Jofra Archer and Sam Curran put up a great show with the ball at The Oval as the duo rose above another Steve Smith masterclass to give England a 69-run lead in the first innings. However, the way Curran tried to bring his weapon to the fore straight away had to be the day’s biggest talking point.
David Warner’s regular failures justify Mitchell Marsh addition
David Warner’s current travails in Test cricket took a rather unwanted historic turn today when the New South Wales man, who was on a spree in the IPL and the World Cup succeeding that, became a walking wicket for England. With his eighth single-digit score from the nine innings he has played so far, Warner has made himself so vulnerable that there wouldn’t have been any discussion to plot his dismissal in the English dressing room. Just send Stuart Broad or Jofra Archer with the instruction of bowling around the wicket - rest, Warner will take care of himself.
While Mitchell Marsh’s bowling performance yesterday turned many “haters” back home to admirers - all within the space of one spell of “harmless” medium-fast bowling - his inclusion as a pure batsman laid bare one peculiar problem of left-handers against the round-the-wicket angle of the right-arm pacers. Warner failed to prod along and so did a formula emerged as Australia kept Mitchell Marsh reserved to counter the right-handers, and sent Matthew Wade upfront.
That actually worked too as he essayed the same role as Marnus Labuschagne played in the Test prior to that - just negotiated the English pacers while ensuring that they were batting in tandem, which seemed the right way because they gave the other batsman sufficient downtime before taking charge for an over. With England setting up an off-side field four overs after tea, they started negotiating the factors easily and batted with free spirits. But by then, Langer, sitting in the balcony, had already understood that he had made the right decision of drafting Marsh in for a left-hander Travis Head.
The Curran balm to English pain
Having tried everything and failed, England dropped Craig Overton for Sam Curran thinking his left-arm angle could find a chink in Steve Smith's armour, especially because the Surrey pacer did something similar to Virat Kohli last summer, and the prospect looked very appealing, at least from an English perspective. To put Joe Root’s decision in context, it was worth noting that, with Curran in the side, England have won eight of the 10 matches - and not just lucky charm, he actually was there for a start, but contributions along the way, of course, made him sexier, and Root’s darling for The Oval. The question was could he become Smith’s kryptonite, after seeing all his seniors falling apart in front of the might of Steven Peter Devereux Smith.
The thing was Curran is majorly a swing bowler and unlike his more illustrious, or rather more-hyped teammate Jofra Archer, he can’t bowl in the 90mph zone. That, however, added a different dimension to English bowling as his left-arm angle even made Smith to be on his guard. While he was not being able to gain that amount off the air - a measly 1.2°, according to Cricviz - he was very persistent in his approach and kept the ball full to give it every chance to catch plumb. The very tactic helped him trap Matthew Wade when the Victorian southpaw played around a full delivery. However, his best was the way he managed to see the back of Tim Paine and Pat Cummins in two consecutive deliveries - while the first one angled across the Aussie skipper after he set him up with a series of inswingers, the second one was more classic as he trapped Pat Cummins LBW with a big inswinging full ball that the batsman had no clue about. That became possible because Curran was bringing his length back on a regular basis after observing the old ball doing nothing for him.
It was classic Curran in a way as was seen against India last year. His full balls came with a speed that often deceives the batsman - it seems fast, but it is in the mid-80s. That, however, also ensured that when a batsman plays around the line on the off, he might develop the idea of playing too close to the body and as Paine found out today, ultimately suffers the wrath. It is this skill that sets him apart from the rest and if he can work on it more to suit to an unorthodox batsman like Steve Smith, he might turn out to be the answer England never used all summer long.
The collective UltraEdge mess up
Does the third umpire factor the UltraEdge before making his decision? Well, at The Oval today, it didn’t seem like. It was there, it was doing his job properly (or was it not) but for the third umpire Ruchira Palliyaguruge it certainly didn’t matter, or at least it felt so. When David Warner fell caught behind to Jofra Archer, there was a clear spike in the Real-Time Snicko but the decision rendered questionable from the shadow that the bat and ball emerged.
In real-time, and even in reply, it seemed like there was a gap between bat and ball. The spike that came up on UltraEdge appeared to rise earlier than the point at which the ball passed the bat as a fan on Twitter found out that there was a gap between bat and ball in Warner’s silhouette on the pitch. While that seemed like a mess-up on the rookie umpire’s part, especially because the on-field decision was the exact opposite, another couple of miss brought the question to the fore. This was the third umpire mess-up.
The second one, however, was England team’s fault. Marnus Labuschagne pulled a delivery down the leg side but the lack of proper connection meant it ended up being a simple glance. England didn't appeal for the dismissal but on UltraEdge, it was later found out that there was a huge edge involved. This time, England messed up.
If that was enough of a drama, England reviewed for an LBW decision against Matthew Wade but the later suggested an inside edge which the third umpire didn't factor in at all while giving his verdict. It was surprising because the RTS was as clear as daylight. This time, the umpire messed it up again and took the mess-up series 2-1 over England.