Our chances of winning the Ashes diminished considerably today. In fact they probably halved. England need to win either this test match or the one at The Oval to wrestle the urn back from the antipodean anti-heroes. And, after two days play in Manchester, it seems as plain as the nose on Gonzo’s face that we aint gonna win this one. In fact, we’ll be lucky to get out of this game with a draw.

Australia’s total of 497-8 is a big one. A really big one. And I’m more worried about England’s batsmen reaching the follow on target than dreaming about a lead. We haven’t scored over 400 for bleedin’ ages. And I can’t see it happening against this quality Australian attack with the pitch already offering some turn. We’re more likely to get knocked over for 80 odd again.

In case you’re wondering why I’m being so pessimistic, it’s half a strategy actually. Writing England off completely at Leeds worked a treat; so there’s no harm in repeating the approach here. There’s just one problem: Ben Stokes isn’t quite as consistent as Steve Smith, so expecting him to pull off another miracle seems more than a tad farfetched. What’s more, he spent some time off the field today and might not be fully fit. I guess it never rains, it pours – especially in Manchester.

So why has it all gone wrong this time? I can answer that question in just three words: Steve Bloody Smith. He’s so annoying that I’m thinking of promoting him to Steve FFS Smith. He looked terrible in the first hour, wasn’t playing the short ball particularly well, yet somehow it still seemed inevitable that he’d score a century. And subsequently, when Jack Leach dismissed him with a no ball in the afternoon, a double hundred seemed inevitable. He doesn’t half make the opposition pay for their mistakes.

I’ve run out of things to say about Smith. I hate watching him bat but one can’t deny that his peculiar method works splendidly. What’s more, his powers of concentration are legendary. He’s like Alastair Cook on Pro Plus. He’s a freak. I just wish his batting was more pleasing on the eye.

In days gone by we’d marvel at the likes of Lara and Tendulkar. They’d take the game away from England, and break your heart, but there was something irresistible about their games. You couldn’t help but marvel at the purity of their strokes. The cricket fan in you would be buzzing even as they twisted that dagger into our England-supporting hearts.

Steve Smith is something worse. Much worse. A patriotic Englishman can derive no joy from watching him occupy the crease for hours like a crab with haemorrhoids. You know you’re watching a monumental talent but it’s almost impossible to appreciate a batsman that makes cricket look less like art and more like a crab dancing a paso doble.

Even watching Jacques Kallis grind out hundreds was infinitely preferable to a Smith ‘classic’. He’s insufferable; he’s painful; he makes my eyes hurt. But what hurts most is that he’s so bloody good. The Aussies must absolutely love him. Not only does he win games but he also winds up the opposition good and proper. Basically he ticks all their boxes.

What was particularly disappointing about this innings is that we all hoped Jofra Archer would sort him out. But alas, poor Jofra was well below his best on Wednesday and Thursday. His pace was down, he couldn’t land his bouncers in the right place, and most worryingly of all he didn’t look like he was enjoying his work at all. I thought his body language was quite poor to be honest.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how little first class cricket Archer has played because expectations are sky high. He’s a great talent, and he might well be tired because he’s not used to bowling such long spells. However, test cricket is full of hard yakka. He’ll need to get used to it. I just hope he can stay the course and won’t be tempted to chuck it all in to focus on the white ball stuff.

England will need to manage Archer very carefully or he might well become the next 10CRIC IPL bet to quit proper cricket prematurely. The schedule for England’s cricketers is quite frankly ridiculous. I just hope he loves test cricket as much as the likes of Broad and Anderson. You’ve got to be a glutton for punishment if you’re a fast bowler playing all forms of the game these days.

Talking about guttons for punishment, what did you all make of Joe Denly’s tortuous innings before the close? Apart from one typically elegant back foot force through the covers he looked totally out of his depth at the top of the order. He was playing and missing balls he could’ve comfortably left, and looked no more of a test match opener than Jason Roy did at Edgbaston, Lord’s, and Headingley.

I feel so sorry for Denly. The decision to swap him with the hapless Roy was completely unfair as neither is an authentic test match opener. Ed Smith basically decided that Denly was expendable in his quest not to be proved wrong about Jason’s red ball credentials. It stinks.

James Morgan

Written in collaboration with Cric 10