Disciplined England wear down Australia

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By Ronan O'Connell, Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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69 Have your say

    Australia are relying on frequent scapegoat Shaun Marsh to haul them out of peril in the first Ashes Test after the hosts were confounded by some wonderful bowling by England yesterday.

    It was an admirably disciplined and organised effort in the field from the tourists, who had clear plans for each Australian batsman, setting some innovative fields and bowling well to these strategies.

    While Bancroft’s dismissal, caught behind, was a regulation one for a Test opener, England seized upon quirks in the techniques of each of Usman Khawaja, David Warner and Peter Handscomb.

    Khawaja is famously inept against spin, and England had first-hand knowledge of this frailty, having watched him lose his wicket to tweakers six times in his previous eight Ashes knocks. The left hander’s key issue against spin is his preference to plonk his front foot down the pitch, forcing him to play around his leading pad.

    Better players of spin instead keep their front pad clear and play with their bat out in front, as demonstrated later in the day by Marsh and Steve Smith. Khawaja’s front pad all too often becomes a juicy target for spinners, and Moeen skidded one on straight and trapped him in front.

    Then England made the most of Warner’s habit of playing an unusual scoop-pull off his hip, a shot which relies far more on timing than power. When Warner gets the timing wrong the ball tends to lob from his blade into the leg side, most often just behind square leg. On this occasion a delivery from Jake Ball held up in the pitch and Warner bunted the ball straight to midwicket for the most nonchalant of dismissals.

    (Image: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

    That brought to the crease Peter Handscomb, the 26-year-old who had made a wonderful start to his Test career, averaging 53 from ten Tests. Handscomb is unique in how deep he plays from within the crease, something which I predicted last year would be tested by canny quicks.

    ‘Canny quick’ is an apt description for English spearhead James Anderson, a bowler who doesn’t possess great pace or bounce but compensates for that with generous skill and intelligence. Anderson clearly fancied Handscomb as an LBW candidate and ran his fingers down the side of the ball to get it to seam back in past the inside edge of the Australian.

    That LBW dismissal left captain Steve Smith as Australia’s key figure once again. England had all sorts of plans for Smith, too, only that none of them worked. First they surrounded him with close fielders to the bowling of Moeen Ali.

    Against the quicks England placed a short, straight mid-on near where the non-striker would normally stand. Then they moved on to a leg-side theory, using a short midwicket and a leg slip as Anderson targeted Smith’s stumps.

    It showed that England were thinking deeply about how to dismiss Smith. It also showed that no-one in world cricket actually knows how to trouble the world’s best Test batsman.

    Smith has encountered these kinds of tactics numerous times before and has kept hoarding runs regardless. Yesterday he received a keen ally in Marsh, the most maligned cricketer in Australia since the international retirement of Shane Watson.

    (Image: AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Marsh’s weakness is his tendency to push at the ball with hard hands early in his innings, feeding the slips cordon. So England stacked the cordon and Anderson probed away. It was a mistake by England, however, to bring Moeen on at the other end as Marsh is a brilliant player of spin in Australian conditions and would have far less preferred to start his innings against two quicks.

    Patience had been the feature of England’s batting over the first four sessions, and Marsh and Smith were similarly circumspect as they tried to rescue Australia from 4-76. Their first ten overs together reaped only ten runs. England were bowling very well and the Australian pair showed them due respect.

    This patience was rewarded as the game opened up for Marsh and Smith, who scored 65 from the following 18 overs. Then, as stumps approached, that experienced pair reined themselves in once more and ground to the close.

    At 4-165 and pursuing England’s total of 302 Australia are behind in the Test, but so dominant is Smith in Australia, where he now averages an incredible 70 in Tests, that the hosts could easily build a decent lead if others can hold up an end.

    Earlier Australia had managed to finish off the England innings quite swiftly due in part to some loose batting by the visitors. Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes all gifted their wickets with needlessly aggressive shots. Malan batted nicely in making 56 from 130 balls on Ashes debut, but a rash hook shot ended his innings and started a collapse after England had been 4-246 looking at a potential total of 400-plus.

    That middle-to-late-order subsidence could come back to torment England. Or it could be forgotten completely if Australia’s top order collapse propels them to an unexpected loss.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco

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    The Crowd Says (69)

    • November 25th 2017 @ 7:28am
      Jeffrey Dun said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

      The England brains trust must have done considerable research to discover Khawaja is vulnerable to spin.

      Many have been critical of the selectors not picking Khawaja, after the debacle in SL, for the tests in India and Bangladesh. It’s been clear for some time that Khawaja is clueless against spin, which was amply demonstrated yet again yesterday.

      I notice that many commentators are saying that the England collapse was down to rash shots while Australia’s collapse was the result of great bowling. It seemed to me that Bancroft nicked off to one he should have left, while Warner played a lovely forehand volley down a fielders throat. Two rash shots in my view.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 7:39am
        Jameswm said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:39am | ! Report

        Yep. And the straight one from the spinner strikes again.

        I don’t know about England being on top. Close to 50/50. First hour will be massive.

        Chance for the skipper to add another big chapter to his burgeoning reputation.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 8:20am
          Rosso said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

          You guys are funny, Khawaja has only had one innings, the kind of form he is in I still predict him to be our best batsman this series along with smith, long way to go guys

          • November 25th 2017 @ 8:48am
            Jameswm said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

            I wrote him off?

            • November 25th 2017 @ 10:44am
              Stephen said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:44am | ! Report

              I agree with Rosso, khawaja is pure gold, like he dominated yasir shah last year he will do same to moin and co this year too

      • November 25th 2017 @ 8:49am
        BurgyGreen said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        Not to mention Handscomb played across the line to a straight one.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 10:12am
          Matting wicket said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:12am | ! Report

          Inswinger, 6 Kph slower than the ball before. Great bowling in my view.

    • November 25th 2017 @ 7:38am
      BurgyGreen said | November 25th 2017 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      Khawaja’s spin issue is really worrisome. That was the simplest of setups from Moeen – spin one or two past the bat then pin him with the straight one – yet it seems to work against Khawaja every time. Frankly embarrassing for a Test number 3.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 8:22am
        Rosso said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:22am | ! Report

        One innings burgy, Khawaja will play Moin well this summer, he along with a few others just looked nervous for the first ashes innings, Khawaja is averaging nearly 90 on shield this year so watch him fire. He handled Lyon really well against Nsw just a week ago so watch him fire in this series agains moin and co

        • November 25th 2017 @ 10:43am
          George said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:43am | ! Report

          Handscomb is more worrying in my opinion; gets stuck on the crease and is as yet without the track record Khawaja has. Interestingly the latter wasn’t troubled unduly by Lyon when Qld played NSW.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 10:45am
            Stephen said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:45am | ! Report

            I agree that Handscombe is more worrying, he can’t keep getting stuck on the crease and i back him to work on this. Khawaja has the track record to show he will come out stronger as he is our most in form batsman at present

            • November 25th 2017 @ 11:06pm
              Alan said | November 25th 2017 @ 11:06pm | ! Report

              I’m sure you mean Steve Smith is our most in form batsman at the moment Ross. Sorry Stephen…

      • November 25th 2017 @ 8:33am
        qwetzen said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

        Also worrisome is Handscome’s dubious technique. This pair could go the way of P Hughes in being punted almost immediately after it becoming obvious that the opposition was aware of his flaws. More long selection meetings loom methinks.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 8:48am
          qwetzen said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:48am | ! Report

          btw… Does anyone know Sayers isn’t playing Shield? His rival Bird is, in what could have been a T2 arm wrestle.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 8:52am
            BurgyGreen said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

            I’m not sure what the rule is on swapping into a Shield side mid-game, but the SA match started the same day as the Test match so Sayers wouldn’t have had time to get there unless they’d released him early.

            • November 25th 2017 @ 9:18am
              Nev said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

              How did Bird play in the same game tho?

              • November 25th 2017 @ 9:28am
                Brendon the 1st said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

                I think Seyers was 12th man.

              • November 25th 2017 @ 10:00am
                Pope Paul VII said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report


        • November 25th 2017 @ 9:41am
          Ruminate said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

          I can’t agree in relation to Handscomb. Being unorthodox isn’t necessarily an issue as evidenced by Smith and Warners careers to date. He is averaging 53 and will continue to improve. It’s not been one big innings either that pumped his average.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 10:02am
            jamesb said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

            I agree. Handscomb is an interesting one. He does have an unorthodox technique, but it shouldn’t count against him. Five years ago, there were a few people that scoffed at Smiths technique, but today, Smith is having the last laugh.

            Chanderpaul was another with an unorthodox technique, yet he still managed over 10,000 runs.

            • Roar Guru

              November 25th 2017 @ 10:48am
              Rellum said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:48am | ! Report

              Smith did have technical flaws that he actually fixed. He talks about changing his trigger movement plus he now leaves more balls outside off and he plays with much softer hands, especially early on and when defending.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 10:37am
            qwetzen said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

            Eh? What’s wrong with Warner’s technique?

            Anyway, at least the accused Smith, he who nearly destroyed my absolute faith in technique, doesn’t go back into his stumps like Handscomb does. And PH’s recent form, albeit in hostile batting conditions, isn’t making him indispensable. 35.8 since his debut Oz summer and trending down. More worrying though is his form of dismissal; In his last ten (bowler accredited) dismissals he’s been lbw four times and bowled once. That doesn’t augur well. With Usman, he may be out of the side after T2.

            • Roar Guru

              November 25th 2017 @ 10:51am
              Rellum said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

              Warner does not get his head over the ball playing those drives to wide ones at times. I recon with a bit of time we could pick apart his defense against spinners in Asia.

              I think he has another weak spot slashing outside off stump. He gets out that way a lot. I would feed him a few wide ones to hit, give him a few fours then if you can put a faster on a bit closer to his body, a bit shorter and ideally with a bit of inswing and a good proportion of the time he will chase it. I am taking small changes to draw him into a false shot.

              England’s plan worked just as well.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 9:25am
        Jeffrey Dun said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:25am | ! Report

        Agreed. Ronan attributes his dismissal to playing around his front pad, but I think he got into that position because he was playing for the turn. He had been beaten outside off previously and he was looking for it to turn again.

        He has learned nothing from the tour of SL. In that series numerous Australian batsmen were out LBW or bowled by the straight one. Following that tour I thought the coaching staff had drummed into the batsmen to protect their stumps and not to anticipate any turn. If the ball does turn it’s liable to miss everything. I thought they adopted that approach quite well in India.

        It appears that Khwaja did not get the memo.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 9:35am
          Ruminate said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:35am | ! Report

          Exactly Jeffrey, playing for the turn is a serious technique issue. He should be playing the line as M Clarke was pointing out in the commentary.

          • November 25th 2017 @ 10:46am
            Stephen said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            Backing uzzie to come out strong this series, the man has class

        • Columnist

          November 25th 2017 @ 11:55am
          Ronan O'Connell said | November 25th 2017 @ 11:55am | ! Report

          They are one and the same problem Jeffrey – Khawaja tends to automatically plant his front pad on the line of the ball, which means if it skids on straight he’s toast.

          • Roar Guru

            November 25th 2017 @ 12:26pm
            Rellum said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:26pm | ! Report

            Pointing is talking about where his head is and some front foot movements before he puts his front legs down. There is more to it than just plonking his front leg. His head is not over the ball so he is more likely to miss it and misjudge the line of the ball and put his foot in the wrong spot. He does seem to be putting his foot down early though.

            • Columnist

              November 25th 2017 @ 12:48pm
              Ronan O'Connell said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

              “There is more to it than just plonking his front leg. His head is not over the ball”

              Again Rellum I’d argue this is all part of the same problem – a well-balanced batsman doesn’t have their head over their front pad, most of the time they have it outside the line of their front pad, over the ball instead.

              So when Khawaja plonks his front pad on the line of the ball all the time he’s ensuring his head is not over the ball when it skids on.

              Smith, by comparison, really tries to keep his front pad clear, and both his bat and his head on the line of the ball so if it spins appreciable it just goes past his outside edge, if it skids he’s covered.

              For me the trigger to Khawaja’s main technical issues against spin is that plonking of the pad on the line of the ball, until he stops doing that he cannot fix the other issues.

              • November 25th 2017 @ 1:21pm
                Rosso said | November 25th 2017 @ 1:21pm | ! Report

                Ponting said he loves what Khawaja brings to the table and that these can be worked on and I expect him to come out even stronger. He showed against Lyon and fawad in the shield games that he plays spin wrll once he gets through the first 20 mins

              • Roar Guru

                November 25th 2017 @ 5:54pm
                Rellum said | November 25th 2017 @ 5:54pm | ! Report

                Yes it is part of the same problem, but the front leg end position is more a result of early movements in his technique than the problem itself. It is more of an outcome.

    • November 25th 2017 @ 8:17am
      twodogs said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

      Well UK will likely be dropped and therefore further mess with his head. Maxwell is on his way to a possible triple and likely be at six next test. It’s time Maxwell blossoms and confirms himself the most naturally gifted cricketer I’ve seen.
      Credit to England. Chose to study rather than shoot their mouths off as opposed to our past and present (a select few) morons.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 10:46am
        Stephen said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        Not in Australia he won’t be, khawaja will be the leading scroer in the ashes, either him or smith

    • Roar Guru

      November 25th 2017 @ 8:21am
      Ryan H said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      They’re going to bring Moeen on immediately when Khawaja comes to the wicket for the rest of the series you’d think. Take my hat off to SMarsh for that performance but would love to see him press on further today now.

      England’s wearing down of Australia both with the bat and in the field was exactly what they needed to do to be in this contest, and that’s why I still feel they have a slight edge at present. First session of today will tell us a lot.

      • November 25th 2017 @ 8:23am
        Rosso said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:23am | ! Report

        Khawaj will be fine, unnoticed that when Khawaja played Lyon and Ahmad well in shield it was when he got past the first 20 mins against them, once he did he used his feet wrll and sweeped really well

      • November 25th 2017 @ 10:02am
        Pope Paul VII said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        England are welcome to bring Moeen on as soon as Khawaja is in. Especially if Anne Bancroft is in. He will love it.

        • November 25th 2017 @ 10:47am
          Stephen said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

          I watched the game at AB oval where khawaja played the legend lyon very well, like rosso said he just needs to go past the first few minutes and then he does really well

          • November 25th 2017 @ 12:14pm
            DaveJ said | November 25th 2017 @ 12:14pm | ! Report

            If he played Lyon well, Lyon must have been bowling badly. I’ve never seen an off spinner he couldn’t get out to. As Ronan said, out 6 times out of 8 in Ashes. With an average of 20! Got out to straight ones from those demon bowlers Duminy and Shamsi vs Pakistan. Still, the wickets won’t spin as much on other grounds you’d think.

    • November 25th 2017 @ 8:40am
      Worlds Biggest said | November 25th 2017 @ 8:40am | ! Report

      Usie needs to work on his technique against spin, far too early to write him off yet though. Warner’s dismissal was just wasteful, a boneheaded shot. England did bowl well throughout though. Big first session coming up.

    • November 25th 2017 @ 9:42am
      Ruminate said | November 25th 2017 @ 9:42am | ! Report

      Like to know what others think of the deck….pretty disappointing wicket for Brissy, soft and slow

      • November 25th 2017 @ 10:40am
        qwetzen said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:40am | ! Report

        But as predicted by most locals. We had unseasonably cool, cloudy and showery weather for a couple of weeks before the kick off which didn’t allow the pitch to harden up. Kev Jr is the best groundsman in the land but that doesn’t allow him any control over the weather.

      • Roar Guru

        November 25th 2017 @ 10:47am
        JamesH said | November 25th 2017 @ 10:47am | ! Report

        I’ll say. Apparently recent damp weather is to blame.

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