Saturday, August 3, 2013

Thoughts: Old Trafford Test : Day 2

Steve Smith tries to hit Swann into Salford and
ends up skying a simple catch to Bairstow at midwicket

It was a strangely positive day for Australia, who tried to predominantly dominated with the bat, though the manner of the dismissals should irk the players and their coaches. Michael Clarke and Steve Smith began the day on  125* and 70* respectively and made a brisk start, bringing up their 200 run partnership inside the first hour of play before drinks. The understanding between Smith and Clarke looks to be a solid one, with both comfortable against spin and swing, they both run well together and seem to feed of each other's confidence. It was a shame to see Smith waste such a solidly built platform and lost a great chance to score his maiden Test century. It was doubly disappointing given the timing, England were looking down and out going into the drinks break, and Smith could have made 150+ if he hadn't lost his composure, especially so soon after a break in play, in which Clarke and Lehmann (via Wade & Hughes) would have told him to be himself but bat til lunch.

Warner reviews in vain. 
Smith's dismissal brought England's pantomime-villain David Warner to the crease. Greeted by resounding boos and whistles, Warner strode to the crease with a determined smile on his face, and for once, I thought he might be in the right frame of mind to be both solid in defense and patient in attack.  His footwork against Swann, was for the most part, solid, quick and smart, but he is still in the habit of coming forward heavily for his front foot defensive press, which ultimately proved to be his downfall.  The farcical nature of Warner's dismissal raised the ire of many Australian spectators on twitter, with a great joke posted by Dave Tickner

In the post-stumps interview given by Captain Clarke, which was covered by Cricinfo here, Clarke admits he supported Warner's decision to review the verdict, although he tried to convince Warner that he had got an edge.  "My reaction was, yes, I thought Davey hit it," Clarke said. "But in fairness to Davey, if you have a look at the replay, he actually hit his pad at the same time so he obviously didn't feel the ball hit the bat. We had a little discussion in the middle.
"Let's just say we disagreed, but in saying that, I did say to Davey that I would back his judgement 100%. He was confident he didn't hit it so it was worth a look and I've said before I think that's the way DRS should be used. I think if the batter feels that he didn't hit the ball then his partner should back his judgement." 
Didn't challenge the verdict, although it was
To me, backing the batsman's judgement is absolutely the worst way of using the DRS system. The self preservation instinct is too great in batsmen, and although competition for places is high, I doubt your teammate on the field is going to give you bad advice on purpose, regardless of the insecurity he may feel. I have no doubt that Rogers had told Watson not to review his marginal LBW verdicts (calling them marginal is being gentle isn't it), while in this case, Clarke didn't have the force of personality to convince Warner not to waste a review.Does this say more about Warner's arrogance/confidence, Clarke's inability to persuade and take executive decisions as captain or the current DRS usage strategy employed by the Australian squad?

Contrast Watson and Warner's bad decision's with Tim Bresnan's decision not to use a review, even though he wasn't sure if he had hit the ball. Bresnan missed the ball, it hit his hip, and although he shook his head when the umpire's finger went up,  the slight shake of the head from his captain at the non-striker's end meant that either he, Cook, was not certain that Bresnan would be successful with the review, nor was it worth gambling on a review for a nightwatchman.  
Haddin hits with the spin.
Vice-captain Brad Haddin came in at 7 when the momentum was slowly shifting toward England after they had taken a couple of wickets in the span of 4 overs. Haddin was aggressive from the outset of his innings, hitting his second ball for 4 over mid-wicket, slog-sweeping with the spin, and lifting length balls over the infield with ease. Although it looked flashy and risky, Haddin went about his business smartly, not going after low-percentage shots, playing with the spin, rotating the strike and finding the gaps.

Clarke's "captain's innings" concluded
 with a strange dismissal

Clarke's dismissal, after an epic captain's knock of 187 runs, was really quite ugly, badly misjudging a short pitched ball outside off stump that was neither short or wide enough to guide to third-man and ended up inside edging a ball onto his stumps. It was a great innings, full of confident stroke play, smart running and great footwork against Swann. 

Starc celebrates his quick fire 50. 

Clarke's dismissal brought Mitchell Starc to the crease, who, along with Haddin, increased the scoring rate by playing some awesome cricket shots. With his Gilchrist-esqe hand eye coordination and uninhibited swing through the line of the ball,  Starc dispatched length balls on the stumps past the bowler, pulled short balls through midwicket with ease and drove balls through the covers with impressive elegance. Combined with Haddin, these two added a quick 97 runs together, before Clarke pulled the pin on the innings just after tea.  As discussed by Lee and Chappell on the GEM coverage, Clarke no doubt wanted to keep the English openers guessing, not wanting to give them the chance to shower and freshen themselves before batting during the tea break, and wanted to take a few wickets in the fading light while the batsmen, who had spent several hours in the field, were weary and potentially fatigued. Regardless of that rationale, I question the timing of the declaration and the size of the first innings total. 527 is a formidable first innings total, but it leaves doubt in the mind as to Clarke and Lehmann's strategy on winning the game. A total of 450 could be read as a total from which they don't expect to enforce the follow on and will look to build upon a 100-odd run lead and then bowl for victory. However this total gives rise to more questions than answers. Are they trying to win by an innings(a tough ask of the bowlers, who i doubt would be able to contain the English batsman to under 500 for 20 wickets)  or are they prepared to chase down a sub 200 run score in the 4th innings or are they not going to enforce the follow on at all? Given the amount of turn Swann was able to get on days 1 and 2, does Clarke really want to be chasing down a total late on day 5? If the plan was not to enforce the follow on, why waste time scoring an extra 75, and if the plan is to try and win by an innings, surely a score 600 would make defeat impossible. Another matter also raised a question with me, why give the England openers so long to bat after tea. 

Peter Siddle celebrates the wicket of young
danger-man Joe Root 
Yes, Peter Siddle came into the attack and got two wickets, but Cook is well set, and with Trott joining him at the crease, unless a cheap wicket can be taken early on, the ball-now 30 overs old, which will not be conducive to regular swing and will not reverse easily in the morning Manchester conditions, could make scoring quite easy, given how easily the Aussie batsman faced the English quicks. That said, the variations of Starc and the consistency of Harris may be enough to eek out a few more wickets before the ball begins reversing.  

Lyon looked dangerous
in the evening session and should
have had Cook caught at behind if
either Haddin or Clarke had
reacted fast enough
Most Aussie fans hate Graeme Swann for being arrogant, celebrating ostentatiously, for his general demeanor,  and for the fact that he doesn't seem to do so much with the ball but still gets wickets(such behaviour can only be tolerated if it's our man Warney). Given Swann was able to get 5 wickets, ( 2 of which were absolute gifts, Smith and Siddle and 1 shouldn't have been given at all) Nathan Lyon should be able to extract similar amounts of turn and hopefully more wickets than Agar did in his four attempts combined.   

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