Stalemate: Steve Smith And That Bloody Pitch

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I don’t know what depresses me more. Steve Smith or this bloody MCG pitch. Both made for a very disappointing, and at times unwatchable, final day.

First we’ll talk about Smith … and only because we have to. The guy might be the new Shiv Chanderpaul in terms of style, but you have to admire his mental strength. The guy just doesn’t make many (if any) errors. He’s like Alastair Cook but better. And on surfaces like this, when the bowlers have no assistance whatsoever, he’s simply unmovable.

Had Ben Stokes been available and Smith missing for Australia, we might have seen a different outcome this series (or at least a more competitive one).

And now to this MCG pitch. This drop in, and soon drop off, surface. What a farce. In some ways I guess we should be grateful as the lifeless surface played right into Alastair Cook’s hands. In fact, four of his last five test hundreds (here, Birmingham, Rajkot, and Abu Dhabi) were all made on lifeless featherbeds like this when concentration, rather than technique, are all important.

However, although we’ll be forever grateful for Cook’s epic, which has successfully averted the whitewash – so his runs did matter! – it didn’t exactly make for compulsive viewing. There were times on the fifth day when the ball barely carried to Bairstow ankle-high. And I’m afraid that’s just not good enough in an era when test cricket is under threat.

How many kids would have been turned off by this snoozefest and then turned on by the subsequent Big Bash game in the evening? Thanks heavens it was two Englishmen (ahem) who stole the show: Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer. I might dislike it when players seem to care more about white ball cricket than test cricket, but if they keep producing poor pitches like the one we saw at the MCG, guys like Buttler and David Willey will feel completely vindicated.

So now it’s on to Sydney – which is amongst my favourite grounds in the world. I once saw my boyhood idol Graeme Hick make an ODI century there on my birthday. I can’t believe he’s now Australia’s batting coach. Come on Graeme, turn your back on our rivals and come and coach Worcestershire instead! Pretty please.

Games at Sydney are usually quite interesting because it turns there. This leaves England with a bit of a dilemma. Do they select Mason Crane? Unfortunately I don’t think they have any choice in the matter. Moeen Ali has been simply awful and his confidence looks shot. It’s always the same with Mo: he’s excellent at home (he took 25 wickets at just 15.6 against South Africa this summer) but beyond woeful abroad. It’s really odd.

Unfortunately with Stokes missing I don’t think we can drop Mo outright because we’ll have a tail longer than a diplodocus. Therefore I believe Crane should simply play ahead of Tom Curran, who brought a lot of energy but not many wickets (just one in 41 overs combined). I like the cut of Curran’s jib – which why I suspect he’s another Liam Dawson style Andy Flower pick – but I’m not sure he’s a test bowler at all.

Talking of guys who probably aren’t test quality, it’s unfortunate that England probably won’t have the luxury of facing Jackson Bird at the SCG. With Mitchell Starc likely to return, and the pitch bound to offer more pace (plus turn for Lyon), I suspect we’ll be up against it once again.

James Morgan

45 comments

  • Who cares about buttler and willey. Both are so far away from being test quality players it’s unreal people keep mentioning them ! Like a Duckett as well, the guy jut isn’t anywhere close to good enough. Never say never as anyone can train and improve but tbh, if you have t done that striaght after your dropping you never will..

  • Curran, Roland jones and whoever else are just too slow and one dimensional. People can crow all they like but these guys are poorer versions of broad/Anderson.

    IF Aus want to pay and the wicket is a decent one they’ll thrash us becaus the only reason this was even close was Illness, player missing, a wicket which removed the genuine short ball threat.. oh and it was a road..

    Well done the players for giving their kit away and spending time with the fans though

    • But surely whenever you replace players who have played 100+ Tests, the new guys are going to be “poorer versions” of those established players.

      Can anyone think of an example of a player with 100+ caps being replaced with another player who was instantly and obviously superior?

      Broad and Anderson will need to be replaced at some stage. And those players will probably be “poorer versions”.

      • yes indeed. Sport is cyclical. You can have a brill team and gradually they will retire and newcomers have to take their place. They will not click straight away and must be given time to bed in. When a team is in this transitional stage we have to accept that we will lose matches, but as we are rather good at that already not sure that that should be a worry

      • The idea behind replacing any player is surely to improve the side. Otherwise there seems little point. So in theory every player who is replaced should be by a more effective performer, except for retirements. Stats are relatively meaningless (lies, damm lies and statistics comes to mind) taken out of context. I am a great believer in picking a side to play a side when touring abroad, especially when there’s little to choose between selections. There are precious few automatic picks in any test team these days, so why not be more pragmatic when choosing how to balance the side. Expecting your best players to be able to constantly adapt their style is not realistic.

      • Yes.. Glenn McGrath was immediately a better bowler than Craig McDermott. Who was decent himself. On another note I would like to see Maxwell in for Usman in Sydney. He never deserved to be dropped and he can turn it.

        • But in McGrath’s first series, he played alongside McDermott and averaged 42 with the ball. McGrath’s bowling average didn’t stabilise below 30 until two years after his Test debut.

  • It does seem to be an issue with the drop in pitches that needs solving, Melbourne has done a much better job although that could be inadvertent because they have produced a pitch to protect the pink ball which offers the bowlers something from the start but don’t really get worse.

    Drop ins are here to stay with the kind of massive multi use grounds in Australia and will be heading to England with the new T20 comp requiring more central TV wickets so its crucial for the game. The flaws are known the ECB even considered artificial pitches although that has gone quiet.

    On team selection, I think it showed again the flaws in England’s squad Crane isn’t a like for like replacement for Moeen and didn’t have much success in the warm ups. If anything England have robbed him of the chance to play grade cricket again and get move overs under his belt. While he might be the future its hard not to think that if Samit Patel or Rashid had been here then they would have played this game.

    In the batting there was talk Cook was one game from being dropped but who would have played? Ballance as opener? Come off it. James Vince has shown flashes on this tour but is now eleven games into his Test career and averages 22, the guys is great to watch and I have even got over his links to Vaughan but are England going to take him to NZ if he fails at Sydney?

  • Well played James. If I was an England fan, I’d be annoyed that the pitch/weather meant there was no chance to press for a result. I thought England played well enough to at least earn that opportunity. That pitch was a fucking disgrace.

    In terms of the changes for Sydney, why not replace Ali with Ballance and Woakes with Crane? Surely it’s time to have a look?

    • What do you do with Ballance? Batting him at six or higher would mean moving down Bairstow again which doesn’t seem optimal and batting a slow scoring specialist bat at seven seems like it wouldn’t really tell the selectors much

      • They picked Ballance in the squad so you may as well pick him for the last Test. Pick him at 5/6. And replace the fourth seamer with Crane. Ali has been awful. Try something else.

    • Despite the poor pitch, had we selected a spinner who can turn the ball, the last day might have been a nailbiter rather than a snooze.

  • Another long suffering Hick fan huh? I was his jinx, he always got a duck when I went to watch him in a test.

    Interesting the Crane’s middle name is Sidney. If it’s an omen then hopefully the cycle of us taking a young spinner to get murdered in Sydney is broken after carrying drinks for a couple of months.

    Can’t say I enjoy watching Smith bat, or not on roads anyway.. Reminds me of Kwik or French cricket too much.

    • I once saw Hick score a big century against the West Indies at New Road. Their attack was Ambrose, Walsh, Bishop, and the fastest of the lot, Patrick Patterson. Graeme made mincemeat of them and registered 1000 runs before the end of May in the process. Here’s a link (great read!) http://www.cricketcountry.com/articles/graeme-hick-becomes-only-the-second-batsman-since-world-war-ii-to-reach-1-000-first-class-runs-by-may-in-an-english-season-27113

      He just wasn’t the same in an England shirt though. Many thought it was technical, especially against the short ball, but it wasn’t a problem that day at New Road. He just kept hooking the bouncers for 6! Personally I think his problems were mental in that the dressing room wasn’t particularly close or well managed those days. The players were sometimes like strangers and many debutants felt like fish out of water. I think Hick would do a lot better now they’ve got central contracts etc.

      People forget, though, what a good ODI player Hick was. His record was just as good as anyone in 50 over cricket, plus he was an excellent fielder and obviously bowled a bit. He top scored in the World Cup semi too.

      • Not too many players with 100+ centuries and a 400 under their belt either. Always felt the England management weren’t good at making him feel comfortable in the England side. It smacked of “get some runs or you’re dropped”. Not good for the nerves.

      • He seemed to play differently at test level. Different shots to the same ball, in a Worcestershire shirt he’d leather it for four and an England one tamely defend it.. Also he was a number three. Can only think he lost in the dressing room politics as he was quiet spoken.

        As for his perceived weakness against pace I seem to recall him murdering Shoaib Akhtar when he first came onto the scene as was at his fastest.

        For years I’d watch Nasser Hussein nicking his spot with his stodgey batting through gritted teeth. Or wonder why they didn’t play their ‘flat track bully’ when we were playing on flat tracks. Instead he’d only come in when the other candidates had failed.

        Can you imagine Hick at Twenty20? He did play a few games for the other Indian 2020 league but would have been a world star in the modern game.

        It might be rose tinted glasses but I honestly can’t recall him dropping anything at slip. Whilst we were ruining our other world class batsman Alec Stewart by giving him the gloves I always wondered why they didn’t give Hick a go with them and let him bat however he liked. I don’t think he ever kept wicket but doubt there’s anything on a cricket field he couldn’t do.

        I suspect he would have done a lot better these days with DRS too. He was one of the few who would walk, which I thought was magnificent, though still seemed to get more than his share of dodgy decisions.

        I’m quite happy to remain hopelessly biassed when it comes to Graeme Hick. I’m gutted the convicts have pinched him.

  • James,
    Yes the pitch was almost unbelievably slow and lacking in bounce. However the nature of the pitch was also doubtless a major factor (not the only factor, of course, but a significant one nonetheless) in enabling Cook to bat for two days and accumulate 244*. You can’t have it both ways. Just sayin’…
    If Curran is “…another Liam Dawson style Andy Flower pick” what on Earth does that make Crane? Sure Mo’s in woefully bad nick with both bat and ball, but there being “no alternative” to playing Crane in his stead simply underlines what a piss poor job the selectors did in putting this squad together.
    Actually, there are alternatives. For instance they could drop Mo, add Foakes as an extra batsman and rely on Root and Malan for part time spin. I can’t see that being be any worse.

          • I agree with you entirely about the workload and fitness worries re. the two senior bowlers (please see my reply to Tom further down). As for what the best spin option would be to hold up an end, relieve some of the pressure and (just maybe) provide an alternative attacking option, I don’t think it makes a huge amount of difference whether they go with a.) a woefully out of form Moeen with a damaged spinning finger, b.) an untried 20 yr. old leggie with a quite poor First Class record, or c.) competent, if not compelling, part time spin from Root & Malan. I suggested c.) merely as “an option” (not THE option – re-read the comment where I suggested it and you’ll see that I didn’t say it was). By making room for Foakes it would strengthen the lower middle order batting but not (as you point out) be the answer to England’s bowling woes. Within the current squad I simply don’t think there is an easy way to improve an attack which in none of the four Tests so far this series has managed to take 20 wickets.

            • We had ‘c’ in the last test, and the seamers bowled an unconscionable number of overs.

              There isn’t an obvious option in the existing squad (Rashid, for example ought to have been considered), but Crane is about as good an option as we have.

              • Well no, we only “sort of “had c.) in the last match since Moeen, Root and Malan were all bowling. They contributed 43 overs between them across both Aussie innings, however I can’t think that Crane would do much more than that operating as a lone spinner. His First Class county record (young though he is) is hardly scintillating and his selection seems to be based on one five wicket haul for New South Wales at the SCG almost a year ago. Bayliss’s talk of him being “feisty” and ready to “get into the contest” sounds like the sort of crap they came out with about Liam Dawson on the India tour. Suppose I shouldn’t write him off before he’s had his chance but if the Aussie batsmen decided to go after him it could be a chastening experience. Entirely agree that Rashid should’ve been the preferred choice.

  • I agree with various comments that the pitch was a disgrace, that the selectors have given little option to make realistic changes, and it is difficult to decide who should be in the best England 11 for next year.

    For the fifth test, I think the top six plus Anderson and Broad have all now done enough, albeit not consistently, to keep their places. In my view it would be worth trying Crane in place of Ali which would mean putting Woakes at seven and Curran at eight. Certainly a long tail but you need a bit of positive risk taking now and again!

      • Because with Stokes not in the squad, TRJ not in the squad (and recovering from injury), Plunkett not in the squad, Finn a busted flush, Overton injured and Ball having not exactly impressed either there aren’t many alternatives. Not an argument for retaining Woakes based on his current form (just so I’m a answering your question) but there is an expectation that England will at least put 11 players on the pitch (!)
        Forget about winning, if England could take 20 wickets at Sydney it would be progress. However the new ball will be taken by a medium fast 35 yr. old who’s just bowled nearly 60 overs in this Test (and is generally not much of a wicket taker if the ball won’t swing) and a medium fast 31 yr. old with a knee that’s being held together by elastic bands and Blu Tack. If Starc’s fit to play, maybe the Aussies could lend us Jackson Bird…

  • As Tom says what has Woakes done to keep his place? Ali must be dropped to give Crane a try. Otherwise why is he their? I’d play Foakes as keeper to free up Bairstow. Vince? Mmmm…
    As for the pitch yep turgid, but we prepare wickets like this in the Championship don’t we and results are thin in the ground. The bowling attack is all seam, seam, seam, no spin, no pace, no left armer no variety. You have to have extra bite in wickets like this and we don’t. Even Aussie struggled without Starc , but look how well Lyon bowled. We haven’t bowled them out twice yet in 4 tests.

    • If they’re struggling to put a team out for Sydney, I ask myself WTF is Andy Flower, and his legions of boffins and coaches doing at Loughborough? With all the money and resources being thrown at him there should be bus loads of test class players ready to step in? Just saying? :-/

        • Can’t think of any other answer. Mind you, Taylor and Jarvis have returned to Zimbabwe, now that Mugabe has gone. I’m sure that they could use a coach of his limited experience but maybe can’t pay him enough

        • I had a read of Loughborough’s fast bowling study.

          https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/bitstream/2134/6839/2/Thesis-2010-Worthington.pdf

          And it all sounds very impressive… Until I got to this bit.

          “The twenty elite fast bowlers tested as part of this investigation had a mean run-up speed of 5.79 m.s-1 and released the ball at 34.94 m.s-1. ”

          Twenty Elite fast bowlers.. That’s rather thorough and impressive thinks I, hence why it’s repeated constantly. Until that is I converted 35 metres per second into miles per hour.

          78.

          Yep, those 20 elite fast bowler were trundling it down at 78mph.

          Surely some of them were faster? Well yes the fastest of them bowled one ball at 39.72m/s. Or 88 mph in proper money.

          Now call me picky but I’ve always though the definition of a fast bowler was someone at least capable of 90+ even if their average was high 80’s. 145 kph in furrin money.

          The upshot being that Bluffborough’s elite fast bowling study didn’t study a single bloody fast bowler!

          I’m wondering whether my piss taking posts are a bit weak now.

  • Australian players ratings for fourth test.

    Steven Smith 10/10

    “People underestimate his bowling.” states Ajeet Wonga, Delhi based bookmaker. “83 runs in the series so no-one went for Cook getting three figures but Smudger really pulled through”.

    “He’s a dream really. They took the worst aspects of Kwik and French cricket, stuck him in the test side and he smashes everything! He’s just one of those players that people flock from the ground when he’s batting.”

    Nathan Lyon 10/10

    “In a 4 man attack it isn’t easy holding up an end with slow medium long hops.” says Gupta Bung. “He’s far far better than Shaney. Definitely the greatest of all time. He makes us lakhs! People think the quicks will get all the wickets and he’ll get smashed.”

    Usman Khawadja 10/10

    “His innings of 16 from 107 balls was an act of graceful genius!” says Wonga. “Warner almost cracks a ton before lunch so no-one saw it coming. Ha ha ha hahah”

    Cameron Bancroft 10/10

    “We were giving 30/1 on a strike rate of less than 35 on that wicket!” says Bung. “43 runs in the second session took great skill. Even a streaky 4 or two might have ruined the entire thing. And bowled by Chris Woakes! That’s not easy to do.”

    Jackson Bird 10/10

    “Fantastic bowling. Slow and unthreatening even against the English tail. Wicketless and a gallon was 45/1”

    Patrick Cummings 10/10

    “Delhi belly and he still gets 4 wickets. Amazing performance. After he went off the field ill the odds of a 4 fer went up to 87-1″

    Josh Hazlewood 2/10

    ” A bit predictable we felt. 3-95 and a single run as a tailender. Not a good performance”

    Tim Paine 1/10

    “3 catches and 24 runs. A very predictable performance”

    Warner 3/10

    “Terrible first innings performance.” says Wonga “He pulled it back a bit though with his go slow. Then got out to Joe Root at 133-1. He’s got potential”

    Marsh brothers N/A

    “We’ve been advised by our lawyers not to talk about those two.”

  • “Games at Sydney are usually quite interesting because it turns there”.

    Sydney has been one of the least helpful grounds for spin in the last ten years (I’d post the Statsguru proof but WordPress makes such links disappear – look it up if you don’t believe me!). Nathan Lyon averages over fifty there! Yasir Shah took 2/291 in last year’s Test while Hazlewood took 7/84.

  • Just a fly-by to say how pissed off I am at the Curran selection. The result was totally predictable. At least Crane would have given the Aussies something new to think about.

  • It really doesn’t matter which players take part in the final test… England won’t be able to dismiss Smith cheaply so a tame draw is the best possible result for them

By James Morgan

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