They say it’s a funny old game, cricket. Oh hang on, that’s football. Well it would be more apt if spoken about cricket.
This time yesterday the general thought was that England should be able to go on to score around 450 but that that probably wouldn’t be enough and that the game would be heading for a bore-draw. Now all the talk is as to whether they should and will enforce the follow-on. How has this happened?
It is quite the cliche that you don’t know what a good first innings score is until both teams have batted, but it is so true. In both of the Tests in this series, England have batted first and put 400+ on the board. Yet England fans were probably more pleased with the batting effort in Cardiff than here. What has changed?
There was a lot of talk last week that the England batsmen needed to take note of how the Aussies batted and followed suit. I think the Aussie bats read this and thought they better set a bit of a poorer example, it is the only feasible explanation for the drastic difference in application. Michael Hussey batted well but then became the third batsman of the series to leave a straight one. Katich got in but never looked all that convincing before getting out to a blinder of a catch from Stuart Broad. The rest of the top six all failed, whereas last week you felt like they were never going to get out.
Credit where credit is due though, James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff formed a highly-effective partnership today. Flintoff’s tight-fisted bowling was a key factor in the four wickets that James Anderson took, and then the inroads that were being made seemed to spur Stuart Broad into bowling a little better than he had been doing in the series so far. He’ll be hugely relieved to have picked a couple of wickets up late in the day. Onions has been fairly expensive, it will be interesting to see if he manages to have any kind of great effect as the game goes on. He’ll probably be a little frustrated to have been denied the chance to bowl when he is at his most effective, i.e. when the ball was brand new, but you can hardly argue with having Hughes and Ponting back in the pavillion before twenty runs are on the board. Flintoff and Anderson should open for the rest of the series, with Onions at first-change and then Broad.
One man who will have had mixed feelings as England tore through the Australian bats will be Steve Harmison. As Katich and Hussey looked like they were setting up camp, Harmison was taking 6/20 for Durham. Yet if England do manage to finish this first-innings job successfully, and then follow it up with a victory (follow-on or not) then it is hard to see the bowling attack being changed.
All in all, a wonderful day from an English point of view. But I talked last week about the importance of going in for the kill. We were certainly more ruthless than we have been in the past today, but the key now is to keep it going tomorrow, and Sunday. This may not be the Australia of old, but you still can’t expect them to lie down for long.