Ashes 2019 | Headingley Day 2 Talking Points - Australia's professional pace battery and England's unfortunate identity

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Ashes 2019 | Headingley Day 2 Talking Points - Australia's professional pace battery and England's unfortunate identity

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Anirudh Suresh

08/24/2019

One session was all that it took for England's Ashes hopes to come crashing down as a morning session of mayhem saw the hosts getting bundled out for no more than 67 runs. Meanwhile, Marnus Labuschagne wore his Steve Smith mask yet again as he posted his third consecutive fifty of the series.

Australia’s “professional” pace battery turns up the heat

For pace bowlers, the margin between being aggressive and losing the plot is a very fine one, and post the Jofra Archer - Steve Smith saga, one feared that the Aussies might lose the plot like they so often have in the past.  “What we're not going to do is get caught up in an emotional battle of who's going to bowl the quickest bouncers. We're here to win the Test match” said coach Justin Langer ahead of the match, but the statement was always going to be taken with a pinch of salt. 

The conditions were bright and sunny, there were no clouds overhead, and on a pitch which offered just about enough swing and seam movement, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and James Pattinson put on an exhibition of pace bowling and carved the English batsmen apart with surgical precision. Nine out of ten English batsmen were caught behind the wicket, and this statistic is a testament to the Aussie bowlers’ consistency. 

They hunted as a pack with Hazlewood being the leader, and the New South Welshman, according to Cricviz, pitched 69% of his deliveries on a good length and 65% on a good line, probing the English batsmen one delivery after another in the corridor of uncertainty. There was one particular over where the towering quick cut Joe Denly into half not once, not twice, but thrice. That over, despite not claiming the Englishman’s wicket, ensured that it broke his resistance, as he eventually threw his hands at a wide delivery of Pattinson.

It, of course, would have been so easy for them to have gotten caught up in a compulsive battle of bouncers with the English and fight fire with fire, but they realized that they were here to win the match, and outclassed their opponents via thorough professionalism. 

Ashes 2019 - Tim Paine’s Test farewell?

In 2016, Tim Paine found himself out of the Tasmanian team and was all set to take a job at Kookaburra. In less than three years’ time, he finds himself captaining the Australian team in the Ashes, and after his team’s day at the office today, it won’t be a far fetched statement to say that he is all set to become just the second Aussie skipper of the 21st century after Steve Waugh to retain the Ashes in England. The Tasmanian served as the guiding light for his country in arguably the darkest phase in their cricketing history, that too, without their two best cricketers. 

But emotions aside, it’s probably time to put the real questions to the table now - that of what he offers to the team on a pure cricketing basis. 17 innings since he last scored a Test century, and in that time period, both Pat Cummins and James Pattinson have posted higher individual scores than him. His last fifty came against Pakistan in the famous Dubai Khawaja marathon, where he helped his team secure a famous draw. In the 17 innings which have followed the Dubai one, Paine has averaged 18.68, scoring a total of just 299 runs. These numbers, by no means, match international standards, let alone the fact that he’s the skipper of the Australian national team. Ironically, his predecessor Matthew Wade gave up the gloves to get himself in the team as a specialist batsman, but if it were a direct face-off between the two, one would assume that the latter would win the contest comfortably.  

With Wade, Alex Carey and even Josh Philippe lurking on the sidelines, the Tasmanian’s time as Australia’s trooper is running out. Being the brutally honest man he is, Paine would probably be the first person to admit it too. “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”, and sadly enough, it does feel like Paine’s fairytale is coming to an end, but then again, what better than to retire as an Ashes-winning captain? 

England’s unfortunate identity

Be it India, Australia or Pakistan -  every team in world cricket possesses a unique trait which separates them from the rest of the pack, thereby creating their own identity. For years, England have struggled to create one for themselves, but alas, it looks like they’ve finally established one. Unfortunately, though, it’s not something to be proud of. In the last 15 months, the English have been bowled out 100 a staggering four times against four different opposition in three different countries. Three of those instances have been in 2019, and if we stretch this number a bit further, it is their fifth score of 150 or less so far this year.

No other Test-playing nation - not Ireland not Afghanistan - have been dismissed so cheaply so often, and these are alarming times for English cricket. Of course, the odd collapse now and then is acceptable and excusable, but a growing pattern of the same over the course of several months is shambolic, and points towards a radical problem that lies deep down in the way they go about their business. 

Win the sun belting down just before the start of the day’s play, there were quirky smiles on the faces of a few English batsmen who thought that the conditions would work in their favour, but in the end, their technique and temperament laughed right back at them on their face as they were bundled out for 67 under 28 overs with nowhere to hide. 

According to Cricviz, the PitchViz batting difficulty was actually the easiest in England’s innings (6.5/10) as compared to Australia’s ( 7.1 /10 and 7.2 /10).  All these signs point towards an incumbent flaw in the technique, temperament, mindset and approach, and by the looks of it, England are far from solving it.

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