England finally boss Australia at the MCG

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

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    A rejuvenated England dominated with bat and ball yesterday to inject some interest into this lopsided Ashes.

    The tourists had their best day of the series so far, first producing a clinical performance in the field and then finally getting some runs from leaders Joe Root and Alastair Cook, who flopped across the first three Tests.

    By stumps England were 2/192, trailing by 132 runs, with Cook and Root unbeaten on 104 and 49 respectively.

    Earlier England maintained the impressive discipline with the ball they had shown on Day 1, except this time they got full reward.

    At 3/260, with Steve Smith on 76 and Shaun Marsh 35, Australia had negotiated the second new ball and looked set for a total of well over 400. Instead England hauled themselves back into the Test by grabbing 7/67. They had a bit of luck, with Smith, Mitch Marsh and Tim Paine all chopping on to their stumps in the first session, but the tourists deserved some fortune after bowling with skill, patience and intensity.

    For the first time in this series Stuart Broad and James Anderson clicked in tandem. Broad in particular looked a different bowler from the moment he broke his long wicket-taking drought by getting Usman Khawaja caught behind after tea on day one.

    After ambling to the crease during many uninspired spells in this Ashes Broad began charging towards the batsmen. Anderson, meanwhile, nagged away on a tight line and length, a strategy which did not always work on the truer surfaces at Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, but was effective on this sluggish MCG deck.

    How England will wish that their veteran quicks had combined like this a few weeks ago, before the Ashes were lost. Regardless, it was a spirited display, and that determination flowed over into England’s innings. Australia’s quicks have had their way with the English batting line-up this series. The frailty of former skipper Cook has been key to the imbalance in this contest.

    Yesterday, however, we saw Cook circa 2010 – a commanding figure rather than the vulnerable 2017 version. It’s often said that you can easily tell when Cook is in form because he starts lacing drives to the boundary. When he’s out of nick Cook barely pierces the field in front of square, looking to slice everything through point and gully or nurdle it off his hip or pads through backward square leg.

    This is the way he batted across the first three Tests as he averaged just 13. Then all of a sudden yesterday Cook went from camping deep in his crease to striding confidently towards the ball. Down the ground, through wide on, past cover – he started timing his drives beautifully.

    Alastair Cook

    AAP Image/Dave Hunt

    It wasn’t until he was on 66 that Cook made his first real mistake, trying to hammer a drive off the bowling of Mitch Marsh only to edge to first slip, where Steve Smith turfed a sharp chance. Root, meanwhile, looked equally as comfortable at the crease.

    This pair was helped, no doubt, by the absence of the leading wicket-taker in the series, Mitchell Starc, who is nursing a bruised heel.

    With Pat Cummins suffering from an illness and well down pace, and with Starc’s replacement, Jackson Bird, struggling for rhythm, the Australian attack was tame. Bird’s strength as a bowler is his precision, yet he was the least accurate of the Australian bowlers.

    He and Josh Hazlewood also bowled too short, particularly with the new ball. A graphic by cricket analytics company Cricviz showed that in the first ten overs of England’s innings Cook did not face a single delivery that would have struck his stumps

    On a pitch offering variable pace, Australia will need to improve their accuracy greatly today if they are to keep England from building a decent lead.

    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 (54)

    • December 28th 2017 @ 8:35am
      dangertroy said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      Where’s Jimmy to whinge about the quality of the pitch? No doubt he would say it’s still terrible, his quality just transcended it.

      Good on England for hauling this match back in. Thry have had good days in this series so far, the scoreline doesn’t really do justice to the moments they’ve shown. They now need to back it up and bat Australia out of the game, which means batting through the day today and putting a sizeable total on the board. Let’s not forget they are still 130 behind and prone to collapses.

      It’s actually good for Australia to have days like this. This side is not the finished article. There’s mitigating factors – Cummins is quite ill, and cook and root have played well, but I think a bit of adversity, like losing a boxing day test, would do well for their future growth.

      • December 28th 2017 @ 10:16am
        Alan said | December 28th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

        It is a terrible wicket that makes for dull play. You can dress it up any way you like but to have a brown strip with no sign of green on the first day of a test is woeful (unless you’re in the subcontinent).

        Perhaps, when the final test has been played and the last spectators have been bored to sleep, a patch of lifeless brown grass may be burnt and interred in a little urn adorned with the legend “The Ashes of Test Cricket”…

        • December 28th 2017 @ 10:29am
          Captain Cranky said | December 28th 2017 @ 10:29am | ! Report

          I agree with this. A good Test cricket wicket is a simple concept – some greenery for seamers on Day 1, nice batting strip on Days 2 and 3, then some wear and tear to provide the spinners some assistance on Days 4 and 5.

          The MCG pitch has provided nice consistency with the bounce, but it needs more grass on Day 1. It wasn’t long ago that Australia had the best pitches in the world, with a huge amount of diversity. Bouncy pitches at Perth and Brisbane (with Brisbane having more seam), Melbourne funnily enough had inconsistent bounce but at least it was different, Adelaide was quite similar to today, while Sydney was a spin bowler’s paradise.

          I’d argue that Sydney wasn’t a good test cricket wicket in the 80s, with Allan Border capable of taking 7 wickets on Day 1 in 1988/89, but interestingly I think this diversity of conditions helped our First Class cricketers become more rounded players and more adaptable to overseas conditions. Is this trend of beige corporate wickets part of the reason we’ve struggled so much overseas in the past decade?

          • Roar Guru

            December 28th 2017 @ 11:12am
            Cadfael said | December 28th 2017 @ 11:12am | ! Report

            As Shane Warne said on the first day, the curator has prepared a T20 wicket and that is exactly what it is. Good for the first 40 overs then it just died. Sadly, I can’t see CA doing anything about it as there’s too much money involved in T20.

            • December 28th 2017 @ 8:28pm
              John Erichsen said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:28pm | ! Report

              I expect, after last summers Hobart debacle, Cricket Australia wont want grassy pitches with signs of life prepared for our tests. They can’t afford for test matches to be over by early day three.

          • December 29th 2017 @ 1:18am
            Tanmoy Kar said | December 29th 2017 @ 1:18am | ! Report

            With Green-top on Day-1, Australia would not had reached 250 even.

    • December 28th 2017 @ 8:50am
      MaxP said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:50am | ! Report

      Great work England. Saving the best ’til last. Bat long for the draw and claim the momentum going into the next series in England. Good plan and far more simple than turning up in the first three tests

      • December 28th 2017 @ 11:45pm
        Rebellion said | December 28th 2017 @ 11:45pm | ! Report

        Jackson Bird should be given a standing farewell and a gold watch after this test
        He’ll never wear the baggy green again after producing such limp and pedestrian spells
        We really needed Pattinson back for this test, especially with Cummins out of sorts

    • December 28th 2017 @ 8:51am
      Kangajets said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:51am | ! Report

      Too little too late for England

    • December 28th 2017 @ 8:57am
      peter chrisp said | December 28th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Too little too late but a bit of pride?

      • December 28th 2017 @ 9:09am
        Kangajets said | December 28th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report


    • Roar Guru

      December 28th 2017 @ 9:04am
      Ryan H said | December 28th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

      Almost nostalgic feeling last night seeing Cook carve boundaries off Smith’s bowling…thought I was watching 2010/11

    • December 28th 2017 @ 9:09am
      jamesb said | December 28th 2017 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      Bittersweet day for England. They finally had a great day….but the Ashes are long gone.

      If Australia loses, I expect our selectors to panic by enforcing three or four changes. They are trigger happy our selectors.

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