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Friday, November 22, 2013

Different Book, Same Old Story as Aussies Falter Again

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After all of the build-up, after all the hype, after all the bold statements of how prepared the Australians were to take on England and win back the Ashes... day one of the 1st Test followed the same script as most of those of 2013, with the Australian top order folding once again with little resistance, and the tail left to do the recovery action.

The only good news was that Michael Clarke won the toss, because if England had batted on what was a featherbed of a wicket, it could have been carnage. Instead, apart from some promising work from Warner and Smith, Australia's batting once again failed her, opening up the same questions that have been asked for the previous ten months on the way to go forward.
Chris Rogers went early, being a foot off the ground in trying to defend Broad's bouncing delivery. He has enough credit in the bank after the winter tour to be given time to find his feet (no pun intended), but he won't want to see himself dismissed in the same way again too often. Shane Watson got worked over, and the bowlers' plan worked in the last over before lunch, having him flay at a wide ball to parry it to slip. The media still think he is the great white hope, but his record just keeps slipping further and further. In the past two years he has played 19 Tests for 1045 runs at 29.85 and 16 wickets at 41.37. Take out the one-off innings of 176 at The Oval and his batting record is 25.56. As I have said on countless occasions, no Australian batsman in living memory has retained his position - especially as a top order batsman - with such an average record. It is time our selectors manned up and moved him on.
On the other hand, have the media and commentators made far too much of Michael Clarke's dismissal? Yes, he got out to a short ball, ballooning it to short leg. It was a plan by England, and it worked... on this occasion. Here is a man whose form has been the sole element in keeping us in the game with runs on the board in 2013, and suddenly according to the media he has "lost it". For goodness sakes, if they had been this ferocious over all of Watson's dismissals for the past 2-3 years he wouldn't be in the team now! A good plan that worked on Day One. Let's see what happens in the second dig before we all start mourning the end of a career.
George Bailey, making his debut after averaging 21 in first class cricket over the past two seasons, was dismissed exactly as he had been in his two Shield games. I think everyone likes Bailey and his easy going nature, but he has been handed a no-win scenario here by being chosen on ODI form. His innings was almost as anyone would have scripted it. I hope he succeeds and makes a go of Test cricket but his selection, like that of Rob Quiney last season, feels like one with very little hope of the future.
Steve Smith started well again, before being taken by the one decent delivery Chris Tremlett bowled all day. Still, it was another start that needed converting. Both he and Warner, who made 49 in his usual pugnacious style before bunting a catch to short cover, will feel they wasted an opportunity on that wicket to make a big first impression in the series. Both will need to do better in the second dig.

At 5/100, and then 6/132, Australia's day was in tatters, and it was left to Brad Haddin and Mitch Johnson to do the recovery. The amazing part about the partnership was how sublime it was. The ball didn't move around, Graham Swann mysteriously bowled 26 overs on the first day of a Test, and both batsmen played each ball on its merits. Wow! What an unusual way to approach batting! Johnson showed tremendous poise, only occasionally lapsing into what one might call a tailenders shot before falling back into a batsman's mindset. Why is it that our top order seems incapable of doing this? Adding 114 for the seventh wicket, and both scoring half centuries, these two hopefully made their teammates drop their heads. The new ball did its job at the end of the day, claiming two wickets with good fast swing bowling, but that didn't take away from the wonderful effort of these two.

Home in time to watch the final session, with beer and chilli chips
With the score at 8/273, Australia is much better placed than it appeared it would be about half an hour before tea. Still, unless there is a swashbuckling rearguard action early on Day Two, Australia will again fail to post 300 in a Test match innings, and will again leave all of the work in trying to win a Test match firmly on the bowlers shoulders.
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