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The Liebke Ratings: First Ashes Test, part 2

Steve Smith of Australia celebrates his century during day three of the First Test Match of the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at The Gabba on November 25, 2017 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Expert
27th November, 2017
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After two days of the First Test, England had their noses marginally in front. Which is fine if you’re in some kind of nose-measuring contest. But cricket matches are rarely won on nasal positioning, and, yet again, victory in this Test arose from other, less facially-centric, skills.

Here are the ratings for the final three days of the first Ashes Test.

More Ashes
» Match report: Australia go 1-0
» Five talking points from the match
» Steve Smith, batting genius
» Relive Day 5 with our live blog

Steve Smith
Grade: B
Australia began the third day with Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith trying to wipe off the England lead. As the last two recognised batsmen, the pair knew they had to knuckle down and get Australia to parity before perh—

Nope. Scrap that. Shaun Marsh was soon out, caught at mid-off, shortly after bringing up his half-century. As usual with Marsh, his dismissal just raised more questions. Most notably, would Glenn Maxwell have cleared the mid-off fielder?

Answer: Of course not, he’d have cleared one at backward square leg somehow.

Regardless, Marsh’s wicket meant that, just to mix things up, Australia’s chances in the Test were now almost wholly dependent on Steve Smith.

Although not wholly, wholly dependent. Smith was ably supported by Pat Cummins, who made his highest Test score of 42 in an eighth-wicket partnership of 66, after heroically responding to the captain’s request for aid via the Pat-signal.

With Cummins beside him, Smith proceeded to construct an epic century, the slowest of his career. So slow was it that the couple who’d got engaged in the Gabba pool on Day 2 had married, had a couple of kids, separated, reconciled and moved to Perth by the time he’d finished.

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England threw everything at Smith over that time, including a neo-Bodyline field that the captain negotiated effortlessly. Once again, Smith proving what a hapless idiot Bradman was.

Steve Smith

(Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

The Gabbatoir
Grade: C
As Smith slowly inched Australia towards the lead, the Gabba crowd began to come to life. Always an intimidating prospect for opposition sides.

Your Gabba crowd nickname is your first name preceded by ‘Oi’ and followed by ‘ya bloody mongrel’. Or words to that effect.

And the Gabba bloodlust went into full effect when England, concerned the ball had gone out of shape, requested the umpires check it with those little hoop things. In a horrific misunderstanding, the umpires then tried to squeeze England fast bowler Jake Ball through the hoops.

Result: blood and pieces of Jake everywhere. And an early lunch.

They don’t call it the Gabbatoir for nothing.

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Cook’s hook
Grade: F
Once every Australian other than Smith was out, England began their second innings 26 runs behind. Alastair Cook and James Vince both fell to Hazlewood early to have England 2/17.

A lot of Australian fans started pointing out that England were effectively 2/-9. Pretty obnoxious of them, really. You know England prefer to write it as -9/2.

In 2013, Cook was caught hooking by Ryan Harris from the bowling of Mitchell Johnson. He decided to repeat this match-saving tactic in this innings by hooking Hazlewood to be caught by Mitchell Starc.

It was a good catch. Made even more so by the fact that as Hazlewood ran in to bowl, Starc was still changing a shoe on the boundary rope.

Presumably his catching shoes. Great foresight from Starc.

mitchell-starc-cricket-australia-test-waca-2016

(AP Photo/Rob Griffith)

Jonny Bairstow’s melon
Grade: B+
Over three days, the match had slowly moved from parity at the end of Day 1, to a slight England advantage at the end of Day 2, to a slight Australian advantage at the end of Day 3.

The entire Test to that point had been like slow motion see-saw footage shot at 240 frames per second on your iPhone.

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But on the fourth day, the see-saw snapped spectacularly in two, as a combination of short-pitched bowling, imperfect popping crease painting and very faint Hot Spots saw England all out for 195, leaving Australia with a target of 170 for victory.

To make matters worse for England, reports arose after stumps that Jonny Bairstow was being investigated for an alleged headbutt on Cameron Bancroft earlier in the tour.

Presumably, Bairstow had got the wrong idea when team management asked players to cover for the absence of Ben Stokes.

But these were just allegations. Why, it wasn’t even clear whether Bancroft had been impersonating Hashim Amla, as Joe Root had purportedly been doing when David Warner smacked him upside the head in 2013.

Frankly, the ICC should just suspend Amla until this kind of stuff stops happening. Harsh, I know, but it’s the only way they’ll learn.

Extra half-hours
Grade: D
Australia had gone to stumps at 0/114, just 56 runs short of victory. There had been some talk of David Warner taking the extra half-hour to try and win the game that night, but common sense prevailed.

Surely Australia’s best tactic was to come back on the fifth day and keep England sweating under the Gabba sun as they dithered their way to a victory in the final hour.

Alternatively, they could lose all ten wickets for virtually nothing and lose the Test. It’s not as if we hadn’t seen that before.

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In the end, they opted for some kind of middle ground, winning the match shortly after drinks in the first session with ten wickets to spare.

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