Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points as Australia recover on day one
Ashes 2013-14: Stuart Clarke takes a look at four talking points as Australia end day one of third Test on 326-6
It’s a tough one to call as to which team had the better day. Before tea there was no doubt that England’s five wickets had put them on top for the first time this series. But an Australian revival, spearheaded by Steve Smith, in the second half of the game pushed them past 300 on what appears to be a pretty benign Perth pitch. Smith batted excellently for his second Test century, both of which have come against England, and he was ably supported by Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson to get Australia back on track. The runs came at a frenetic pace early on as Australia went into lunch three wickets down but a run-rate of nearly five an over. Australia lost their wickets to a mixture of excellent fielding and appalling shot-selection, not unlike England’s woes in the first two Tests. England’s bowlers changed their plan of attack a number of times but on the whole were largely ineffective. Jimmy Anderson was economical but didn’t threaten to take wickets with the lack of swing on offer at the Waca. Before tea, England bowled relentlessly short of a length and very straight despite the fact that Smith and Haddin were pulling them away for runs every time. Later on the line improved and the run-rate dropped, but the continued barrage of short balls to Smith and Johnson in the final hour caused them no problems and perhaps gave Australia the edge on day one.
Smith comes of age
For the last few years, the appearance of Steve Smith in an Australian squad would be enough to make one of my Antipodean friend’s blood boil. In amongst the expletives was the general sense that he didn’t think Smith was good enough to play in the baggy green. There can be no argument that the youngster is one of the finest strikers of a cricket ball, has prodigious talent and also one of the best middle names in the sport (Devereux). The problem, however, would be Smith’s tendency to get out cheaply by playing a shot ill-suited to the situation of the match. He came into this match averaging 15 and questions were being raised again as to whether he merited his place in the team. Today he showed that he does. His unbeaten century was faultless. His partnership with Haddin rescued Australia from being bowled out before the end of play. And latterly his partnership with Johnson helped his team race past 300. Smith put on a masterclass of how to play the pull shot, mostly thanks the England’s insistence on bowling it short to him. Time after time he would spot the short ball so early that he would have time to transfer his weight and hit the ball in front of square. Unlike Alistair Cook’s dismissal in the second innings at Adelaide (and George Bailey’s horrendous shot today) Smith brought his hands from high to low when striking the pull shot, ensuring that it always went along the ground. By teatime he had passed his 50 and all-but three of those runs had been on the leg side. In the past he has got himself out cheaply by wafting at balls outside off stump, so it was a surprise to see England persisting with bowling a middle-stump line to him. A new plan of attack is needed on day two if England are to have any hope of batting before lunch.
Haddin’s purple patch
Coming into the match England’s sixth and seventh wicket partnerships averaged just over ten. Including today, the Australian sixth and seventh wicket partnership averages 81. While Mitchell Johnson has skittled out England’s middle and low order in the first two matches, Brad Haddin has held together the Australians in the middle of the innings. The wicketkeeper has notched up four consecutive scores of 50 or more, including a century in Adelaide. He has been involved in three partnerships of over 100 and one of 90 in his four innings. In contrast, Matt Prior’s series total of 73 runs was greatly boosted by his 69 in the second innings in Adelaide. Before that innings Prior had faced just 13 balls for his four runs, 372 fewer than Haddin had at the same point. If England are to have a hope of turning this series around a few Haddin-esque performances from Prior will be needed.
It ain’t half hot
Any club cricketer in the UK will attest that as soon as the thermometer heads towards 30 degrees the enthusiasm to stand in a field for a few hours and run around ebbs away. Well spare a thought for the two teams today who had to withstand temperatures of over 40 degrees, and it’s only going to get hotter over the weekend. With humidity down in the mid-teens, there was little on offer for the bowlers in terms of movement through the air so running in over after over in the heat trying to deceive the batsmen with pace and bounce will take its toll throughout the day. Alistair Cook did well to spread the bowling out between his four quick men, with Tim Bresnan the workhorse bowling 21 overs. The inclusion of Ben Stokes as a fourth seam bowler looks to be a good one and there were rumours of Graeme Swann being left out before the match due to Perth’s reputation as a pace bowling wicket. But it’s not just the bowlers who struggle in the heat. Batting for long periods is a draining exercise at the best of times, but under a helmet in the searing temperatures it can be hard to keep the concentration, so Smith’s four-and-a-half hour innings was impressive on more than one level.