With the first day lost entirely to rain, the prospects of a result looked slim before the toss was finally called, on the second day. With the possibility of rain on all five days, there seemed to be little point in even taking the field, as England’s horrible weather that robbed us of four games in the World Cup again made sure to destroy this game as well.
In the end, it was a draw, just as predicted, though Australia conspired to lose six wickets before the stumps were finally pulled with three balls remaining in the day. If there hadn’t been the rain, it might have been a different situation entirely. While perhaps not the most boring of all draws, it was not the most exciting either, and there was never a realistic chance of a result at any stage, the draw indicator hovering over 90% for the entire match.
Australia opted to bowl first, not because it was their best chance of winning so much as it was the best chance of a result with the weather as it was. It was a risk that Tim Paine was prepared to take, and it didn’t pay off, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Had Australia batted first, perhaps they would have managed a few more runs, taken a first innings lead and been bowling to try to win the match, but, with how much rain fell, Paine knew that he only wanted to bat once. It was the batsmen who let him down, not the captaincy decision.
The decision to include Josh Hazlewood proved to be a stroke of genius, the decision to retain Peter Siddle considerably less sensible. While Siddle had moments of adequacy in the second innings, calls of “Where’s Starc?” echoed throughout the ground, and it seems untenable to continue with the Siddle experiment, given who is waiting in the wings. While there has been a lot of talk about a “rotation policy”, this is clearly not a good idea in an Ashes test series.
The continued selection of Cameron Bancroft is baffling, as he managed 13 & 16, looking absolutely horrendous in both cases. The only argument to keeping him is that his opening partner, David Warner, scored even less, managing just 3 & 5, leading to serious consideration to drop both. In terms of scores, Warner should be dropped, but in terms of overall form, there is no question that it should be Bancroft to make way, as Warner is in supreme form while Bancroft simply wasn’t.
It’s probably worth a one-test experiment, of giving Warner a test match with a new partner, surely Marcus Harris, with the option that if Warner does badly with Harris then it will be Bancroft with Harris instead. The Bancroft-Warner opening partnership certainly can’t be allowed to continue, as it is gifting two wickets before anything happened, and, as we saw in the second innings of this test, it effectively cost three. It’s just not worth it for the sake of saying that we forgive Bancroft. Let him actually earn his spot before we start including him.
Jofra Archer, for his part, certainly earned his spot, and any question marks over whether his bowling was suitable for test cricket were well and truly put to bed. While there were question marks about his lack of concern when a bouncer he bowled hit Steve Smith on the neck in a similar way to how Philip Hughes died, otherwise he bowled with ferocity and skill. Stuart Broad bowled well too, but Woakes was down on his first test efforts. Jack Leach was horrible in the first innings, but in the second, when the match was there to be won, Leach came good.
England, in the end, got the timing of their declaration wrong, and also messed up when to accelerate to set the target, but it is a difficult decision to make. They should have given themselves 15 more overs to bowl Australia out, and set a lower target. It might not have been enough either, but they seemed to be more concerned about ensuring they didn’t lose than in genuinely trying for a win.
In the end, this was a test match that was disappointing in more ways than one. While the rain meant it was always likely to be a draw, neither captain seemed to be sure what the right approach was, and, in the end, Joe Root’s captaincy robbed us of a realistic chance of a result. When he was too late in telling his batsmen to go for quick runs, and also when he took too long to declare. But, for a brief moment, after Australia lost 3 for 47 to start their innings, it looked like maybe, just maybe, it didn’t matter.
Five Things We Learned:
(1) Rain and cricket don’t mix
Rain used to be an exciting part of cricket, when players would play through the rain, coming out on uncovered pitches that were described as “sticky wickets” that made batting nearly impossible, but in these days of covered pitches and overly long delays to dry the outfield, it just becomes annoying. There are two ways we can go here: either go back to allowing uncovered pitches and all of the excitement that comes with it, or go to greater lengths to avoid rain ruining things. While it is expensive to install roofs for cricket grounds, it might be worth it, at least for test matches, as this match would have been exciting if not for the rain.
(2) The concussion substitute rule looks like a good idea
Few thought that we would wait such a short period of time to apply the concussion substitute rule, a variant of the rule we saw in the World Cup, which saw Hashim Amla miss a match after he had suffered concussion. In this case, we saw Steve Smith not allowed to bat, even though he undoubtedly wanted to, while Marnus Labuschagne took to the field and batted in his place. Had he wanted to, he could have bowled too. Injuries are always an issue in cricket, and perhaps they could consider full injury substitutes too, such as when James Anderson was ruled out of the first test after bowling just four overs. It is a difficult rule to manage fairly, as the last thing we want are players feigning injury just because they are playing badly, or are tired, but, in this instance at least, it seemed very fair.
(3) Steve Smith is a one-man army
For the third innings in a row, Steve Smith looked like he was doing it all alone, as he made his way to 92. He was hit by a painful Jofra Archer bouncer towards the end of his innings, which may have cost him his century, but he came back out anyway, only to be replaced by Marnus Labuschagne for day 5 and he looks unlikely to take part in the 3rd test.
(4) Jofra Archer is the real deal
He bowled with ferocity and consistency, which continued throughout all 5 days and he looked for all the world like a real test bowler. If England had it to do again, undoubtedly he would have played in the first test at the expense of James Anderson. They sure are lucky that he is now eligible for England, and chose England instead of his home team of West Indies. West Indies will surely be upset that they missed this talent. He was simply fantastic here.
(5) The Bancroft-Warner partnership is untenable
I am happy in a sense that this partnership has been as bad as it has been, because Bancroft should never have been close to making the team. While it is bad for Australian cricket for me to be right in this case, at least hopefully we will see Bancroft miss out. Even when the 12 was announced I suggested leaving him out. While Warner has lower scores, the possibility that Warner is being distracted by Bancroft means that it is worthwhile giving Warner a test match with a different opening partner. If Warner fails with Harris, then we can perhaps try Harris with Bancroft for the 4th test. Certainly, this partnership is not working. In retrospect, we should have had Joe Burns in the squad alongside Marcus Harris, and should not have paid so much attention to the intra-squad match. The words “I told you so” seem somewhat inadequate to describe this gaffe.