On the Third Day..

Following on from my previous posts (here and here) about the First Ashes Test in Cardiff, I can’t help adding a quick post about my visit to Lord’s yesterday (Saturday) to see the third day’s play at the Second Ashes Test.

The circumstances of the day’s play were a bit different to those at Cardiff, to say the least. On the first day England had batted first, starting in great style but then surrending some silly wickets. At the end of day 1 England were 364-6 with Strauss unbeaten on 161, the total score not being dissimilar to that on the first day at Cardiff. On day 2 Strauss was out almost immediately and it looked like it was going to be a disappointing day for England. But the last pair added 47 runs and England got to 425 all out. When the Austalians batted, however, England took control of the game, reducing them to 156-8 by the end of Day 2. I don’t know what got into the Ozzies on Friday but most of them lost their wickets to daft shots rather than good bowling. Perhaps it was nerves.

I arrived at Lord’s on Saturday morning, about 9.15. I have been to Lord’s a few times before but not recently and never as the guest of a member of the MCC (Anton). I joined the lengthy queue for member’s guests but made it into the ground in good time to find seats in the Warner Stand (next to the Pavilion) and then have a look around the cricket museum (where the Ashes themselves are on display).

It was a considerably posher occasion than Cardiff, with MCC ties, blazers and other paraphernalia on display. Picnic hampers were in evidence around the enclosure and  champagne corks popped at regularly intervals. I contented myself, however, with lager and a bacon butty from the bar behind the stand.

Before the start of play the talk around the crowd was all about knocking over the last two Australian batsmen quickly and then enforcing the follow on. (If the team batting second doesn’t get within 200 runs of the team batting first then they can be required to bat again by the captain of the other team, which is called “following on”.) As it happened the tailenders clung on doggedly and it looked for a while they would close in on the 225 runs needed to avoid the follow-on. However, the last two wickets did eventually fall for a total of 215, leaving a deficit of 210 runs. England could have asked Australia to bat again but, to the consternation of most of the crowd, the England captain Andrew Strauss declined to enforce the follow-on.

There are pros and cons making a team follow on. One of the pros is that it maintains the momentum of the bowling performance. One of the cons is that the bowlers have already bowled an entire innings and have to do the same again almost immediately. They might be a bit tired, which could hand the advantage to the batting side if they can avoid losing early wickets. If the Australian batsmen had scored well after following on then England might also have needed to bat last on a pitch that may have started to break up. Batting last in a Test match is usually quite difficult.

I think Strauss is quite a cautious man and I think he decided that Australia’s strong batting display at Cardiff was enough evidence of ability for him not to want to risk them posting a huge second-innings score. England’s brittle second-innings batting performance at Cardiff provided further reason for not wanting to get into a run chase.

Strauss obviously wants to win the game but he also won’t want to lose it from this position. Test cricket isn’t just win-or-lose: there is also a third possibility, a draw (like at Cardiff). Often the biggest chance of winning a game is to give the side batting last a target that they might try to chase in risky fashion and get bowled out. However, if the batting side are good they might actually get the runs.  Too big a target and they won’t be tempted to go for it, too small and they might well reach it. Maximizing the probability of winning does not miminize the probability of losing in this situation. If England simply didn’t want to lose they would bat out time, accumulate a huge total and give Australia insufficient time to make the runs. England might still win in such a strategy but a draw becomes much more probable.

It was clearly Strauss’ judgement was that England needed more runs but he wanted to get them quickly enough to declare and try to force a result in the two remaining days. The England batsmen came out just before lunch to try to push on to a huge lead. They started very brightly but unfortunately both openers Strauss and Cook were out shortly after lunch. There then followed a very turgid couple of hours when Pietersen and Bopara struggled to score runs. Pietersen, usually a prolific hitter, apeared to be struggling with his Achilles injury while Bopara is clearly out of touch at this level. Both batsmen scratched around unconvincingly for most of the session and then got themselves out.

At 174-4 it was looking like another collapse might be on the cards and the Australians might have to chase a total under about 400, which appeared to me to be eminently achievable with two full days play available after Saturday. However, Collingwood and (especially) Prior batted superbly well together taking the score to 260-5 and then Flintoff and Collingwood carried it onto 311 before Collingwood was out.

Many members of the crowd were screaming for a declaration now, but the weather intervened. It had been getting very dark for some time and finally started raining about 6.30. The umpires called off play for the day with England at 311-6, a lead of 521 with two days left to play, a good position to be in by any standards.

Unless the weather turns very bad over the next two days then it seems to me a draw is a very unlikely possibility now. If England declare overnight and Australia can bat for two days they will score enough runs to win the game, but in doing so they will have to surpass by some margin the highest ever total reached in the last innings to win a Test match. Frankly, if they can do that they deserve to win! On the other hand, England have plenty of time to bowl them out even if a  bit is lost to the weather. I actually think Strauss’ decision to bat again was probably a good one and I think he should carry on batting tomorrow to get another 100 runs or so. There will still be time to bowl out the Ozzies, but the chance of them scoring enough to win the game is smaller.

I left the ground and walked to Paddington to get the train back to Cardiff and was home by 10pm. A very satisfactory day.

Postscript. I just looked at the scorecard of today’s play (Sunday) before posting this. England declared their innings closed on 311-6 and Australia went into bat this morning. At lunch they were 76-2. The odds are in favour of England winning, but Ponting is still in. It’s nicely poised.

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14 Responses to “On the Third Day..”

  1. It is no longer nicely poised.

  2. telescoper Says:

    Australia 178-5 at tea doesn’t look very good for them. But it’s nicely poised from my point of view!

  3. telescoper Says:

    At 6.30 on the Fourth day Australia’s batsmen Clarke and Haddin had batted them to 313-5, a truly superb effort by them. Now it really is nicely poised. If Australia bat until tea tomorrow they will probably have enough runs to win the game: they only need 208 more, with 5 wickets standing. An Australian victory is by no means improbable. This game is far from over.

    • telescoper Says:

      And finally, with about 15 minutes to spare before lunch on the last day – and largely thanks to a magnificent bolwing effort from Flintoff – England bowled out Australia for a gallant 406. England beat Australia at Lord’s for the first time in 75 years, by the comfortable margin of 115 runs. Bloody marvellous.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    YIPPEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      You’ll be interested to hear that Cardiff Council is celebrating the Ashes victory by finally resurfacing the road outside my house. They were going to do this during the week of the Cardiff test but apparently changed their minds. I’ve got steamrollers, drills, the works battering away until midnight. Bastards.

      Peter

      P.S. They actually finished at 1.15am.

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’ll bet Columbo didn’t think much of it either. Set him on them.

    Re the cricket, I would have given man of the match to Jimmy Anderson, not Freddie. Before Anderson took four top-order wickets in the Australian first innings they were well in the game, but after that they never recovered. Freddie bowled well and Strauss batted excellently, but the pivot of the match was Anderson’s bowling at their top order in the first innings.

    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      I think your analysis agrees with Ricky Ponting who said they lost the game on the 2nd day. Flintoff roughed up the Ozzie tailenders a bit on Saturday but didn’t get them out. I gather he was pretty irresistible on Monday though.

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    I never like to agree with Ricky Ponting, but…

  7. Man Of The Match was a bit tricky here: Strauss for day one; Anderson for day two; Prior (!) for day three; Clarke for day four; Flintoff for day five. I have no problem with the choice of Flintoff, although I think it only really makes sense from a broader point of view. Taking this as a cricket match in isolation, I’d have said Strauss for his first innings, notwithstanding the fact that many of his runs came from Johnson-supplied filth that Geoffrey Boycott’s long-suffering mother-in-law could have played wit’ both hands tied behin’ back.

    • telescoper Says:

      Johnson has such a strange action that when anything at all goes wrong he’s all over the shop. If rumours are true, Brett Lee might be back for Edgbaston in which case Mr Johnson might be for the chop, despite his excellent batting in the 2nd innings. I would have given MoM to Flintoff too, I think, but I hope nobody forgets what a superb innings Clarke played. But then they tend to forget if you’re on the losing side….

  8. If Clarke had, say, reached 200 and the Aussies had gone close to the 522 then he’d have been a fair choice, but otherwise it had to go to one of the three English players mentioned.

    As for Johnson, Bumble made the good point that non-vertical bowling actions are far more risky in the sense that an early or late release results in a loss of line, as well as length (which is the standard result of mis-timing). Given the geometry of the pitch and the angle of Johnson’s arm, this immediately makes it clear that his tolerance is tiny, and maybe explains the dross he served up at Lord’s.

    My preference would be for him to sort this out and remain in the team, but if he can’t I’m not sure I want Lee in either. Aside from the fact he’s been injured, he too struggled with the basics in 2005, even to the point of twice taking wickets off no balls (which were correctly called as such). The man I’d really like to see in the team, possibly at the expense of Siddle, is Stuart Clark. His key virtue is control and, whilst not quite of McGrath’s calibre, is by far the closest thing we have to a like-for-like replacement. Given McGrath’s love of the Lord’s slope, one can only imagine what Clark might have done there by simply landing the ball short of a length on off-stump.

    • telescoper Says:

      I think you need Hauritz to recover from his bad finger too. He looked a useful bowler on Saturday until he hurt his finger again executing a perfect misfield. I think you’ll need a spinner at Edgbaston.

  9. [...] (inside) four days, I was struck by how much the pattern of this match followed that of the Lord’s Test  that I was lucky enough to see a part [...]

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