The English partnership which forced Smith’s hand

Greg Roar Rookie

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    Everyone is talking about Steve Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow-on in Adelaide. There’s little doubt that with the benefit of hindsight, it was the wrong decision to make.

    What’s also wrong is fans not acknowledging the underlying variable of the decision – England’s eighth-wicket partnership.

    When debutant Craig Overton joined Chris Woakes at the crease, the cards were expected to fall. I started recording my TV thinking a Mitchell Starc hat-trick was on the way.

    It wasn’t a bad prediction. Starc had been bowling brilliantly all game and he’d just taken a spectacular catch off his own bowling. Add to that, England’s lower order haven’t stood up in Australia since… 2010-11?

    It’s an even better prediction when you consider the pre-series form guides. Mitchell Starc had two hat-tricks, while Craig Overton was on a run of three ducks.

    I may have benefitted from Channel Nine commentator Ian Chappell’s intelligence on Craig Overton though. “He batted at No.4 in the U/19 World Cup… His brother bowled really quickly to him in the backyard,” said Chappell.

    Overton certainly resembled something of a No.4 batsman. He maintained a solid defence while pouncing on any scoring opportunities that arose. If that was a surprise to the Australians, it wasn’t as unexpected as his partnership with Chris Woakes.  

    66 runs off 99 balls. That tripled England’s previous best partnership of 20 off 32 balls across their last three wickets. The pair scored at a decent rate without taking any major risks with singles and the odd boundary were normal throughout.

    They took Australia’s bouncer barrage in their stride, making them revert to plan B. Woakes played the role of the aggressor (29 off 39), while Overton was happy as the accumulator (31 off 60). As the partnership grew, the Channel Nine commentators began to predict that Smith would not enforce the follow-on. 

    Even though Australia had England on the ropes, the relative ease with which Overton and Woakes dealt with the Australian attack was significant. It might have given Smith the illusion of a tiring attack or a pitch that was starting to flatten out.

    Smith may have also decided that his bowlers would not be fired up enough to unleash on England’s batsmen during the night session.  

    In reality, Overton and Woakes played brilliantly during the best session to bat in day-night Test cricket.

    Chris Woakes

    (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

    It was almost a surprise when Woakes skied a Mitchell Starc short ball, but the damage had been done. Broad and Anderson were inevitably dismissed quickly, but not as quickly as the Australian top order raced off the field. Of course, with the benefit of session-by-session stats, we knew what was potentially about to happen.

    Anderson finally fired up and produced his best spell of the series, taking the wickets of Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja. Chris Woakes also produced his best spell of the series, reeling in two of Australia’s biggest fish – Warner and Smith.

    I know it’s clichéd, but batting has a way of bringing players into the game. That doesn’t always translate into great bowling performances, but Woakes had momentum and conditions on his side. 

    As for Overton, he can lay claim to making Smith a mere mortal. He broke through his defences in the first innings, countered his tactics with the bat, and then forced him to make a tough captaincy decision.

    Not only was it the wrong decision by Smith, but he was dismissed cheaply again after being completely bamboozled by swing bowling.

    In a game where key moments win matches, Overton and Woakes are winning more than they are losing.