Posts Tagged ‘Trentbridge’

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Inventors are held in high esteem, albeit the fact that some of the best discoveries and inventions have been a by-product of an accident. Corn Flakes. Microwave Ovens. Post-it notes. Potato Chips. And Ashton Agar, the batsman.

Theory could point to the fact that his inclusion was intent to shatter Pietersen’s psychological stumps. Forget Lyon’s form with the ball, or the bat in hindsight for the time being. At 117/9, most would’ve expected Cook and Root to have been practicing their bat swings with their mindsets sold to the idea of getting ready to bat anytime soon.

At lunch, the scoreboard read 229/9. By the time the Australian innings came to a close, Agar fell agonizingly short of a record-book inscribing century on debut by a number 11 batsman.

Poor old Hughes would’ve wondered why God was so hostile to him. After years of living up to a label that read ‘one of Australia’s biggest unfulfilled promises’, he ended up having the best seat in the house to witness a teenage debutant, at number 11, overshadow his gritty performance. One which has been long overdue. The game of cricket has a funny way of biting you at times.

Agar’s no mug with the bat though. His first class record spanning 10 games paints a batting average of 33, with 3 fifties to his name. You could’ve been forgiven for associating these stats to a young, promising teenage batsman coming out of the intimidating Australian setup.

His brand of batting against Finn, Anderson and Swann was fearless. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t have fears, he batted in spite of knowing that some of those deliveries could have sent him back to the pavilion – be it the scorcher that sent Clarke home, or the wild turner that left Haddin perplexed.  He survived a stumping early in his innings. And then hit Swann for six a few overs later.

Ashton Agar's dream debut ended two runs short of a century

Ashton Agar’s dream debut ended two runs short of a century

Within no time, he became the first number 11 in the history of the game to score a fifty on debut. And as if to demonstrate his acclimatization, he sent Swann over long on for his second six of the day. I wonder what Glenn McGrath would’ve made of this innings. It was, quite frankly, a ridiculously brilliant session.

Tino Best had flirted similarly with the English bowlers batting at number 11 last summer. He ended up five runs short of a deserved hundred. In the shorter format, England had the Champions Trophy robbed off their sights when a last wicket partnership by the West Indians sent the trophy packing to the Caribbean. That made it feel even more inexcusable to have sullied England’s reputation towards cleaning off the tail. It is staggering that it has come to this again.

By the time Australia had bowled themselves out for 280, Agar holed out to deep midwicket two runs short of an outrageous hundred. And as Shane Warne, exhibitor of the game of cricket’s most painful and agonizingly just-short-of-a-hundred moment, will attest, this will be etched in the pages of the history book forever. It was as though William Dear’s Angels in the Outfield was being staged live a couple of decades later. And to think this hugely contentious game opened on Day 2 amid great hopes of an English ascendancy.

Finn’s struggles with the ball locked one end to disparity, while Stuart Broad’s injury meant that he just about had enough in him to bowl a few overs, go for aplenty but walk away with undoubtedly the most crucial wicket of the day. Whether Broad’s fitness played a role in England’s inability to wipe off the Australian tail is something we wouldn’t know, but Agar’s batting certainly didn’t seem to possess any real weakness that a fully fit Broad could have exploited.

As we move towards Day 3, with England ahead by a few having lost Root and Trott to Starc, the home team have a monumental psychological barrier to conquer before they start entertaining any hopes of taking a lead in the series by the time they leave Nottingham.

Well played Ashton Agar. And spare a thought for Phil Hughes.


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Consider this.

In the days just before the closely contested Ashes, Andy Murray wins the Wimbledon. Australia’s tactical blunders during the lead-up seem painfully obvious on either camp. It becomes mysterious to note how certain writers, or former cricketers, magically understood and responded to the sacking of Mickey Arthur, and the installment of Darren Lehmann, as an ingenious move towards Australia being tilted as favorites.

The English press doesn’t need an excuse to run tactical, negative campaigns – they take every opportunity to remind the public, and the Australians, about their self-inflicted chaos, unrelenting in their desire to also publish demi-god narratives around Cook and Murray, often providing the much needed humor bordering sledgehammer stupidity.

I suspect that the Australians saw past the outright cynicism being depicted. Handing Agar his debut was a reflection of their experimental attitude, coupled with a huge dose of self-confidence. Or his services for a solitary Pietersen wicket. And England’s choice of Steven Finn over Tim Bresnan, whose statistics at Trentbridge and ability to reverse swing would’ve made him an automatic choice hands down, sent a puzzling message.

The lack in parity to this series’ build-up, given the absence of pyrotechnics involving verbatim mouthfuls that we have so been used to, was nullified by sessions two and three of Day 1. Australia’s bowling wasn’t as portentous as a score of 215 would indicate, rather an obvious display of England becoming victims of their self-aggrandizing stroke decision making had the writing on the wall. And what could pose as a better example than the loose stroke Cook played to unscrew the wheels of his parked bus that fetched him in excess of 700 runs the last times the two teams met.

Peter Siddle

Siddle’s Five-For sparked off the Ashes once again © The Australian

That doesn’t deny the due credit Peter Siddle deserves for his five-for. A game of test cricket is about remaining patient, waiting to exploit the right opportunity and the right time. And that is precisely what Siddle did, inducing the Englishmen in to playing strokes they otherwise wouldn’t have.

It isn’t often that you get a chance to see a frustrated Trott at the crease, his suicidal whiff of the wand outside off-stump ending what otherwise looked a promising, foundation-laying 48. Australia’s plan of bowling straight at Trott reaped few results, with the number 3 batsman happy to work anything around middle-off-outside-off down the leg side.

Only a shot as un-Trottesque as that could’ve sent him back to the pavilion. Chris Rogers would’ve been in his nappies the last time Trott would’ve even thought of playing such a shot. Siddle’s figures would have been a mere footnote had Pietersen and Trott not succumbed to loose shots.

A brief period of counter-attacking batsmanship featuring Broad and Bairstow was otherwise what threw hopes of England posing a decently sizeable total. A momentary lapse in concentration sent Broad back home, followed by a classical Bairstow dismissal – playing all around a straight delivery. England crashed down like a pack of cards placed in front of a table fan.

And so did Australia’s top order. You could’ve been forgiven for thinking that the same sample set of batsmen swapped shirts after seven minutes, and continued their tryst with flaying at deliveries outside off stump. And so did Clarke to the delivery that almost got Finn his hat-trick.

The margins of success between a good and a bad shot played to a ball outside off stump are so inconsiderable that video analyses are unlikely to render anything qualitative. On another day, the shots played by Watson and Cowan could have ended up in the cover boundary. But they played them early, all right. If a naked eye couldn’t spot it, observing how late Chris Rogers played the ball at the other end stood a relative frame of reference. Experience counts.

So does luck. Or brilliance, however you see it. With the initial limelight on Finn and his pace, it took a peach of a ball from Anderson to get rid of Michael Clarke, almost as though the occasion was saved for England’s spearhead bowler to get rid of Australia’s most dangerous batsman. Any hope that Australia harbored on their captain to deliver was smoke-screened by a late out-swinger that kissed the top-of-off. Clarke would’ve fallen victim to that, whether he’d been on 0, or 150.

James Anderson lived up to expectations with a classic out-swinger that sent Clarke back home

James Anderson lived up to expectations with a classic out-swinger that sent Clarke back home

It looks a platform that would require the patience of an archetypal anchorman to crawl through to a hundred. Smith’s unsure methods, indicated by his ‘little boy waiting in a dentist’s room’ nervousness towards the not-so-short deliveries, laid the onus on veteran Rogers, playing his second test, to sail the Australian towards safer shores.

But the old statesman didn’t last long, falling leg-before to a straight delivery from Anderson and knocking of a tally from the review count as he walked back. With Graeme Swann still awaiting a swing of his arms, there seemed every possibility of another wicket falling given the Englishman’s healthy track record of a guaranteed scalp within his first few overs. And that the badly out-of-form Phil Hughes walked in at six.

It makes you wonder the sort of message that is being sent across when a batsman of the caliber of Smith is sent ahead of Hughes. Not to doubt the former’s ability, he is a gritty individual but isn’t considered in the same league of batsmen as Phil Hughes is, although recent statistics won’t point necessarily so.

But to his credit, Smith started looking more assured with every ball faced. He started playing with soft hands, often removing his bottom hand off the grip to place the ball delicately between fielders for quick singles. His determination wins over his not so quaint technique.

And with a day lasting as long as a Djokovic preamble to a serve, a pleasantly surprising feature of an English summer, England hold the edge on a day that would’ve had them made read unpleasant verdicts of themselves during the innings break. What a comeback to spark the Ashes!