A talking point that often comes up regarding the state of cricket is the balance between bat and ball.
England went to Lord’s 1-0 down in the Ashes, with lots of speculation about them suffering from a ‘World Cup hangover’.
And, to be fair to England, it is extremely hard to get back up mentally after winning a World Cup, which is why Australia famously didn’t win a single Test between 1999 and 2007.
Here are the ratings for the Second Ashes Test.
The most recent Test that England played at Lord’s was just a month or so ago when they defeated Ireland. The most notable feature of this Test, apart from both teams mustering sub-100 totals at some point, was that it was scheduled as a four-day Test.
It came as no surprise then that the wily ECB organised for the first day of this Second Test to be entirely washed out in a bid to exploit their greater experience in four day Tests at Lord’s.
Good Tosses To Lose
With rain about, and a shortened match in which to contrive a result, there was, as you’d expect, plenty of talk about the toss being ‘a good one to lose’.
As always, this is a nonsense statement. There is no such thing as a good toss to lose. Assuming there is any advantage whatsoever to be gained from bowling or batting first, then it is always better to be able to take that advantage.
Even in the phenomenally unlikely case that conditions are so precisely balanced that there is no benefit to be gained from making a choice, there is literally a coin there that can decide for you. But even that situation is, by definition, not a negative one.
Tim Paine won the toss – a good one to win – and chose to bowl. Presumably to delay as long as possible the moment when Steve Smith would have to face Jack Leach, who had been statistically proven by England’s finest cricket analysis boffins as the man who would certainly bring him undone.
Cameron Bancroft’s Catch
The decision to bowl proved inspired as the recalled Josh Hazlewood struck in his first over to remove Jason Roy. He then struck twice more, before Pat Cummins chipped in with the wicket of Rory Burns to have England 4/116.
And when I say, ‘Pat Cummins chipped in with the wicket’, I mean ‘Cameron Bancroft chipped in with the wicket’.
Because Bancroft, fielding at short leg took an absolutely preposterous catch, diving and juggling from in close to snaffle Burns just above the ground.
Sensibly, the England opener stood his ground and asked for the umpires to send the catch upstairs for another look. A correct decision, because one should never blindingly accept such palpable nonsense from a fielder without questioning it.
But the review came back all clear, and Burns had to go.
Like a Best in Show award being given to a dachshund, this was one of the great moments for short legs.
Steve Smith’s Leaves
England eventually staggered their way to 258, with Pat Cummins bouncing out the tail, including Jofra Archer. This would have absolutely no consequences later.
It was curious, however, as to why the England tail allowed Cummins to bully them in such a fashion. Why not simply stand halfway down the pitch and turn all his bouncers into half-volleys? That’s just common sense.
Early wickets in reply meant that the Australian first innings was in the rare position of being wholly dependent on Steve Smith batting well. Fortunately, he did so, right up until the point that he was felled by Archer in the climax to a fearsome spell of bowling. And then, because he’s Steve Smith, he continued briefly beyond that point.
Smith’s eccentricities weren’t limited to batting twice in the one team innings, however. When he was dismissed for 92, it was from a ball he left from Chris Woakes that trapped him plumb in front. Which was then followed by Smith walking (as he knew there was absolutely no hope of surviving the appeal) and reviewing (just in case there was some hope of surviving being given out).
And even that freakish hybrid of hopelessness and hopefulness was trumped by the rest of Smith’s leaves earlier in his innings, which grew in madness as time went on. Jedi leaves. Pirouettes. Weird pointing gestures. It was gloriously mental stuff.
The combination of wacky leaves and his controversial banning now has me convinced that Steve Smith is, in fact, a marijuana plant.
Australia scrambled to 250 in their first innings and England started the final day on 4/96, a lead of 104. Powered by a Ben Stokes century, they advanced the lead to 266 before declaring and giving themselves 48 overs to bowl Australia out.
Australia were hampered in their bid to save the match by Steve Smith being ruled out of the remainder of the Test with concussion. And not just this Test. Steve Smith also cannot possibly play in the Third Test, at least not if we are to believe the medical advice of every England fan on social media. Many of these concerned part-time doctors went so far as to further rule him out of the rest of the series and perhaps the next Ashes in Australia too.
Luckily, new concussion substitute rules allowed a ‘like for like’ replacement. The man most like Steve Smith in the squad was inexplicably deemed to be Marnus Labuschagne, who therefore got to be the best Test batsman in the world for the final day of the Test.
Fortunately for Australia, Labuschagne took the ‘like for like’ role very seriously indeed, even to the point of copping a delivery from Archer flush on the grill, and made a fighting fifty to ensure Australia escaped the Test with a draw.