Three days was all that separated the Lord's and the Headingley Tests, but it felt like both teams picked up the pieces exactly from where they left off as they traded blows with each other on an exhilarating Day 1. The English weather did try to steal the limelight, but it failed miserably.
Jofra Archer - Overused and overburnt?
“Don’t kill the goose that laid the golden egg” - these were the words of Ian Bishop to Joe Root post the Lord’s Test, referring to the workload that was being inflicted on Jofra Archer. Sadly enough, it looks like the English skipper hasn’t learnt from his mistakes as once again, Archer bowled a staggering 33% of the total overs on Day 1. Of course, the speedster repaid his captain’s faith in him by gifting him a six-wicket haul and bundling the Aussies out under 53 overs, but once again, looking at the bigger picture, one must raise the question - how far can England stretch him?
Archer has bowled 61 overs since the start of the Lord’s Test. To put things into perspective, no other pacer from either team has bowled more than 50 overs during the same duration, a staggering indication of how much the 24-year-old has been overused. Keep in mind that he had to prove his fitness by playing in a second XI match for Sussex prior to the Lord’s Test, before which he had just played all 11 World Cup matches for England, literally from start to finish, as he ended up bowling the super over which won them the tournament.
The English team management should look no further than their counterparts Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, both of who have had five years of their careers taken away due to burnout and stress fractures. That, of course, was the primary reason why the Aussies treaded with caution when it came to Pattinson, resting him for the Lord’s Test. Archer might now be a star and who knows, could actually help his team regain the Ashes, but England must make sure not to compromise his fitness and future in quest of taking back the urn.
David Warner sends out Ashes warning at the right time
It is never easy batting at the crease knowing that no less than 18,000 people want you to fail, let alone the fact that you’re coming on the back of four single-digit scores up against a man who has gotten the better of you thrice in four innings. But then again, if you’re David Warner, all those things become irrelevant - or at least that’s what he showed us today. In the absence of Steve Smith, Australia needed their second-best batsman to step up big time, and step up he did, in style, silencing his critics by scoring what could actually turn out to be an invaluable 61 on a surface which did all sorts.
The runs didn’t come easy, no they didn’t. Warner was squared up innumerable times in the first ten overs by both Stuart Broad and Archer. He saw his partners Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja fall, rain delays were aplenty, but he ensured that he didn’t let any of those factors break his concentration. Along with Smith’s "like-for-like replacement" Marnus Labuschagne, the southpaw ground out the initial onslaught by the English bowlers before he eventually latched onto them to get to his 30th Test fifty, one he would probably rate higher than most of the other 29.
But in the bigger frame of things, Warner couldn’t have found form at a better time for the Aussies, as potentially, heading into the fourth Test at Manchester - with Smith all set to return - they might have three of their top four batsmen in form, which might spell trouble for the English.
Winning the toss - boon or bane?
“I was hoping he won the toss” smirked Tim Paine after losing the toss earlier today. At Lord’s, too, he’d said the same, and eventually, winning the toss and bowling first almost backfired for Australia as they barely managed to scrape a draw thanks to the brilliance of Travis Head and Labuschagne. Rain, a pitch that was under covers due to the former and overhead conditions were some of the factors which prompted Paine to make the call at Lord’s, and with every passing day, it felt like he’d erred in his judgement.
Fast forward a week later, the two captains were caught in the same situation once again. This time, however, it was Root’s turn to win the toss, but unlike Paine, the Yorkshire man had no second thoughts as he put the Aussies in to bat without hesitation. Of course, with the same factors as mentioned above and with a superman like Archer at your disposal, why would any captain not bowl first? Eventually, his team bundled out the Aussies for just 179 and returned the happier of the two sides post stumps, but should they really be?
Yes, the Australian pace attack has not been at their lethal best so far this series, but if Day 1 is anything to go by, England would at least need a 70 to 80-run lead to be safe, as 150 might eventually turn out to be an impossible total to chase down in the fourth innings. Jack Leach was not used today and so the effectiveness of spin on this track still remains a mystery, but one can bet that there’ll be a few nervous faces in the English camp when Nathan Lyon decides to roll his arm over tomorrow. Time will only tell if Root’s decision to bowl first is a masterstroke or a blunder, but for the time being, it looks like both captains would rather be on the losing side when it comes to the toss.
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