Monday, August 12, 2013

After Durham

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the difference between the two sides in this Ashes series starts with the letter B. Quite simply, they’ve got a swag of ‘em and we’re definitely short in that department.

A look at the averages, now that we’ve left the Fourth Test in our wake, is fairly instructive.

For a start you look at Bell. Eight innings, one not out, an even 500 runs, three hundreds, two fifties and an average of 72.42. Next best Root and Pietersen at 37.14 and 34.5 and then there’s no one averaging over thirty.

With the ball, once you skip past Root, whose occasional offies have returned 3-34, there’s Broad with accumulated figures of 144.5 overs, 32 maidens, 17 for 433, averaging 25.47 with two five-fors and a ten-for. Straight underneath him is Swann with 209 overs, 37 maidens, 23 for 621, averaging an even 27 with a brace of five-fors.

The Australian side of the ledger, predictably under the circumstances, with the chopping and changing in selections, isn’t quite so rosy. Clarke is averaging just under 49.5 with the bat, Rogers an even 43, Pattinson, Agar and Warner in the thirties, with two games apiece and things sliding away from there.

With the ball it’s Harris with 20 for 385, averaging 19.25, Siddle with 17 for 447 averaging 26.29 and Lyon with an even 8 for 200 out of the two games he’s played.

You could probably go further with the analysis, but I think it’s fair to say Bell’s runs, the consistency in performance and the partnerships he’s formed with whoever has been at the other end have contributed a fair chunk of the difference between the two sides.

With England resuming overnight at 5-234, quick wickets were the key ingredient if we were going to set ourselves an achievable target, and while Bell didn’t survive the new ball (6-251) and Prior went for a first ball gozzer, Broad (13 off 7) Bresnan (45 off 90) and Swann (30 off 24) took the total to 330, leaving us with a tricky five over spell before lunch.

96 runs in less than two hours off roughly 21 overs was a bit more than you’d expect based on a fairly consistent rate around three an over through the first three days, but that’s what you get when you’re arguably above par for the wicket and conditions and you have the blokes down the end chancing their arms.

Set 299 to win, you’d probably have thought it a bridge too far, taking the wicket and conditions into account, and I was tempted to crash when rain delayed the resumption after lunch. I stuck around long enough to see Rogers’ successful referral, but at none-for, needing to catch Jimbo on the morning walk I headed to bed.

Things were looking good and the consensus among the radio commentary team seemed to be that wickets tended to fall in the morning against the new ball. They’d made much of the fact that the Broad-Bresnan-Anderson-Swann rear guard had stretched things to the point where Australia would have to negotiate two new balls.

On that basis, I reasoned, we’d probably have a tricky little chase in the first hour or two on Tuesday night, though I wasn’t confident we’d last.

Firing up the computer this morning, I wasn’t particularly surprised by the final 74 run margin, which seemed to sit comfortably with the long term stats. What really got me was the clatter of wickets from 1-109 (Rogers, 49) to 6-179 (Watson, 2).

Broad obviously must have bowled well, but a middle order that reads Khawaja 21, Clarke 21, Smith 2, Watson 2, Haddin 4 suggests a lack of stickability in a situation that demands you get your head down and grit it out.

Possibly, if just one of those five had managed to match their best score for the series (and they’ve all managed at least one fifty) and they’d all managed to bat to their fairly modest series average (Khawaja’s the only one who hasn’t got his average above twenty) we’d probably have been looking at that intriguing little struggle tonight scenario.

Instead, we’re looking to The Oval and wondering what we can salvage from the series.

At least we may have answered one question. I think you can pencil in Rogers and Warner as the opening combination at least until Boxing Day.

It’s a bit tough for Hughes and Cowan sitting on the side lines, but I’d probably stick with this middle order, Watson’s groin permitting if we were heading straight into the Fifth Test
But we’re not. There’s a tour match against Northamptonshire between now and The Oval, so that presents Hughes and Cowan to stake a claim, and if either can put together a reasonable score, he’d be looking good for Khawaja’s spot, though one assumes Khawaja will be getting time in the middle as well.

On that basis, Cowan or Hughes, with runs against Northants, in to Three, Khawaja or Smith with runs at Northants at Five or Six (or, possibly, both if Watson’s groin doesn’t come good). Faulkner or Agar are the alternative fall backs for Watto, but that’s going to depend on how the track at The Oval looks.

In the longer term we’ve got Rogers and Warner at the top of the order, Clarke in the middle, and three spots to fill. Someone has the opportunity to stake a firm claim on one of those spots over the next fortnight. If no one can manage that we’ve got an interesting few weeks at the start of the domestic season while we look for contenders.

Questions, questions, questions. It’d be nice to get some answers.

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