The English partnership which forced Smith’s hand

Greg Roar Rookie

12 Have your say

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • December 5th 2017 @ 10:59am
      Peter85 said | December 5th 2017 @ 10:59am | ! Report

      I agree that the partnership changed the decision. They made batting look easy, and at 210 in front, a strong English innings would have put Australia is a precarious position.

      I look at the worst case of enforcing the follow on being England bat for 115 overs, scored 350 and left Australia to chase 140 with 15 overs left in tonight’s play, or even 200 with 2 sessions to play including a night session where you need to survive. If the same batting performance as we saw last night was replicated England would have made significant inroads into the Aussie line up.

      The worst case of not enforcing the follow on was basically what happened. Even if we only make another 50 runs, a lead of 300 is probably match winning and our bowlers are refreshed

      If we score another 100-120 runs today (hopefully bat close to two sessions) and set a target over 350 we maintain a position of dominance and get a good run at bowling in the favorable night session twice if needed.

      While the bating performance last night was far from ideal, the decision making was correct and probably changed with the additional 40-50 runs put on by the Overton/Woakes partnership.

      • Roar Guru

        December 5th 2017 @ 12:01pm
        The Barry said | December 5th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

        I agree Peter.

        The other thing in your worst case scenario is that Australia’s four man attack would be required to bowl 190 straight overs.

        That alone seems madness to me to put your bowlers through that potential workload when they’ve rolled a team for 200.

      • Roar Guru

        December 5th 2017 @ 12:41pm
        JamesH said | December 5th 2017 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

        I don’t think anyone should be judging the decision until later today. If Handscomb, Marsh, Paine and the tail can put on another 100-150 runs then England are screwed. Even if Australia declared now I’m not sure how many people would actually be confident that England could win.

    • Roar Guru

      December 5th 2017 @ 11:09am
      Rellum said | December 5th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

      That does not allow for two things, Australia didn’t bowl well to them, too much short stuff and the change of conditions in the night session. This isn’t like a one dayers, the pink ball has a real habit of moving all over the place that has been show over and over again in Shield games. The bowl moving was entirely predictable and having Starc bowling after the break would most likely been devastating. I will go one step further and say I think they declared too late on day two, but last night to me the follow on was the easy call to make.

      If only the national set up watch Shield games.

    • Roar Guru

      December 5th 2017 @ 11:50am
      Atawhai Drive said | December 5th 2017 @ 11:50am | ! Report

      The Test still has two days to run. Any judgment on whether it was right or wrong not to enforce the follow-on will have to wait until we have a result.

      • December 5th 2017 @ 11:56am
        Christo the Daddyo said | December 5th 2017 @ 11:56am | ! Report

        Spot on.

      • Roar Rookie

        December 5th 2017 @ 12:51pm
        Greg said | December 5th 2017 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

        Agree Atawhai, it’s premature to say that it was the wrong decision in terms of the result. I think in terms of team morale though, England enjoyed what could have been a very dismal night for them. Anderson and Woakes found their best form with the ball, and suddenly, the Australian top 3 are short of runs. Bancroft especially, has been exposed with full balls swinging away. Warner too, will be desperate to break the shackles in the next few tests.

        • Roar Guru

          December 5th 2017 @ 1:53pm
          Atawhai Drive said | December 5th 2017 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

          Team morale is difficult for anyone outside the team environment to assess. Any temporary decline in morale _ assuming that has actually occurred _ will soon be forgotten if, as expected, Australia win the Test.

          Smith also has to look after his bowlers. The Ashes is the last permanently scheduled five-Test series, but it is now ridiculously compressed into just seven weeks. Why risk one of the quicks breaking down in pursuit of a quick result, when the odds favour a victory anyway?

    • December 5th 2017 @ 12:32pm
      Geoff from Bruce Stadium said | December 5th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

      Good article Greg. Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow on is looking pretty dodgy at present given the loss of 4 top order wickets. But as you suggest the partnership of Overton and Woakes sort of took that out of the equation. The Aussie fast bowlers were toiling hard towards the end with a barrage of short stuff that didn’t really trouble the batters. Credit to Overton and Woakes. And giving the Aussie fast bowlers a rest may dividends in the long run. I like the attitude of Overton – he is a real competitor who throws himself around the field, put some value on his wicket and hits the loose ball, and while not fast he puts the ball in areas to test the batsman. I like to see blokes that compete and have a real crack. Hopefully the Aussie bowlers will learn to target the lower order batsmen who don’t like the short pitched stuff in future and use other plans for those who handle it better. If the Aussies can put on another 150 they are in the box seat.

    • Roar Guru

      December 5th 2017 @ 1:06pm
      Paul D said | December 5th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

      Honestly it’s like people think the only time we were going to be able to bowl with the new ball was Monday night. Australia will keep batting today, be all out or declare for a lead of around 350-400 and then rip into England tonight with a new ball and have them 5 down.

      The follow on was never getting enforced after England kept batting and anyone saying it was a mistake now is well and truly going the early crow.

      The fact David Lord thinks the follow on should have been enforced and Smith made a mistake confirms for me that batting again was the right course of action.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 5th 2017 @ 1:49pm
      El Loco said | December 5th 2017 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

      Why do you say in hindsight there’s little doubt it was the wrong decision? Smith & Co would have budgeted to be a couple, even three, down in the pursuit of their chosen strategy. Four down is unfortunate but not the end of the world. And as you highlight it could well have been a below par bowling unit going at England, recently frustrated by a couple of tailenders.

      We still have more than enough ammunition to play to a safe position and have England start a mountainous chase under lights on a new night.

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