I don’t want to be negative, and I hate to say “I told you so” (especially as this game isn’t finished by a long shot), but day three showed us precisely why Australia were always favourites in this Ashes series.
Both teams have fragile batting line-ups – everyone knows that – but the hosts have Steve Smith, the immovable object, and a bowling attack with more pace. Both these factors are absolutely crucial.
Although speed isn’t everything, it’s bloody useful when it comes to mopping up the tail. If there’s one thing lower order players can’t handle, no matter how competent they are with the willow, it’s extreme pace and mystery spin. And England have neither.
Let’s just look at how lower order runs (or lack of them) have shaped this game. England were cruising at 246-4 yet were ultimately blown away for just over 300. Australia were limping along at 209-7 yet managed to creep up to 328. And that, my friends, is the game. Right there.
It’s possible things would’ve been different had Anderson not picked up a sore side – he was withdrawn from the attack prematurely after bowling a brilliant short spell with the second new ball – but when have injuries ever been kind to England on Ashes tours?
Unfortunately our lack of genuine pace isn’t going to change over the course of the series. It’s a problem we’ve had for years, and it constantly hampers the team’s prospects unless the pitch offers our seamers some assistance.
Australia’s attack, on the other hand, is a handful all the time. And lower order batsmen, and even some of the lesser top order players, simply don’t fancy it and can’t handle it.
England still have a chance to win this test. It’s not all doom and gloom quite yet. It’s possible that Root, or someone else, might play an absolute blinder and we’ll set Australia a challenging total.
The problem is that it’s going to take exactly that – a blinder. Australia’s pace attack is so fearsome, especially now the Gabba wicket is speeding up, that’s it’s going to be one hell of a challenge.
The last hour, in which Root and Stoneman clung on for grim death, might be something of a template for day four. All we can do is play as well as possible and pray.
And even if we manage to set Australia 800, one suspects Steve bloody Smith will chase them down on his own anyway.
I’d forgotten how badly Ashes jet lag cripples my ability to function. Just two days into the series and my body clock is already completely screwed. I have no idea what day of the week it is – Thursday? Friday? Saturday? And I have a big meeting at work in precisely two hours. Oh heck.
Re: the actual cricket, this must be the most surprising Brisbane test match for years. I really think we caught something of a break, and we really needed to cash in while the pitch was relatively benign (albeit not the easiest to score on).
Consequently I was really disappointed to wake up and see that our lower order had been blown away – six wickets going down for a paltry 56 runs. Our top order put in so much hard work for essentially nothing.
I feel that 300 was subpar in the conditions – no matter how incompetent Australia’s batsmen are too – and I worry what Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood will do to us on pitches with a bit more pace. Quite a few of our players looked uncomfortable against the short ball. Why Moeen is batting above Bairstow I’ll never know.
Having said that, it’s brilliant that England are still in the game. Our bowlers did really well early on and we’ve shown that the Aussies are vulnerable too. I can’t see too many draws in this series!
It’s just a shame that Steve Smith is such a massive bastard … by which I mean he’s annoyingly good. He now averages over 70 in Australia. That’s simply phenomenal. We must dismiss him early tomorrow because (a) I can’t stand watching him bat, and (b) he has a penchant for making Daddy hundreds that win Australia games.
On different note, I wonder if the Gabba food outlets were serving humble pie as well as the usual gristle and onion ones? Shaun Marsh proved the perfect foil for Smith – let’s call them beauty and the beast – and looked like a very able test No.6. So what was all that fuss about?
With Vince, Malan, and Marsh all making runs in this game, perhaps us supporters should give the selectors some credit occasionally and admit we were wrong? Nah. Screw that.
First of all the good. James Vince we salute you. You made more than 30. In fact you made three times what you usually do. You’re obviously a bit of a dunce for getting run out – I guess we can’t have everything – but you played beautifully. It was a nice reminder, as if we needed one, that our selectors are geniuses. I won’t have a bad word said about them. Ahem.
And then there was Mark Stoneman. What an impressive Ashes debut. He looked compact, competitive, and composed. He left the ball really well and it took a good delivery to claim his scalp. I think he surprised a lot of Aussies out there.
And now, inevitably, for the bad news. A score of 196-4 isn’t bad on paper. But it could have been a bit better. This wasn’t a typical Gabba wicket – it was sluggish and lacked pace in the morning session in particular – and we haven’t quite cashed in enough (yet). We might not get a better chance to make big first innings run this series.
Although I was relieved that our batsmen dug in and weren’t blown away, and it’s obviously encouraging to see two of our less heralded batters play well, I also have a slight sense of foreboding. The pitch at the Gabba basically took the edge off Australia’s fearsome pace trio, but we still found batting hard work.
A run rate of just over 2.5 runs per over tells it’s own story. So much for my prediction that England would play attacking cricket! Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins looked pretty threatening despite the conditions, so I’m naturally worried what they’ll do to us on the spicier surfaces to come.
Nathan Lyon also bowled superbly. He’s improved a lot over the years and I still think he will play a pivotal role this series. There’s nothing worse than seeing English batsmen struggle against spin. At some point we’ll need to attack him.
Overall, however, I think most of us would have taken 196-4 in the circumstances. This is Brisbane, after all, and we usually have a complete nightmare at this ground. The good news is that we’re still very much in the game, and that’s definitely something to be thankful for.
I know I’m going to say this a lot over the coming weeks, but the first session of tomorrow morning is going to be absolutely vital. If Malan and Moeen can put on a good partnership, and edge that score up to 300-4, then we’ll be in a great position. It’s so much easier for the tail to play shots in the opposition’s bowlers are tired.
A couple of early wickets, on the other hand, and we could get blown away for under 300. And if that happens then I’d expect us to lose the game. It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens.