Ashes 2019 | Old Trafford Day 2 Talking Points - England's Steve Smith dilemma and Archer's misfiring arrows

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Ashes 2019 | Old Trafford Day 2 Talking Points - England's Steve Smith dilemma and Archer's misfiring arrows

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Anirudh Suresh

09/05/2019

With every passing innings, Steve Smith's greatness seems to be striking new heights as the Aussie played what could potentially turn out to be an Ashes-winning double-century. Beaten, broken and bruised, England will need to recoup in no time in order to have any chance of regaining the urn.

England fail to decode the Steve Smith puzzle - yet again

If, for David Warner, it’s the quagmire of not being able to get through the initial splurge of Stuart Broad, then, for England, it’s that of taking the wicket of Steve Smith. Forget taking his wicket, England have in fact failed to devise a plan to take Smith’s wicket, and this dates way back to November 23 2017 - the first Test in Brisbane. Ever since, they have tried everything that could potentially be done to send him packing - bowling to the pads, bowling to the stumps, bowling to the hips with a leg slip, bowling outside the off stump, bowling straight - but none, however, has worked, even a tiny bit. 

Today, again, was no different. Despite the tactic of trying to bounce Smith out through Jofra Archer’s pace failing yesterday, England, bafflingly enough, resorted to the same method to unsettle Smith. All this in spite of him looking shaky early on trying to negotiate the zipping deliveries from Broad around the fifth stump line. With a deep mid-wicket, deep square-leg and a deep fine-leg in place, the English bowlers (unsuccessfully) aimed at Smith’s helmet in the hope of him skying the ball to one of the deep fielders on the on-side. No prizes for guessing what transpired next, as of course, Smith was clever enough to figure out the plan and not fall victim to the English tactics. 

Both Justin Langer and Marnus Labuschagne described Steve Smith as the best real-time problem solver they’ve seen and once again, the New South Welshman not only solved the problems that were thrown at him but also fired back even more complex problems right back at his opponents - problems which they failed to solve. 

England feel the Paine

After Jack Leach saw the back of Matthew Wade, England knew they had a massive opportunity to run through the rest of the Aussie batting line-up starting with Tim Paine, who had averaged no more than 12.83 in the series, heading into bat. When Paine edged one off Stuart Broad batting on 9, it looked like the stars had aligned for an inevitable Aussie collapse - until Jason Roy blobbed a straightforward chance in the slip cordon. But then again, how much can a batsman who has averaged a tad under 13 hurt you anyway?  The answer apparently is at least 49 more runs. Paine inflicted pain on the English and made them pay for the drop by scoring his maiden fifty of the series and his first in 11 Tests.

After surviving the early onslaught of short balls and the fortuitous drop chance, the Aussie skipper batted with courage, conviction and intent, sucking the living soul out of the English bowlers to diminish their hopes of skittling the Aussies under a score of 300. As Nasser Hussain noted on air, it is indeed flabbergasting that a batsman of Paine’s technique has the kind of numbers he has - much in contrast to Steve Smith - but today, the Tasmanian did justice to his talent, technique and most importantly his place in the side as he not only provided valiant support to Smith but also launched a scathing attack of his own to demoralize the English bowlers. 

With his place in the side coming under question more than ever before, the skipper needed to stand up and stand up he did - not only to stop the enemy but also for the sake of his own team.    

“The Archer” fails to inspire hope

Let’s be honest. After the workload that was imposed on Archer at both Lord’s and Headingley, this was always bound to happen, but did anyone expect it to happen this early? Perhaps not. The match was built up around the mini-battle between Smith and Archer, how the Englishman had his number over the Aussie and whether Smith would ever be the same after the blow he took to his neck in the second Test. But from the very first ball, Archer delivered - which was a tad under 82 mph - his fitness and fire came under question and while everyone expected it to get better as the match progressed, much to England’s dismay, it got worse.

Just imagine - you’re coming on the back of an incredible win, the series is level at 1-1 and your spearhead, who’s expected to send out rockets and intimidate the batsmen, bowls 10 mph slower than what he’s supposed/expected to. An outright moral victory for the opposition. It didn’t take long for Archer’s head to drop, especially with the way Steve Smith was batting. Down on pace and confidence, the speedster ended up with figures of 0/97 off his 27 overs, arguably being the worst of the English bowlers. This ended up being anti-climatic, especially with the whole narrative of the Test being built around Smith and Archer.  

But make no mistake, this was always coming. The warning signs were there at Headingley when he left the field in the second innings due to cramps. Root’s usage, or rather, the over-usage of Archer has been a point of discussion since Lord's, and for the time being, it does indeed look like England, in their pursuit of victory, have killed the goose which laid the golden egg.

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