The first three Tests in the Ashes series have been exciting – plenty of scintillating cricket, the odd questionable tactic, and some glaring examples of administrative blundering.
The series has provided ample batting highlights, including the stubborn resistance of Usman Khawaja and the skilful placement of Joe Root. There’s been abundant audacity, ranging from the unlikely pairing of Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett to the brilliant counterattacking strokeplay of Travis Head and Mitch Marsh. England’s captain, Ben Stokes, oscillates between sedate defence and explosive hitting that sends the ball sailing deep into the crowd.
Plenty of batters have made starts but failed to convert them into match-winning scores. I was uncertain about Harry Brook’s talent leading into the series but his innings that piloted England to a much-needed victory in the third Test confirmed his outstanding ability.
Australia’s bowling has been headed by Pat Cummins, who is a standout performer. Mitchell Starc displayed great attacking skill in a spirited attempt to bring Australia victory, and with it the urn at Headingley. The serious injury to Nathan Lyon at Lord’s has made it obvious how much Australia depended on their consistent offspinner.
England rely heavily on the skill of Stuart Broad and his chokehold on David Warner to spearhead their attack. They belatedly introduced the big-hearted Mark Wood into the series and he proved his worth with a high-speed attack at Headingley. Wood’s inclusion highlighted a perennial English failing: selection. Not only did they fail to introduce his threatening pace until the third Test, they’ve chosen a wicketkeeper who is a batter first, in Jonny Bairstow, whose mistakes with the gloves have cost his side dearly. They also chose to offer red-carpet treatment to Moeen Ali, who in his prime was never much of a bowling or batting threat to Australia.
England’s fumbling failure to catch securely and save runs on the ground has been one of the main differences between the two teams.
The captaincy styles of Cummins and Stokes are very different, but they both admirably try to achieve victory from the first delivery. Stokes has done wonders in cajoling England into acknowledging the priority of scoring runs and taking wickets – as it should be.
The regular bouncer barrages used by both sides does not amount to a plausible tactic, as it is too demanding on the bowler. The resultant scattered field placings are also a surefire signal to any flint-eyed batter. The most effective weapon of the bouncer is still surprise.
There have been a number of controversies, headed by Bairstow’s second-innings dismissal at Lord’s. Bairstow was out and his thoughtlessness was the result of an abject failure to respect his wicket. What Alex Carey did was simply smart cricket; there was no deviousness involved and the crowd reaction was despicable, including ludicrous cries about Carey being a cheat.
If Bairstow was trying to highlight the way etiquette has been ignored (a batter should be ready to face up when the bowler is in position to begin his run) his thought process was commendable but his method was totally wrong.
Umpires have been lax in not enforcing this unwritten rule when it comes to batters wandering out of their crease, and the administrators are negligent for not backing umpires to the hilt. That has served to further expose the administrators’ inaction. They haven’t had the guts to explain some of the more controversial laws. Consequently the players undeservedly hear despicable chants of “Cheat!” from an ill-informed public.
In the case of replays for catches, perhaps the administrators haven’t explained the process because there is overwhelming evidence that using replays doesn’t always provide the truth. This is further evidence of how administrators make mistakes and the players suffer the consequences.
Midway through the Lord’s Test, I felt Australia were poised to run away with the Ashes. However, I failed to factor in Stokes’ outstanding inspirational qualities. Australia will still win the Ashes, but it’ll be a hard fight against an England side that continues to compete despite poor selection.
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