the easiest way to explain the wild oscillations of fortune, and why no match has yet been close.

Here’s another talking point I wanted to run by you. How do we define and recognise good captaincy?

Yesterday a BBC OBO commenter suggested that Cook should be Man of the Series, for his “superb captaincy”, which seemed a little over the top. Cook has captained competently in this series, but most captains do when their bowlers are so dominant. That is not to his discredit.

Australia’s innings in this match provided the kind of situation which makes for a true test of captaincy: the breaking of partnerships, and the retention of control, in the face of assured batting on a flat pitch, and without a quality spinner or lightning paceman at your disposal. Cook will surely be posed this challenge more than once in the UAE.

Today and yesterday, Cook kept his head above water and did pretty much everything most captains would. No skipper has a magic wand. The very best sometimes deploy a tactical masterstroke but more often use force of personality to boost a fielding side’s energy, or wield charisma and psychology to elicit something special from a bowler. That is the level of captaincy to which Cook must now aspire.

Hyperbole easily creeps in when it comes to skippership. When Nathan Lyon castled Alastair Cook this afternoon, the BBC OBO correspondent praised Michael Clarke’s “inspired captaincy”. Is it really inspired to give the spinner a try just before tea when the seamers have failed to break a partnership? Or just basic cricket?

Today’s champagne moment

Ed Smith, speaking on Radio Five Live Breakfast (slightly paraphrased).

“It’s unprecedented for England to go into the Oval test with the Ashes already won”.

In fact, it’s not happened since as long ago as 2013.


  • Its a case of whoever lands the first blow and wins the first day, wins the test, because neither side has the mental strength to come back from adversity.

    Root won the 1st test on the first day, Rogers and Smith won the 2nd test on the 1st day, Anderson won the 3rd test and Broad won the 4th test, now it could be argued that Warner and Smith have won the 5th test.

  • Well summarised, Maxie. Thank you for posting this latest report and leaving me somewhere to vent my anger after such a pitiful batting display by England. I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing on TMS this afternoon, especially after Cook and Lyth had started the innings so positively, reaching 30 at about 5 an over. They forgot to fiddle with their pads or gloves to prevent that last Lyon over being started just before tea. Cook did get a genuinely good ball from Lyon, but it sounded like he should have got further forward to smother the ball. It’s a shame, as I was hoping he could play the sheet anchor role in this England innings.
    Adam Lyth once again started quite well but got himself out to a woeful shot. Bell appeared to be short of form again and was out bowled, not for the first time in recent tests. Root was a bit unlucky, a pretty nasty delivery and only the teeniest of edges through to the keeper. Sadly, when Joe fails, England fail and Bairstow, Stokes and Buttler all threw their wickets away and showed a total lack of application, as had Lyth before them.
    Australia’s batting has also been woeful at times in this series, but at least in their innings, they showed application and good judgement outside off stump. Rogers and Warner set it all up really with that fine opening stand yesterday.
    Yes, it’s true what some commentators and pundits were saying about the “After the Lord Mayor’s Show” effect, in which an already Ashes-winning England inevitably don’t feel as fired up at the Oval as they had done in the 1st,3rd and 4th test. However, today’s collapse was about as bad as the one at Lords because the pitch appears to be such a good one for batting. Cook got it wrong yesterday putting Australia in to bat, and should have listened to wise old heads such as Alec Stewart, even if it had worked last year when Cook had put India in to bat first. The Oval is nearly always a win the toss and bat first wicket, even I know that.
    It really was a woeful batting collapse today, so many players showing an inability to graft and apply themselves as Rogers and Warner had done yesterday. I really am worried now about Lyth and Buttler’s future in the side. I desperately want them to do well, and I loved Lyth’s catch which ended Australia’s 481 at last. But they just keep giving their wickets away, not even sure which of them now has the lower batting average for the series. I sense that with Buttler, the problem may be inside his head, rather than technical. He keeps getting out to Lyon, too, a problem he shares with Alastair Cook.
    What a bizarre series this has been. Big, crushing victories. The team coming out on top on the first day going on to win comfortably. Australia’s 60 all out at TB the fastest first innings collapse in terms of overs bowled. Inconsistency of performance on both sides. You could almost call it Jekyll and Hyde cricket. Even I was surprised by England’s capitulation today, I’d stupidly thought they would do OK on such a benign surface. What frailty there is in both batting line-ups. England are flattered by this winning back of the Ashes after the humiliation of 2013-2014.
    Will we now see an improbable ninth wicket partnership between Moeen and Wood, in which both men reach three figures ? Unlikely. So will Michael Clarke enforce the follow-on, given that the weather forecast for days four and five is a bit dodgy ? Probably not, so we’ll have another Lords situation where England have to try and salvage a draw fourth innings. And I do not back this frail England batting line up to dig themselves out of this hole now. Let’s hope they prove me wrong !
    I do like the way Clarke brought on Lyon so soon, in only the sixth or seventh over I think. I am not sure that you would see Cook turn to his spinner so soon, but then Lyon is a considerably better bowler than Moeen at present. Many of the England batsmen don’t actually play Lyon very well, so you shudder to think how they will fare against Pakistan later in the year. Siddle and Mitchell Marsh both bowled well, and it was clearly a mistake to have dropped Mitchell Marsh for his brother. However, many of the England batsmen got themselves out to inept shot selection.
    I am pleased that England have regained the Ashes, but the cricket has often been of a poor quality – the batting especially. Perhaps we will see a lot more of this type of cricket in the next few years, with batsmen getting themselves out to one day shots at inappropriate times in the game.

  • Excellent synopsis.Ed Smith has become a comedy character. He belongs in a Harry Enfield sketch. Opportunity is beckoning now for James Taylor, Alex Hales, Nick Compton and hopefully Monty Panesar.

  • Agreed. In addition, I don’t feel it bodes well for England or even the popularity of Test cricket if one can pick the lopsided outcome of a match upon finding out what the pitch is like and which team it favours.

  • With the next two series being Pakistan in UAE and then away to South Africa, we desperately need some batsmen who are good against spin bowling and out and out pace. And we desperately need a class spinner from somewhere, I see Moeen more as a talented attacking batsman who can bowl a bit and take the odd useful wicket but at present he has little control and leaks runs.
    I would love to hear the names of players people on here think are good enough for the challenges ahead. I am totally out of touch with the county game and only see the scorecards in the media.
    Joe Root and Stuart Broad have had a fine Ashes, and would be the first two names in the squad for UAE and SA.
    I’d actually give Jimmy Anderson a rest against Pakistan, although I doubt the powers that be will do this.
    Who is out there in the counties that deserves a chance, in addition to Rashid, who should have been tried in the Caribbean ?

  • It’ll take a miracle for the series not to end 3-2 now – which is a tad embarrassing after the England camp’s pre-match bravado about being still hungry and wanting to win 4-1. Hungry they may have been after Trent Bridge, but somewhere along the road to the Oval they must have been overcome by some serious munchies and pulled over to buy a truckload of crisps, sausage rolls and Oreos. There wasn’t much appetite on display on Friday.

    I think the simplest explanation of how England have managed to regain the Ashes this summer is that, over the course of the series as a whole, they will have put in just one fewer cataclysmically bad performances than the Australians – which isn’t really a great advertisement for the two teams or indeed for the health of the game itself.

    It’s not really something I’d welcome, but after this summer Colin Grave’s proposal of moving to four day tests seems more like a logical rationalisation than a radical departure. I wonder if anyone has run any figures on five match Ashes series completed with the least amount of actual cricket played (adjusted to filter out playing time lost due to weather, rather than “pinch myself to make sure it’s really happening” batting collapses). Assuming that England are sliding towards a heavy defeat by lunch on Sunday (maybe even sometime late on Saturday) will any comparable Ashes series have comprised fewer overs bowled in less time?

    If these ludicrously one-sided three day tests are, in any sense, the new normal then I’m bored already.

  • All too little too late from an Australian perspective. They should hang their heads losing the Ashes to that rabble

  • Our batting is a real concern, and hasn’t progressed at all since the Ashes whitewash 20 months ago. We haven’t found a single top international batsman this time. Neither Lyth, Ballance, Bairstow or Buttler look top quality to me, and although Stokes is an exciting player, I expect him to average in the mid-30s throughout his career (as many all rounders do). When Bell now reaching the latter stages of his career, England might need to find 4 new members of the top 7 by the next Ashes. Only Cook and Root are proven at the top level. Considering that we’ve found precisely zero new quality batsmen over the last 2 years, finding four in the next two years looks a tall order.

    • At the risk of sounding like PM there is one talented player with 14000 runs all over the world against top attacks , can’t hurt to have that experience in the team while newcomers settle in.

  • Ian Bell has ended the series with an average of 26 and a bit. Since his big century in the West Indies, he’s averaging just 16 and a bit. You do wonder if he is now in terminal decline. Michael Vaughan reckons there’s something wrong with Bell’s alignment at the crease. I wonder how much appetite he has for the next few years ahead, or will he decide to call it a day ? I would love to see him rediscover his best form again, but have my doubts.
    I feel for Adam Lyth, ending the series with an average of just 12 and bit. Will he be given another chance or does he need to work on his technique back at Yorkshire, which is presumably what Ballance is now doing.
    Some of the commentators are suggesting that Moeen Ali open the batting in the UAE, thus allowing Rashid to come into the side. But does Moeen really look solid against real pace at the start of an innings ?
    So many unanswered questions by this strange, inconsistent, unpredictable England team.

  • So glad the blog is back up!

    I’m hoping teams are not now slaves to the pitches. Is the problem that teams can no longer spend time in their hosting countries getting in some practice before Test matches? Don’t know, but now that even teams playing at home seem to need their favorite type of pitch, something is clearly wrong somewhere.


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