Mitchell Marsh had a dream day-out at The Oval as on his comeback Test, he dismantled English middle-order with a four-wicket haul. While that was staggering, Joe Root’s travails continued for yet another day as the English skipper couldn’t convert his fifties to a hundred despite three lives.
Lucky, Lucky Root
How much is too much? All this summer, England left wondering to decode that one question - when would Steve Smith reach the crescendo and will make his slow fall. As it turned out, Smith had reached the ultimate level of being a cricket tragic, someone deeply consumed for the love of the batting that nothing else mattered. Not even the boos that were thrown at him or the law of averages. He was simply doing what a batting badger would do - of things all that can be done by a certain guy from Sydney.
Wait. I was not supposed to write about Steve Smith. Was I? But can you keep Steve Smith out of anything Ashes? As it turned out, I couldn’t and now, I will track another member of that fabled modern-day “Fab Four” and see how far my inconsistent writing can take me in analysing him. It is no brainer right now that the English captain, majorly after taking over the role, was anywhere close to the other three members as his average has dropped to 40.87 in 32 Tests he led the team while others have averaged beyond the 50s. If that is enough, Joe Root’s bad conversion rate - which is so bad that it is not even talked about anymore - adds to the misery.
However, the buccaneering totem in the English side managed to play with a confidence that has always been there but somehow never translates to a big one. While he could have taken the cake for the day at The Oval, the innings was as faulty as it could get - three catches were dropped and honestly, none was that difficult. While no great Test knocks are without a certain amount of luck, being so fragile in the middle and giving as many as three catch chances for the first 30 runs was something that is borderline criminal. He got to his fourth half-century in the Ashes and while he had been presented with every opportunity to make a big one today, he failed to stand up to the challenge and could manage a mediocre 57 to further tainted his record.
That said, it should also be a cause of concern for Australia. While their ground-fielding continues to be the best, the same can’t be said about their catching. The three drops allowed Joe Root to build on and effectively nullified all the good work done by the pacers on unhelpful conditions. This should drive home a point.
Did Paine miss a trick?
Trent Bridge might be the soul of England’s limited-over resurrection, which eventually culminated with them lifting the World Cup trophy at the holy soil of Lord’s, but The Oval is the best batting conditions in the whole of England, and majorly thanks to the fact that it is always a venue for dead rubber - with the urn being safe or gone from home. It was the venue last year that an out of form, Alastair Cook scored a farewell hundred and Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul scoring comfortable centuries. It was the same venue where Younis Khan scored a classic 218, and the English fans bid adieu to a modern-day legend.
Choosing to bowl first on such a venue might seem a very weird decision but Paine wanted to exploit the moisture on the surface to tap into the English middle-order. In hindsight, this might seem like a logical decision as Pat Cummins and Mitchell Marsh ran through the English middle-order after tea and found enough movement in the first 10 overs but it also left them with the question of “what could have been”.
After that initial burst, bowlers had to make do with a little amount of movement and as Cricviz has it, only one innings since 2006 at the particular venue has seen less movement than today and it was something that became more evident as Aussie pacers were relying on delivering short stuff - almost in desperation. While the Englishmen were good in defending on-the-stumps deliveries thanks to the even bounce - they found themselves wanting when the ball was away and Joe Root’s two dropped catch behind the stumps epitomised the fact.
The solid middle-order - all thanks to Steve Smith’s presence - could have milked runs easily at the venue and that would have effectively ended their fear of batting in the fourth innings. The scorecard might tell a different story, but that was all about it, really.
Marsh marshalls the troupe
When Trevor Hohns spoke about the possibility of the junior Marsh taking over the middle-order spot, it divided opinions like nothing else. The idea behind the decision was to increase their complement of right-handers to tackle the around-the-wicket line from Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer which has troubled the Aussies to no end this summer. Whatever the reason, for Marsh, It was going to be an act of redemption after being booed by his own countrymen during the Boxing Day Test against India last December.
He definitely redeemed himself but it was not with the bat that he was supposed to do, but with the ball in hand. The Western Australian, who had a bowling average of 40 in his Test career at a strike rate of 73, was bowling with his heart out and despite the presence of Cummins and Siddle, he emerged as the best bowler of the day, that too by some distance.
As I mentioned in the Paine toss point, Aussies were struggling to find any visible amount of movement post-lunch but Marsh was having a day-out with the red cherry. His deliveries found more swing than any other bowler - 2.5° to be precise, thank Cricviz for that but most importantly, the way he set up Bairstow was a delight. He bowled a series of outswingers before nipping one ball on the boot. Before that, Bairstow had already conjured up 21 dot balls in a row and the pressure eventually talked as he was sent back to the pavilion, albeit a decent start. Sam Curran and Chris Woakes are no aliens to batting and could have added runs by a tickle but Marsh’s day-out made England lose a plot that promise a whole lot more.
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