Ashes 2017 | Talking points from Day 2 of the first Test

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Ashes 2017 | Talking points from Day 2 of the first Test

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Faizan Qadiri

11/24/2017

After ending Day 1 with a score of 196/4, David Malan (56) and Moeen Ali (38) added 50 runs, before the former perished to bring an end to the 83-run stand. In the second innings, the Australian top order collapsed for 76/4 before Steve Smith (64*) and Shaun Marsh (44*) guided the hosts to 165/4.

Brief Scores : England 302/10 (James Vince 83, David Malan 56; Pat Cummins 3/85, Mitchell Starc 3/77) lead Australia 165/4 (Steve Smith 64*, Shaun Marsh 44*; James Anderson 1/26, Stuart Broad 1/18) by 137 runs.

A tale of two captains

Steve Smith has been a great servant for his country over the last seven years and the numbers he has racked up, especially in Test cricket where he averages almost 60, are enough to prove that. However, when it comes to his captaincy, there is still that secret ingredient missing. It might be that Australia have been blessed with great captains for quite a while now, and when the comparison creeps in, he falls well short of his predecessors. This was on full display on Day 2 as it took him almost 15 overs to realize that he needed a Plan B because England were on the ascendency once again. While he did eventually get it right by forcing the English batsmen to play the short deliveries, he needs to be more proactive in his decision making.

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His counterpart, however, looks like he has it all figured out. As soon as Cameron Bancroft was dismissed, and even though Root had two more pacers who could exploit the new ball, the English skipper introduced spin to trouble Usman Khawaja, whose struggles against spin are well documented. But wasn’t just Khawaja who had a plan associated with him. David Warner was cramped for room and it eventually led to the opener throwing his wicket away. Similarly, the fields that were set for Handscombe and Smith appeared to have proper motives behind them. One trick, however, that Root seemed to have missed is the option for another spinner – a decision that could have proved be devastating on this Gabba wicket.

The psychological battle

The one thing that always set the great Aussie teams apart from their peers was their expertise in playing mind games. Good teams would play them and under the cackling of all the Aussie sledging, many would just gift their wickets away after the Men in Yellow got under their skin. But not this time. This England side looked like they were not interested in getting into a talkfest with their opponents and were completely focused on the job at hand. This was evident in the first innings when both Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins had a go at James Anderson with some choice words. Even as Anderson had walked out to bat, Warner, was quick to pass a few comments. However, the Englishman maintained his cool and, in a very dismissive tone, just asked the Aussies to “shut up”. 

When Anderson got the leather in his hands, most fans would have expected him to return the favour in kind with Warner at the crease. However, despite beating the Aussie vice-captain hands down on multiple occasions, Anderson refused to react. While it would be naive to assume that the English won’t start with some sledging of their own sometime later in the series, they will definitely not do it while they are in complete control of a match.  

One man team?

Coming to India, earlier this year, not many people gave Australia a chance of getting anything out of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, Steve Smith produced a performance that not many can claim or hope to match. In four matches in India, Smith scored an incredible 499 runs at an average of 71.28 with three centuries, including one on the rank turner in Pune. However, with no support from anyone else, Australia lost the series despite winning the first match. The only other players who have shown some sort of resilience this season have been David Warner (42.53) and Peter Handscomb (42.33).

While Warner’s performance depends on how good a start he can get off to, Handscomb isn’t too dependable. If his century against Pakistan in Sydney is excluded his average falls to 36.18. Usman Khawaja can’t play spin if his life depended on it while Shaun Marsh looks like a rookie when the pressure is on. That, unfortunately, is the entire Australian middle order. With Tim Paine, Starc, and Cummins making up the lower order, if Steve Smith fails, Australia might be doomed in the Ashes. On the other hand, the Ashes have produced heroes before and maybe Australia are hoping for one more to rise in 2017.

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