Sunday, August 4, 2013

England Hanging On

The third day at Old Trafford proved to be an interesting if not decisive one with England finishing the day 7 wickets down and still some way shy of the follow on target. The first session and even the first hour this morning could prove pivotal in the entire match - and series. The weather forecast is not good however.

Michael Clarke must take huge credit not just for his superlative innings but also - reviews aside - his captaincy in this match. Australia's field settings yesterday and their bowling to a clear plan went a huge way to stymieing England's run rate.

One could only speculate on how this series would swing were Graeme Swann in a baggy green. The unavailability of a class spinner is a huge hindrance to Michael Clarke. England will not feel much sympathy however given years of the likes of Tufnell, Croft and latterly Ashley Giles up against a certain S.K. Warne with Stuart McGill waiting in the wings for good measure.

Right now the teams actually look fairly balanced. Both batting line ups have had the occasional great individual performance such as Clarke and Root and Kevin Pietersen yesterday. Brad Haddin has outplayed Prior so far with both glove and bat and the Australian seam attack has been a match for England's much vaunted threesome. It is only really Graeme Swann that throws the equation on balance towards England.

England's batsmen again flattered to deceive yesterday at times. Cook got in and got out. Trott looks in horrible self doubting nick and Bairstow continues to toil. KP and Ian Bell offered some respite however with some imperious stroke play at times. Indeed there was genuine shock when Ian Bell got out to a beautiful delivery from Ryan Harris that nipped back and took the top of his off stump.

Pietersen enjoyed a reprieve when Australia failed to review a fairly plum LBW, Darren Lehmann signalling the finger afterwards from the balcony. His innings however showed measure and maturity as well as some fine shots such as the wonderful boundary that brought up his hundred.

A draw is no good for Australia and with two days left time is against them. If England fail to achieve the follow on then Clarke can press ahead but if they do, he will be facing the reality of setting a fairly low declaration target especially given the weather. History tells us however that few sides chase 300 or more successfully in the fourth innings, we can expect Clarke to be bold.

England badly need Broad and Prior to bat for at least an hour this morning unmolested and if England can find a way to bat through to lunch then a draw may well begin to look the most likely outcome.

Clarke's Australia have endured horrendous - some of it justified - criticism leading up to and throughout this tour, they have fought back superbly and should be given full credit.

Clarke however must take the lion's share as it is his wonderful 'daddy' hundred that has set the game up for them. His captaincy in this match also has put Alastair Cook in the shade and there is much for England to ponder on, not the least the continued failings of Johnny Bairstow.

Should England secure the draw and retain the Urn there will be smiles all around but even without an Australian victory at Old Trafford, serious thought must be given to England's prospects down. Australia will prove a far more daunting prospect at the Gabba and the WACA in particular.

The English press and pundits have been talking of winning both series as almost a formality. Sir Ian Botham is a boys' own hero but at times he is becoming English commentary's answer to a certain William Lawrie. One only needs to listen to the likes of Shane Warne or Michael Atherton to appreciate the benefit of balanced insightful commentary.

The Ashes could be gone for Australia by the end of today but there is every reason to believe things will be tighter from here on in - No Nonsense.