Ashes Daily – To follow-on or not to follow-on: that is the question.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Ashes Daily – Where have we seen this before? Dogged England show fight to keep faint title hopes alive.

 

24085230_1591716067583089_2101700122_o.jpg
Nothing but a memory now…An image from day two of the first 2017 Ashes test at the Gabba.

 

Today’s play showed exactly why the Ashes is seen as one of the most exciting sporting spectacles on the planet.

England’s batting crumbled as many predicted it would, before the Australians, electing not to enforce the follow-on, lost four of their own under the bright Adelaide lights.

Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes were the architects of England’s recovery. Both made the ball talk in a way it hasn’t so far this series to give their batsman a chance of saving the test match if – and it’s a big if – they manage to dismiss the Australians for under 150 tomorrow morning.

If the Aussie quicks are let loose on the fragile English batting lineup for any longer than 4 sessions you get the feeling that it will be good night Irene by midway through the final day.

Give the England batsmen a total of 320 though and it’s amazing what confidence from a dogged bowling effort can do.

Australia will need to produce the magic they did earlier today to dismiss proven performers like Root and Cook who have managed to get England out of the woods from a similar position several times in the past.

Both threw their wickets away this morning; Root pushing at a wide half-volley; Cook playing at a rather unthreatening delivery from Lyon with an open blade. Given another chance, it is unlikely they will fall in the same fashion.

Australia will, however, have the advantage of bowling under lights for two sessions before the end of this test match.

If the ball swings and seams like it did for Anderson, Broad and Woakes this evening, England’s junior brigade will have no hope of fending off Australia’s quicks to save the game.

Just as impressive as England’s evening session were the Australian seamers who it appears have finally hit their straps.

Despite winning comprehensively at the Gabba, you got the sense that the quicks were below their best.

Cummins was on the short side for most of the first innings while Hazlewood looked to be down on pace.

Starc produced moments of brilliance but has improved with every over as the series has progressed.

One cannot write an article without mentioning the legend that is Nathan Lyon. It was only a year ago that he was on the outer following a tough series against South Africa and when Australia arrived at the Gabba for the first test against Pakistan, it looked as if Lyon might be left out.

The selectors opted in favour of the spinner over a fourth seamer and, since earning a regular spot, finds himself atop the wicket-takers list for 2017.

Of the top five players on that list, four are spinners.

Lyon has gone past Sri Lankan maestro Rangana Herath and usurped South African seamer Kagiso Rabada.

Joining him at the top of the leaderboard is Ravi Ashwin, who also has 55 wickets. Lyon, however, has played 2 fewer games.

By the end of his career, Lyon will have surpassed many of the game’s greatest bowlers on the all-time leading wicket-takers list.

He is the glue that holds the Australian bowling attack together and has played a role in many of the wickets taken by the quicks down the other end.

They say you should judge an off-spinner on their ability to bowl their side to victory on the fifth day of a test match.

Many Australian spinners have had their day in the sun – Hauritz on the fifth day at the SCG in 2010 against Pakistan being one such example – but few have managed to do the heavy lifting on wearing wickets all over the world like Lyon does on a consistent basis.

If he continues the way he has so far this Ashes series, he might outlast the likes of Warner and Marsh who will step down when younger players with quicker reflexes hit the big time.

No off-spinner is currently putting their hand up for test selection in the Shield competition other than Agar, whom the selectors prefer to play deputy to Lyon on away tours to the sub-continent as he lacks the incumbent’s control.

Jon Holand and Steve O’Keefe are also on the radar but haven’t put their hands up when given the opportunity and are reaching the twilight of their respective careers.

Lyon, much like Warne, is a fan favourite and with this comes an enormous ego boost that helps a bowler’s confidence when stood at the top of their mark.

If Australia are to win this test match, Lyon must stand up once again and their batsmen must push the lead beyond 350. Any less and they are leaving the door open for an Australian like comeback at Adelaide in 2006.

It seems unlikely, but we musn’t forget that Root and Cook, not to mention Bairstow and Ali, have conquered uphill battles like this before.

You have to wonder what the English press would make of England’s bowling performance tonight if Stokes was in the side.

350? Pfft. We’ll do that inside two sessions. Remember Cape Town?

Tomorrow’s morning session will decide the test match.

More than money – the dark underbelly of Australian Cricket’s pay dispute.

Lead Image
Image Source: Cricket Country.

We have been told by those in the know that at some point over the next few days the pay dispute engulfing Australian cricket is set to be rectified. This is fantastic news on a number of fronts but the damage, it seems, has already been done. Not to those who are the poster boys of the Players’ Association – who have been unemployed for the better part of a month – but to those on the fringes of breaking into the Australian cricket team.

When news first broke that a settlement between the Players’ Association and CA had not been reached by the June 30 deadline, my mind immediately thought of the upcoming test tour of Bangladesh. Last time Australia were due to travel to the region, back in 2015, they pulled out due to security risks. This made sense because many other teams were doing the same and using the very same tired old excuses. All they had to do was go along with it and they got off touring scot-free.

This time around, however, the ‘security risk’ excuse doesn’t hold up thanks largely to England, and others, who have toured the region without consequence over the last year. So for CA to announce that their cricketers would not be touring again in 2017 due to the dangers posed by the countries citizens simply wouldn’t make an iota of sense. ‘England can do it but not you?’ – ‘Why?’

So Cricket Australia, looking for an out, decided that if the pay dispute was to extend beyond the tour of Bangladesh in August, it wouldn’t have to, let alone be able to, send its players to a faraway land where the chance of losing to a perceived second-rate team before the Ashes is high and the generation of revenue is the poorest of all the test series’ held across the globe.

Part of this conspiracy theory was the idea that the players had already signed an agreement with CA long before the deadline, and were keeping it under wraps until the day of the first test in Bangladesh rolled around.

Why my mind immediately thought of this as a plausible reason for the pay dispute that continues to ravage Australian cricket with every passing day goes to show just how money orientated I believe CA are. It made sense. Sign an under the table deal with the players long before the deadline but keep it hidden from the public until such a time as the tour of Bangladesh can be abandoned. That way the national team can avoid any undue scrutiny before the Ashes, the side will not undergo any reshuffling, and CA aren’t required to splash the cash on a tour that is unattractive to television broadcasters and hence will not fetch top dollar.

Image 2
Smith and Warner walking off the Gabba – Image Source: Perth Now.

Every angle you look at this pay dispute, you can tie it back to money. The players want more because they feel they are the ones that have grown the popularity of cricket and are therefore entitled to a greater slice of the pie that CA are currently keeping for themselves. They argue that without the product, the store cannot operate, let alone make a profit. So what would they sell to keep themselves afloat? A sponsor-less BBL featuring club cricketers?

From this stance it seems the players have all the bargaining power in this dispute. Think about it – if the players are still unemployed come a fortnight out from the first Ashes test in Brisbane, CA would lose sponsors, be forced to remunerate the fans the full price of their tickets, face an unwinnable court case with the ECB who will claim that both they and their players have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars (imagine that, a united front – players and administrators standing together for a common cause), and face the television broadcasters both here and abroad that will have also lost millions of dollars. Then there are the travelling supporters that would also be out of pocket. Court cases would pop up left, right and centre and CA would soon go bankrupt. So no, they will not let it get to this stage. Which makes you think, is this all just one big conspiracy?

For a sceptic like me it certainly appears this way. But there is more to this dispute than money. Players’ reputations, their futures in the game, are at stake. And I’m not talking about your Steve Smith’s and David Warner’s, I’m talking about your state cricketers who are next in line to crack the glass ceiling and make their debuts in the Baggy Green.

Most of them are still being payed to this point due to the fact the contracts they have with their individual states were signed long before the dispute began. But they are the ones that are going to suffer the most if it continues to drag out beyond the end of this month. In fact, as I said in the opening paragraph, they have suffered enough already.

Australia A were set to tour South Africa last month but due to the pay dispute, players followed through on their threats and opted against travelling in the interest of their quest for increased salaries. You might argue that, given it was the players choice to call the tour off, they have dug their own graves and now must lie in them if they fail to score runs over the coming season and miss out on ever playing for Australia, or make another A team. This A tour might have been a breakthrough series for some members of the squad. The kind of series that suddenly puts you on the selector’s radar. Whatever the case, the bottom line is you chose not to tour and must suffer the consequences.

Image 3
James Sutherland Addressing the media. Image source: Cricket Country.

There are a few reasons why this shouldn’t be how we look at it. Firstly, like workers from the local milk factory on strike, you stand as one. Every member of the factory must fight for the same cause or its messages will be far less potent. Say Bill, Eric and 10 others decide not to stand arm in arm with their fellow colleagues on the main road outside the factory while the other 50 workers are waving pickets and hoisting flags, and opt instead to continue operating the cap sealing machine because they are trying to pay off their respective mortgages. What is the employer likely to do? If it was financially viable, they would either sack those outside picketing on the spot and replace them with fresh workers, or give them an ultimatum – return to work now on the same income or face unemployment. For some workers, just like those state cricketers looking to crack international cricket, they cannot afford to spend their days browsing the want ads. Therefore, standing as one becomes their only option.

So I pose the same question as I did before: can you really blame the players for pulling out of a tour when their peers are pressurising them into doing so?

Imagine you’re a young cricketer who has been selected for Australia A after just a few seasons of first class cricket. This is your opportunity to shine. An opportunity to show the selectors that when Warner and Smith are too old or losing form a few years down the track, you are the man for the job. But the senior players of the A squad are discussing the dispute and that, no matter what happens, we must stand together or miss out on a pay rise that we are more than entitled to. Of course, you’re going to conform. Stray from the group and there is the risk you will be offside with the future captain of Australia, maybe even your future opening partner. As a young player you have no choice.

But opting to accept the views of the group in the interest of remaining loyal to your fellow players is just as damaging to your reputation as not going on that tour at all. The selectors won’t see you. It might be the one and only opportunity you had to make an impression. Injury might strike a season later, slowing down the speed you once possessed with the ball in hand or ruining your timing with the bat.

How can a player possibly push their case if they aren’t playing any cricket under the very structures that have been created to identify cricketers of the future? The members of the Australian A squad are, after all, the heirs to the Baggy Green throne.

This is why the pay dispute is cutting scars deeper than first thought. We can all form conspiracies around why money is the driver of both parties, but this would be to miss the point completely.

The dispute is damaging more than just the players’ hip pockets – it is damaging careers.

A post mortem of Australia’s cursed Champions Trophy campaign

Australia's Aaron Finch and Steve Smith (right) look dejected
Finch and Smith in the cordon – Photo: Indian Express

Losing to the Poms is always a bitter pill for Australian’s to swallow, but it is made far worse when it occurs in a must-win game at fortress Edgbaston and results in the elimination from a tournament you’re expected to get within touching distance of winning.

Sure, we can blame the rain for ending a game we should’ve won. Bangladesh will go through to the finals but they were totally outplayed by Australia and should consider themselves more than lucky.

They finish on three points having beaten New Zealand at Cardiff, and more thrilled for them I could not be. However, something must be done about the DLS system, because Australia have been robbed of the chance to show their wares beyond a sudden death group stage match-up that for only a fleeting moment they looked capable of winning.

Bangladesh have not played better cricket than Australia. Yet they are the one’s progressing to the finals.

At the Oval on Tuesday, Australia were within four overs of sending the Bangladeshis packing when rain intervened and both sides were gifted a point, much to the delight of their captain Mashrafe Mortaza, who said in no uncertain terms that Australia totally outplayed Bangadesh and were on a collision course for victory.

That’s it. Four overs was the difference between qualification and a plane ticket home. How can this be justified?

Call me a whinging Australian with a God complex, but that Australia, the better of the two sides, cannot progress beyond the group stage despite demonstrating their dominance over the very opponents that will, means there is something seriously wrong with the current system that decides upon a victor in the event of rain.

There are no two ways about it, Australia played poor cricket against England and deserved to be beaten. In fact, nothing about the brand of cricket they played across the entire tournament said they were entitled to a finals berth.

In the games against New Zealand and England, the bowlers lost their radar and were unable to take wickets at regular intervals nor stem the flow of runs when batsmen were set; so inconsistent was their line and length. King of the ODI castle Mitchell Starc was Reduced to a mere peasant, rarely able to hone in on a yorker length as he did so routinely back in the 2015 World Cup. Cummins, for all his star power and raw pace, was more expensive than a three course meal at a Turkish restaurant; the quicker he delivered the ball, the quicker it found the rope.

Only Hazlewood and Zampa can be commended for their performances with ball in hand. The former will return to Australia having bagged nine wickets in just three, rain affected matches, while the latter, often neglected by his captain at crucial stages of the innings, can depart knowing he has made a difference in this tournament.

While he couldn’t match the feats of Adil Rashid, who himself has battled through periods without the full backing of selectors, his craft is slowly developing and he is now apart of the fabric of Australia’s ODI team. Why Smith elected to bowl part time slow-bowler Travis Head before him, a specialist leg-spinner, beggars belief and was a tactic that failed to produce enough wicket taking opportunities for it to remain a viable option. Hopefully Australia have learnt their lesson and will stray from this line of thinking in the future.

It was a strange tournament for the batsmen. We can make all the excuses in the world about the weather preventing them from getting any semblance of match practice under their belts, but they are professionals and we need to see more in the way of adaptability.

Finch, a man who is no stranger to English conditions, looked out of touch in the first two games but returned in the last with a typically defiant innings filled with strokes born of power and aggression. His opening partner was just as fluent, but was dismissed after a promising start which saw him crunch a few boundaries in quick succession to kick-start Australia’s innings. If Australia were to win, he too needed to join Finch in reaching a half century at the very least. A start of 21 was never going to suffice.

Other notable performances came from captain Steve Smith, who continues to tick milestones off his list, and Travis Head, whose late order hitting edged Australia towards a respectable total. The rest were, without sugar coating it, extremely poor.

It was rather stupefying not to see Chris Lynn force his way into the Australian side for their clash with England. Moises Henriques was again given the nod ahead of him and provided nothing after a strong start from the top three, eventually falling to a poor stroke which saw Smith hammer the turf with his bat in frustration, perhaps acknowledging he had made the wrong decision.

There is no doubt Chris Lynn was the perfect man for the situation Henriques found himself in. Finch, Warner and Smith had set a platform and Australia were looking at a total of 300+ which, given England’s track record post the 2015 WC, was a requirement if they were to win and progress to the finals.

Lynn’s free-flowing stroke-play and absence of fear could have seen him capitalise on what was, at the time, some wayward bowling from Plunkett and Stokes. But Smith persisted with Henriques, perhaps hoping that his potential and raw skill would transform into an X-factor that could influence the game and help set a challenging total for England’s batsmen. As it stands, he leaves the Champions Trophy with a lowly average of 9 and his career hanging by a thread.

Speaking of outlandish selections, why was Pattinson, and Hastings for that matter, consigned to the carrying of drinks? For those who are unaware, Pattinson has been playing county cricket for Nottinghamshire and performing admirably in the Royal London one-day cup. Of all the Australian’s, he would’ve no doubt understood the conditions more than his other fast bowling counterparts who have been lapping up the dusty wickets in the IPL, yet he was never given the opportunity.

There is a pecking order in Australian cricket and Cummins, quite clearly, through pace and perhaps a smidgen of extra experience, is currently ahead of the Victorian spearhead.

So where do Australia stand now in ODI cricket? Like I said in my last article, they are far from the side that took the field against New Zeland in the World Cup final of 2015; lacking as they are both in experience and genuine match winners capable of matching it with the Stokes, de Villiers and Kohli’s of the world.

Clarke and Johnson, two of Australia’s finest warriors, have left a hole in the ODI side bigger than those at Gina Rinehart’s mining sites. For this reason, and many others that are within the players’ control but don’t appear any closer to a solution, Australia are now well below the powerhouses of the international game – India, England and, err, South Africa – and languishing somewhere around the middle of the field which is currently occupied by New Zealand and Pakistan. They are powerful at their best and woefully inconsistent at their worst.

Sure, some of the stars of the game reside in Australia’s side, but if we can take one thing away from this Champions Trophy it is that you need substance beyond your top order. New Zealand didn’t have it; neither did Australia. But England sure do, and India, with Dhoni and Yuvraj at the helm, have it in spades. That is why we are set for a repeat of the final of four years ago once again this time around. Bat is dominant over ball in this era and a strong order can atone for the sins of the bowlers.

Buckle your seat belts, folks. We are in for a wild ride!