Today’s play was painful. We had our collective boot on Australia’s metaphorical throat but the opportunity slipped away. And it’s all because of Steve Smith. Yes him. The ginger rodent. The bane of our existence.

I wish I could say Smith was lucky. I wish I could say that he cheated. But he wasn’t and he didn’t. He was absolutely outstanding. And I guess we just have to salute the bloke – through gritted of teeth of course. Broad and Woakes bowled superbly but Smith was the one recognised batsman who stood firm.

The only thing we can do, as a completely sour and futile gesture, is point out how horrible his innings was to watch. Is there an uglier player in world cricket? I can’t think of one. But it’s not how, it how many that counts. I doubt any Australian cares that England fans would rather kiss the elephant man than watch Smith bat.

At the other end he (eventually) found admirable support from the two most unlikely places: Australia’s No.10 and No.11 batsmen. Watching us struggle to knock over Siddle and Lyon, which should’ve been done through brute force and intimidation if ‘skill’ and subtlety failed, was like the bad old days.

I predicted that England might struggle after picking 4 right arm seamers who bowl at similar speeds and so it proved. I desperately wanted Ollie Stone in the side in Archer’s absence but England opted for predictability over penetration. If only we’d picked Stone instead of Denly and moved Stokes up to 3/4.

England did have one excuse though. And it’s rather a huge one. Jimmy Anderson’s injury absolutely killed us. His calf tightened up right after Steve Smith strode to the wicket. Had he bowled at Smith when the ball was still moving around then it might have been a very different story indeed. Fate just conspired against us today. Maybe this was luck evening up after our fortuitous World Cup final win?

Questions will inevitably be asked about England’s decision to pick Jimmy. Did the medical staff get this one wrong? I’m no doctor – not a medical one anyway – but maybe they just forgot that Jimmy’s 37 years old now. It’s bound to take him longer to recover from injuries. I just hope it’s not too serious and he’s fit for Lord’s.

So where does this game stand? 284 looks a decent total to me. England have only made over 400 once in their last 32 attempts and we’ve got to bat last. The smart money is possibly on Australia. You’ll find some tantalising odds via UK online betting reviews if you fancy a flutter.

All is not lost though. Not yet anyway! I actually thought the pitch calmed down quite a lot in the final session. This could be because England’s bowlers were fatigued but Australia’s opening pair of Cummins and Pattinson (who bowl at a fair lick) didn’t get too much out of the surface either before the close. Yes it was a small sample size but Burns and Roy looked relatively comfortable in what could’ve been a very tense mini passage of play.

The Australians’ team selection was also a little controversial and they yet rue the decision to leave out two bowlers as good as Starc and Hazlewood. Although Starc hasn’t always been effective with the Dukes ball, he was in brilliant form during the World Cup and his left arm angle provides variation. Meanwhile, Hazlewood is ranked 13th in the ICC rankings. He’s a class act. I’m really surprised that the Aussies preferred Siddle.

As I mentioned on the blog yesterday, however, the Aussies are blessed in the fast bowling department; therefore they were always going to be a threat whoever they picked. Siddle is a good old war horse who has been bowling an excellent English length at Essex, and Pattinson is a thoroughbred. I just wonder if, a bit like England, they might want a tad more variety if we manage to get a good partnership going.

Readers of this blog will know that I’m occasionally partial to a cricketing cliche – they prevent me from having to engage my brain at the end of a long day – therefore I’m going to offer you another one now:

Nobody will know whether 284 is a good score until Friday evening. One can’t judge a pitch until England have had the chance to collapse on it.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with Bookmaker Advisor