The last time I checked in (on Friday evening) England were in a great position – just a few runs behind Australia’s first innings score and with plenty of wickets in hand.
And then it all went pear shaped thanks to a mini collapse on Saturday morning and another Steve Smith hundred. Is there any more frustrating sight in world cricket than Smith defying convention for hours on end?
England had a poor day on Saturday and a really poor one on Sunday. Now the best we can possibly get out of this game is a draw. And let’s not forget that Australia will be delighted with a draw at fortress Edgbaston. It will feel like Brisbane felt for us in 2010 – a huge fillip.
The worst case scenario, of course, is a big Australia win. That would do wonders for their confidence and set them up beautifully for Lord’s and the rest of the series. I don’t even want to contemplate that outcome; but contemplate it we must.
Can you see England batting out the day? We’ll need our lion’s share of luck against Lyon. But this pitch isn’t offering the seamers much assistance now. It is possible to save the game.
However, I just wonder how fresh our batsmen feel. They’ve spent days in the field; they’re coming off an emotional World Cup win; plus they’re not exactly the best at digging in and batting time. I suspect that Root and Stokes will be the key players.
So where has it all gone wrong? I guess we just weren’t ruthless enough (or perhaps I should say relentless enough) with the bat in the first innings. And sadly injuries have killed us with the ball.
I’ve heard many people argue that Steve Smith’s twin hundreds in this match represent possibly the greatest individual performance in Ashes history. I’m afraid I can’t agree. As well as Smith has played – and that’s obviously magnificently – he was feasting on weakened attack that was missing it’s best bowler in Jimmy Anderson.
What’s more, it was pretty clear to me today that Chris Woakes wasn’t fit either. He bowled just five overs and not at all in the morning session when the team really needed him. When he did finally get a bowl in the afternoon session, he claimed the wicket of Smith but was well down on pace. Something was clearly up. Woakes bowled just one over more than Root and only two more than Joe Denly.
Not many attacks can cope with the loss of two key bowlers mid-match. It essentially means that England played with nine and a half men on Sunday. And of course, when teams go a bowler down (let alone two) it increases the workload of the other bowlers and renders them less effective.
I’m sure England’s batsmen would’ve had a field day too if Cummins had been ruled out of action after just four overs and Pattinson had picked up a knock too. England had to resort to part-timers for much of the day. And that’s just bread and butter for a players as good as Smith.
Part of me wonders whether this misfortune is the cricketing Gods evening things up after the World Cup. We got every break going during the latter stages of the tournament, not to mention the final itself, and now the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way in The Ashes.
Having said that, the bowlers at Root’s disposal didn’t bowl particularly well either, and that just made matters worse. Broad and Stokes tried tirelessly but the lifeless pitch gave them little assistance. And as for Moeen Ali, well, let’s just say that the knives are out.
When you’re missing one and a half seamers, your spinner has to stand up, take responsibility, and at the very least tie down an end. I hate to say it but Mo failed spectacularly. And his confidence looks shot.
When Mo finally produced a superb delivery to bowl Paine, it only seemed to emphasise how poorly he’d bowled beforehand. What’s more, it was impossible not to worry what Nathan Lyon might do on the same surface on day 5.
I’m in two minds on Mo’s future. Part of me feels that he’s unselectable at present. But then again one cannot ignore that his record at home is actually very good for an orthodox off-spinner. One shouldn’t toss away all that experience on a whim.
However, it’s not a straightforward decision whether to retain him for Lord’s. Although Steve Smith averages less against left arm spinners than any other type of bowling – which suggests that Jack Leach should automatically come into the side – we must remember that Australia have plenty of left-handers in their team.
What’s more, apparently the statistics say that Leach is much more effective against right-handers than lefties. I should also mention that Leach’s record at Lord’s isn’t particularly good, whereas Mo usually does quite well there. It’s a tough one.
Perhaps the solution is for England to find room for two spinners in the side? I’m not sure how they’ll manage this but our plethora of all-rounders does provide quite a lot of flexibility if the management feel compelled to gamble.
Finally, I should say a word or two about Jonny Bairstow. He has batted poorly in test cricket for a while now and his keeping today was substandard too. He just looked scruffy and his hands looked hard.
Many people on social media are suggesting that Jonny should be dropped – retribution, perhaps, for his tantrums in the past – however I can’t see what good this would do. Yes there’s a strong argument for bringing in Foakes, but Foakes has been injured and not available for Surrey of late.
Furthermore, it’s possible that Bairstow kept so poorly simply because he’s rusty. Throughout the World Cup he was a specialist fielder. I’m no keeper but it must be extremely hard to turn up for a test match on a turning pitch and suddenly turn it on.
Before I sign off I should quickly mention the timing of Paine’s declaration. It was too late. I suspect Michael Clarke would have pulled out 50 runs beforehand. There’s no way on God’s earth that England were going to chase 340 (let alone 390) on that pitch with Lyon bowling into the rough.
So why was Paine so cautious? I suspect it’s because he would’ve been delighted with a draw before the game and he wanted to make absolutely sure it couldn’t be taken away from him. I get it in the circumstances – even though it was overly cautious.
I suppose it just underlines the fact that Australia will be cock-a-hoop whatever happens on Day 5. The blueprint for any Australian Ashes win on our shores is to get through Edgabston unscathed and then attack at the other venues.
It’s exactly the same for England teams touring Australia. Just survive the Gabba. Just survive the Gabba. And if we can do that …
I’m afraid it doesn’t bode well.