Friday, August 9, 2013

Durham Day 1

It was hard not to think of Henry Ford’s old line about lies, damn lies and statistics when someone on the radio commentary reeled off the scores registered by sides batting first at Chester-le-Street through the first part of the English first class season. There was a fair bit of discussion on air, and, again, when I went to look at the browser in the morning, the figures were run up the flagpole again (here).

Scores by teams batting first in five County Championship matches at Durham’s home ground read 250, 237, 259, 267 and 253. A glance at the score cards from those games reveals a dearth of familiar names, at least as far as current international players are concerned, though Collingwood and Onions play for Durham, and the Somerset side that got rolled after that 250 for 132 and 186 included Marcus Trescothick.

Root, Phil Jaques, Bairstow and Bresnan were in the Yorkshire side that chased down 339 to win after Durham made 237 batting first, Chris Rogers captained the Middlesex side that extracted a draw after Durham made 259, Warwickshire didn’t have any hint of the Quasimodo factor but just failed to chase down 257 to win after the Durham first innings of 267 and Chanderpaul was in the Derbyshire side that got walloped by 279 after Durham managed 253 in the first dig.

Look at it on that basis and you’d be forced to conclude Chester-le-Street is a fairly low scoring venue, but Test wickets are different to County tracks, right?

The Australian (here) points out that while the highest score on the ground this First Class season is the 339 registered by Yorkshire thanks to a big ton from Root those games were played on seaming pitches not this tailor-made dustbowl.

So what do we take from a first day where an England side that hasn’t delivered on their supposed ability went from 2-107 to 9-238?

Well, the first point is that Australia’s bowling is our strength, and looks to be developing an ability to hunt as a pack. Harris, I thought, was wayward early and didn’t force Cook to play enough, but the economy rates from Watson and Siddle (combined figures 30 overs, 11 maidens, 2 for 62) and Bird (21-8-1-58) set things up rather nicely for Lyon’s 4-42 off 20.

Those figures from Lyon include the relative mauling that came early on from Pietersen, who set out to dominate the spinner. KP is on record as saying he doesn’t rate spinners in general. He particularly doesn’t rate Lyon which makes, I think, for an interesting contest given the fact that Lyon learned his trade in the country, where everyone down to Eleven is inclined to have a slap.

Pietersen might have tonked the offie for 26 runs off 29 Lyon deliveries in Manchester before Clarke removed the spinner from the attack and set out to deliver another mauling here, but the combination of Clarke and Lyon set things up rather neatly here.

Lyon is very much a work in progress (I’ve made that point repeatedly) so having been tonked three fours before Clarke took the offie off this time around, you might have expected him to be shielded from Pietersen. What came next suggests there’s been a bit of thought go into this little battle.

Lyon was back at the bowling crease a mere six overs later, with one key difference. He switched to around the wicket rather than over the wicket. I was particularly interested in Lyons’ comment to the ABC’s Jim Maxwell that coming around the wicket brings in the lbw, caught slip and caught bat-pad, so it just keeps me in the game a lot more.

That seems to run right in the face of the old time conventional wisdom about right armers going around the wicket, which takes LBW out of the question if the ball pitches outside leg stump. Lyon must therefore be looking to pitch in line, straighten the offie to bring in the LBW and bat pad, and use the arm ball to bring slip into play.

It was an arm ball that ended up accounting for Pietersen, caught behind, rather than at slip, but there you go. Earlier Lyon had picked up Trott at short leg (diving effort from Khawaja under the lid), so two wickets in the space of a dozen runs (all boundaries from Pietersen) off 16 balls suggests that there’s progress being made in the work in progress.

Throw in Bell and Bairstow and you’ve got an underrated offie ripping the guts out of the much vaunted English middle order. You could, of course, be hypercritical of the approach adopted by the English bats, but I’m inclined to the view, on the whole, you can only bat as well as you’re allowed to.

From time to time, on flat tracks, with the ball doing absolutely nothing, batsmen can do absolutely as they like. Equally, once in a while, the bowlers find a track that suits them or someone manages a day when the ball comes out just right, but, on the whole, the battle between bat and ball comes down to a waiting game as the bowlers probe and the bats counter attack.

Based on Day One in Durham one has to suspect we’re in for an intriguing contest at what seems to be a low scoring venue.

Much of that will, of course, depend on how we bat when we get to the crease, and I’m reasonably bullish about the prospects after the top order finally got it together in Manchester. Forget the declaration batting in the second dig, and muse, for a moment, on what might have been had Khawaja got started rather than dudded and you’d possibly be bullish as well.

For anyone who has been missing the Hughesy take on the cricket, apologies for a total silence through the Old Trafford Test, which coincided with a fair chunk of road trip due to visitors from Japan. I managed a fair chunk of the pre-lunch session on Day One there after a long day on the water over to Whitehaven Beach, but road trip considerations, neck muscles that were giving me hell on the Friday and Saturday and an early departure for Cairns on Sunday morning meant the Sports Desk wasn’t going to get too much chance to opine on developments.

But, like the Australian side, we’re very much back in business, and if you’re after an interesting read, try this very interesting piece on Peter Siddle (here).

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