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The Liebke Ratings: Fourth Ashes Test, Part 1

England would have been happy with the performance of their bowlers on Day 1. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
Expert
6th August, 2015
10
2299 Reads

A crazy first day of the Fourth Ashes Test has come and gone, with Australia super-lulling England into the most ultra-false sense of mega-security in history.

Here are the ratings for the first day of the Fourth Test.

The Australia first innings
Grade:
B+

At the end of my ratings for the third Test, I mentioned that I was very much looking forward to the first day of the fourth Test where we’d find out who’d win it.

That turned out to be highly optimistic. What I clearly meant to say was that I was looking forward to the first bowling spell of the fourth Test to find out who’d win it.

Because, in a thrilling hour-long highlights package, Stuart Broad tore the Australian batting order to pieces, taking 8/15 in 9.3 overs as Australia were dismissed for just 60 off 18.3 overs before lunch.

At first, most fans thought the Australian top order had simply thrown their wickets away in the first eight balls of the Test as part of a plan to finally give the middle order a chance to outperform them. A remarkable display of team spirit was the consensus.

Then, as more wickets fell, the theory arose that this was a lateral-thinking solution to bring beleaguered captain Michael Clarke back to relative form, as he threatened to top score for the innings. Sadly, Mitchell Johnson and, eventually, extras went on to outscore him, puncturing that hypothesis as well.

In the end, we were left with the conclusion that Australia had used the first session to silence those doubters who’d thought that 120 was too few to defend in the fourth innings of the Third Test.

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Or possibly it was just a plan to deny Steven Finn a five-wicket haul.

Regardless of the motivations, however, it’s important to realise that 60 (111) is only just shy of an average Graeme Pollock innings and he’s considered one of the all-time greats.

Chin up, Australia.

Swapping brothers
Grade:
D

The day had started much less dramatically, with the selectors choosing to replace Mitchell Marsh with brother Shaun as the only change to the side that had lost the previous Test.

You can understand the thinking, as the last time the Australian selectors replaced one brother with another in a Test, Mark Waugh went on to score a sublime century.

It didn’t quite work out so well this time, however, adding yet more credence to the age-old saying: ‘Never weaken a Mitchell to strengthen a Marsh’.

Alastair Cook’s captaincy
Grade:
F

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With the Australian batting decimated, Alastair Cook had the chance to finally step up and put his mark on Test cricket.

The match was crying out for him to declare at 0/0 and try to win the Test in one day. But he shamefully backed away from this grand opportunity to write himself into history and instead had his team bat out the day with Joe Root (124 not out) and Jonny Bairstow (74) guiding England to a tedious 4/274 and a yawn-inducing lead of 214.

England will go on to win this Test and regain the Ashes, but it will always be most remembered for Cook’s colossal cowardice.

Recovery plans
Grade:
B+

Or am I speaking too soon? Is there any way Australia can escape from this Test and keep their Ashes hopes alive?

Can they try adjusting the sightscreen for the next four days?

Can they sneak the team out of the country while England sleep and then deny everything? “Cricket, you say? No. That’s not until November. Dunno what you’re talking about.”

Or is there, in fact, a brilliant master plan to this? By throwing away their first innings so swiftly, are Australia now in a position to bat Days 3 and 4 on a flat pitch before knocking England over on the fifth day? Could stupid old England have possibly walked into such an obvious trap?

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Frankly, having now given it some thought, there are so many ways for Australia to get out of this, that I’m struggling to find a path to victory for England.

Changes to the Ashes
Grade:
C

Regardless of the result of this Test, it’s obviously time to re-examine the Ashes as a concept. Two immediate possibilities for improving it leap out at me.

Firstly, the Ashes could follow the path of so many other series around the world and be reduced to just two Tests. In retrospect, that would have probably been the fairest way to approach this series.

Or, if the money-men can’t handle the thought of a thrilling two Test Ashes series, another acceptable solution might be to have Lord’s Tests count quadruple. It’s the Home of Cricket. Let’s treat it as such.

Based on this, I fully expect this now to be a 4-4 drawn series. Does it get more thrilling than that?

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