England have been behind the eight ball since Joe Root won the toss and decided to bowl four days ago, but if England go on to win tomorrow the question on everybody’s lips will be ‘gee, I wonder if the result would be different had Smith enforced the follow-on’.
At face value Smith’s decision to bat again after dismissing the fragile English batting line-up makes sense.
The seamers had already bowled 76 overs and when you are carrying just three fast bowlers and a sole spinner through a five-match test series it is wise to give them a rest when the opportunity presents itself.
But consider the message enforcing the follow-on would’ve sent to England, who were bowled out for just 227 after seeing Australia pile on double that in a day and a half.
Had they been sent straight back in while the memories of the first innings carnage were fresh in the mind, England’s batsmen would’ve been low on confidence rather than buoyed by the possibility of a history-defying win for the ages stemming from impeccable swing and seam bowling.
No batsmen at any level enjoys batting after a failure in the first innings because the pressure is on to avoid back-to-back low scores.
Fall cheaply twice in a test match and all of a sudden your career hangs by a thread.
You begin to question facets of your game and technique that were once completed without question while rumours swirl in the press of a likely replacement for the next match.
Four of England’s top 5 failed to go past 20 in England’s first innings; three of those are finding their way in test cricket and, had they been put back in on the evening of day three and dismissed cheaply once again, it might have set the tone for the remainder of the series.
Where is our next run coming from? How can we score over 300 against these bowlers?
Our next game is at the WACA – we could get rolled for 100.
Australia’s bowlers would’ve looked more like the formidable West Indian attack of the nineties and the mind games that are so important in the Ashes would’ve set a cat amongst the pigeons in the English camp, potentially leading to further Overton-esque changes.
By electing to bat again, Smith has inadvertently given up Australia’s stranglehold on both the test match and the series.
All of a sudden the English don’t fear the Australian quicks, while the batsmen, who were previously infallible in their home conditions, are as human as the rest of us after all.
Cracks begin to form in the Australian batting ranks and before you know it the pressure is right back on them to avoid a loss to the old enemy on home soil.
If you need evidence of this, look no further than Peter Handscomb who could find himself out of the side if Australia goes down tomorrow.
Had Smith enforced the follow-on, Handscomb walks away with a score of 36 – assuming, of course, that Australia weren’t required to bat again – and is automatically retained for the third test at the WACA.
A loss under such circumstances, however, shines a spotlight on technical deficiencies that are swept under the rug when a side goes through a series unbeaten.
Smith’s decision has further ramifications that can’t necessarily be quantified. England have gained confidence in their ability to dismiss the Australians, and, if they complete the job tomorrow, their batting is capable of what can only be described as a statistical impossibility.
A stat was flashed up on Channel Nine’s telecast today. It detailed the highest run chases in test history at the Adelaide Oval.
The last side to chase down a score over 300 was way back in the early 1900’s when wickets were uncovered and every delivery sent down by the opposition quicks was a potential landmine.
If a side can do it in these conditions, it can’t be difficult to replicate such a feat on an artificially concocted drop-in wicket.
Even if the visitors fail, they have been given a huge leg up by a decision that could well decide the path this series takes.