Today marks the half way point in the Ashes series and coincidentally the half way point in my stay in Australia but this is no time for reflection on Australia as a whole nor the experience of achieving a life long dream as there’s a test match or two to be won!
So far, England have competed well in parts in each game but seem to lack the stamina or drive to maintain the tempo or pace. Tactics and strategy by England have been odd at times – refreshing, frustrating, annoying, confused, stubborn, non-committal – and that’s just on the field! The tour management team haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory in handling the team during down time nor handling the press/media etc but both the on and off field teams have the chance to redeem themselves, starting with this game at the WACA.
A spirited performance today can see them reassertion their authority on the match but they need to take wickets early and not let the batsmen settle as they restart their innings. One of the odd things about the WACA – and there are many- is that you need to spend time restarting your innings after every break and especially first thing in the morning (it’s all to do with pace and bounce) but once you’ve adjusted to that, then batting becomes better. The pitch is supposed to be best for batting on Days 2 and 3 as we saw from Australia yesterday but cracks are appearing in the pitch so care is needed. Early wickets and England can be back in the game and the series – a lead of 150 by either side on first innings could be decisive.
The weather forecast for tomorrow and Monday is not good – should be more like a wet and cool Spring day in April but as far as I can tell tomorrow’s rain could be just overnight rain but then forecasters here seem to be as accurate as anywhere!
The papers are talking about potential washouts for Days 4 & 5 but we shall see as we start Day 3 – forecast for drinks break 3/245
Drinks 4/253 Smith 121no Marsh M 0no. England seem to be clueless against Smith – every plan from A to ? does not work. England are going through the motions, get to the new ball and then take wickets or the run rate just increases? Smith is supreme, controlling the game in whatever way he wants to, his batting is something to behold – not just here but in each game to date; worth the air fare alone! Forecast for lunch 4/307
Lunch 4/314 Smith 139no Marsh M 39no. England’s efforts with the new ball have come to nought so far. The doctors in already and it feels like a very strong breeze is blowing and dropping the temperature considerably if you’re in the shade. Anderson and Broad seem to v doing more captaincy than Root but we’ve seen that for years, whoever was in charge. Mitch Marsh is doing a better job at no 6 than Handscomb so could well be set for the rest of the series. Media analysis of the fast bowling attacks is extremely revealing as are the stats for the best batsmen on both sides. The difference is stark (as well as Starc) and whilst England have competed in spasms there’s no consistency. I fear that if Smith lunches well and survives the next onslaught then 200 is on the cards as is his highest test score of 215 is at risk! From a match perspective Australia need to get to 550 which should be within their grasp by the close of play. That puts pressure on England whenever batting is possible tomorrow and a Monday.
Forecast for afternoon drinks break 4/366.
Drinks 4/370. Smith 173no Marsh M 59no. Half way through the test and half way through the series. Australia are completely in charge. Ideas have left England, can’t even make up our minds who’s going to bowl! Anderson and Broad have yet to take a wicket and look ineffectual, Ali looks lost so we’re reliant on Overton and Woakes – perhaps the new look bowling attack we need, but it’s early days for both of them. Of course when England bat there’ll be gremlins in the pitch aplenty! Or in their minds?
Forecast for tea 4/430
Tea 4/421 Smith 182no Marsh M 100 no. There’s no idea as to where England are going to get their next wicket from, Australia in full control and the way Mitch Marsh progressed to his hundred in the last hour was bordering on the awesome- drives a plenty and not quite disdain for the English bowlers but close. Nonetheless the English ground fielding and out cricket has not faltered – it’s the bowling that’s poor; Broad has 0-97 and Anderson 0-76 and while Jimmy has been the better bowler, it’s looking like living up to his standard overseas performance and possibly a tour too far!
Forecast for the next drinks break and there’s 37 overs to go, 5/490
Drinks 4/500 Smith 207no Marsh M 154no and it goes from bad to worse and as I wrote how the outcricket was good, it went south too! England are being patient in waiting for either batsman to make a mistake but if that’s the strategy for taking wickets then it’s a long wait! This is Smiths first double hundred in Australia and the partnership so far is worth 252 – surpassing the fifth wicket partnership from yesterday. It is batting of the highest quality – no question.
Forecast for close of play 5/575
Close of play 4/549 Smith 229no Marsh 181no partnership 301* there are very few days of cricket – test or otherwise which can compare to this. Dominance from ball one by Australia by Smith initially and then by Marsh in such a way that it’s not surprising England look shot mentally. The third innings when it comes will be the pivotal one of the match as often happens but I suspect England will find gremlins and demons in the pitch which are not there now. Rain is forecast towards the end of the day tomorrow so play may end early but I suspect English hopes of retaining the Ashes will be washed away by then.
Smith is a master craftsman at the top of his game, batting with skill and flair you won’t believe until you see it in person; he’s not classical like Gower or Cowdrey, not a blocker or pitch occupier like Boycott but he loves batting and batting and batting. Style is not always important but runs on the board are.
So it may be half way but the Ashes are all but gone but England are not even facing the battle half way. I suspect England arrived half cocked with a key player left behind and unimaginative selection but we shall see if the rain can save us.