This is all starting to become depressingly familiar. In 2009, a less good England won the Ashes against a slightly better Australia and then promptly slumped to six consecutive one day defeats. Following today’s dismal showing with the bat, England have now lost three matches on the trot (including the second T20) and have got a job on their hands if they’re to win this seven match series.
It all began so well. Twenty past three in the morning is not a great time to find yourself commentating on cricket, but Australia’s batsmen proved to be the perfect cure for narcolepsy as the top order, put in to bat by Strauss, succumbed to the fabulous new ball bowling of Shahzad and Tremlett.
First to shuffle off was last Sunday’s all Australian hero Shane Watson, playing on to Shahzad whilst trying to cut a fullish ball down on the angle to third man. I’d been predicting he’d get out like that since late November and finally he obliged. Haddin drove more airily than a limp wristed Queen’s wave in the back of a bulletproof limousine. Same result.
Clarke is so out hopelessly out of nick that we need to rename him The Hopelessly Out Of Nick Clarke. And obligingly for England he tends to waste 20 balls or so proving that hypothesis. Today he managed to smack a long hop to Bell in the covers. When Hussey departed to a fine catch by Strauss off Tremlett I and the rest of the Sofa team began to fantasise about getting back to bed before sunrise.
But from 33-4, White and Marsh (playing his first game of the international Australian summer) batted sensibly. Like a host of Australian batsmen over the last 20 years they are masters at inducing lull; that moribund passage of play when boundaries aren’t scored but wickets aren’t taken. And when you find the gaps as adroitly as Aussies always seem to, five runs an over with no risks taken is invariably the outcome.
On the Sofa we were screaming for the seamers to come back into the attack, but really Strauss was hamstrung by his selection of two slow bowlers (you will never get me to call Yardy a spinner) on a track tailor made for the seamers. He could have gone for the jugular but gambled on getting through some innocuous overs while the batsmen were concerned with preserving their wickets.
It didn’t work and a 100 run partnership at 5 an over ensued which was only broken by a good bit of slow bowling from Yardy who followed White making space for himself outside leg stump, cramped him for room and accepted the difficult return catch wide to his left with aplomb but absolutely no balletic grace. Well, you can’t have it all.
From the relative safety of 133-4 the Aussies collapsed again. Smith, who isn’t so much out of nick as out of his depth drove ineptly at a wide one from Shazad and dragged on for a painstaking duck off two balls. The returning Hauritz, fresh from his batting heroics in Shield cricket was well caught by the sweaty handed Trott in the deep and Lee missed an even flatter, even straighter one from Yardy to leave Australia dead and buried at 142-8.
What followed was so perplexing I am still struggling for a plausible explanation. Bollinger, with a previous top score of 3*, arrived to keep Marsh company for what we expected to be the length of time it used to take him to wash his hair. Instead he began channeling the spirit of the great George Headley, carving England’s bowlers hither and yon while the magnificent Marsh stepped up a gear. In 11.2 overs of mayhem they added 88 runs, Australia’s highest ever 9th wicket partnership in ODIs.
It is true that England’s bowlers lost their lines and lengths. Indeed, the failure to bounce Bolly was puzzling in the extreme, but he took full advantage, played intelligently and supported Marsh as the latter passed a hundred. His dismissal off the 1st ball of the 49th over was followed immediately by Marsh’s to a superb catch by Bell in the deep.
Marsh’s innings was in every way perfect. He ran expertly between the wickets, took no risks until Bollinger came in and then cut loose. If the Australian selectors really believe Steve Smith should be picked ahead of this man as a batsman they are in need of instant incarceration in a mental health facility. Perhaps he could have been given out stumped early in his innings but with no stump camera angle provided it was impossible to say whether his foot was down or not. Either way, nothing should detract from his excellence. He’ll only play in the World Cup if Hussey is unfit. Lunacy.
Nonetheless 230 seemed more than gettable. The wicket was far from a batsman’s paradise but neither was it doing much. Instead, England contrived to mess it up pretty much from the beginning.
Prior got probably the ball of the day from Lee and edged to Watson at slip in the 3rd over for a duck. I still don’t think he should be opening, being much better suited to the lower middle order, but to him little blame could be attached today.
But it was the last two balls of the 8th over which really knocked the stuffing out of England’s innings as the rejevunated Bollinger, now channeling Alan Davidson and Wasim Akram simultaneously trapped Strauss in front and bowled Pietersen through the gate first up.
Trott and Bell made a good job of repairing the innings and at 83-3 in the 24th over looked to have got England back on top, especially as that purveyor of long hops and non turning filth, Steve Smith, was into the attack. But of course as a commentator it doesn’t pay to express one’s opinions too forcefully, and just as I was rubbing my hands with glee at another half tracker, Trott contrived to pull said ball into the mitts of David Hussey at mid wicket.
Even after Bell went cutting loosely at Lee to make the score 96-5 Morgan and Yardy still managed to fight back. But just as we were applauding their bravery in taking the “batting powerplay”, the one thing that always happens in “batting powerplays” happened. The bowlers took wickets. First Morgan was well caught in the deep by Tait, then Yardy insanely got involved in a mix up with Bresnan and Prior (running for Bresnan who had a calf niggle) and was run out by yards.
The rest is too painful to tell save that England were bowled out for 184 with five overs remaining. There was the odd lusty blow from Bresnan and a delicious cut from Tredwell but it was never going to be enough.
No doubt England will console themselves with the thought that Anderson and Broad wait to return, but it is not in the bowling department that England are failing. It is the batsmen’s inability to display the patience so on show during the test series that is currently their undoing.
No one is carving out the innings around which the other batsmen can play their shots. Watson and Marsh have shown the value of patience and what runs can be made when the eye is well and truly in. Too often England’s batsmen are panicking, and the dreadful running between the wickets is further evidence of muddled thinking.
They have time before the World Cup to sort it out, but Trott looks like a man in need of a rest. Bell needs to open, and Collingwood needs to come back into the side.
Australia’s batting is vulnerable and they have twice been saved by stand out innings so the cause is far from lost, but if England aren’t careful it will take until the 7th match to work it out, and that kind of déjà vu I can live without.