Ashes: England keep iron grip on match against Australia

Australia's Usman Khawaja dives to save a boundary as England piled up the runs at Lord's yesterday. Picture: Getty
Australia's Usman Khawaja dives to save a boundary as England piled up the runs at Lord's yesterday. Picture: Getty
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A RATHER more turgid and traditional day of Test cricket did little for Australia as England merely reinforced their dominant hold on this match and, quite probably, the series.

The scoring was slow, at least until the final session, the action measured rather than frenetic, but it made little difference to the position of the game. England, a tad shocked at once again losing their first three wickets quickly the night before, settled into an occupation of the crease that completely strangled any final lingering hopes Australia had of getting back into the match.

They are being taught a lesson in hard cricket, much like their magnificent side of the nineties and noughties did to others. It must have been galling for the greats of that era, such as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, era to watch this game and see the night-watchman Tim Bresnan and Joe Root bat the entire morning session with few concerns.

The wicket is good, but to not even trouble a night-watchman is disturbing.

When Australia needed wickets and to bowl England out for under 200, they were thwarted by the phlegmatic but contrasting Yorkshire duo. Bresnan has the build and gait of a man who should be working hammering metal on an anvil while young Root should star in the local school choir between bouts of playful scrumpying in the orchards. They could not look more different but they are mentally tough and their resilience would have been appreciated in the dressing room.

Root, pictured below, has an ease at the wicket which belies his relative inexperience as an international cricketer. His method is well constructed and he rarely deviates from it. He prefers to hang back and be watchful, allowing the ball to come right under his nose so he can control his blade with soft hands. Bowlers need to drag him forward as he can be reluctant to get far forward and sometimes drives without his front foot, having made much progress towards the pitch of the ball.

It is a strategy that one could imagine James Anderson using to great effect against him, but what bowlers cannot do is bore him out. Some players get tetchy or frustrated if they do not feel bat on ball or score. Root has no such nervousness. He is content to merely occupy and wait for the bowler to change tactic.

His innings was one of patience, which was ideal considering the match situation. With three more days to go, all England needed to do was bat for the whole day and leave Sunday and Monday or thereabouts to take 10 more Australian wickets. The runs could come quickly or slowly. It mattered little that they came slowly, and the pitch would wear more after another 90 overs play.

Root took full advantage and just after tea reached a well deserved century, his second for England his summer. It took 247 balls so it demonstrated his ability to bat a long time but after tea, in cahoots with the in-form Ian Bell, he showcased a rather more aggressive side. Some exquisite cover drives against Ashton Agar bowling left arm spin from over the wicket showed Root has extraordinary co-ordination as he planted his front foot away from the ball to open up the cover region. It takes great manipulation of the hands to do that successfully and to keep control.

It was time for fun as the lead extended towards and beyond 500 and both Root and Bell enjoyed themselves. Bell reached 50 and Root 150, his last 50 coming at nearly a run a ball. Truthfully, Bell was very lucky to still be batting. On three 
he fended a short ball from Ryan Harris to gully where Smith claimed an excellent low catch. Bell, as is his right, stood and waited confirmation and the on-field umpires deferred to the third umpire, Tony Hill, who could check the footage. It was out, pure and simple and yet, inexplicably, Hill gave it not out with the 
reason he could not be 100 per cent sure it had not touched the turf.

It was a ridiculous decision and umpires must stop hiding behind this “100 per cent sure” caveat because the inventors of the Hawk-Eye technology admit it is only 98 to 99 per cent accurate. Many decisions are an extrapolation, for example lbw. So umpires need to be bolder for the good of the game. Bell’s reprieve did not materially affect this match but it robbed Harris of another wicket and made Smith, who rightfully claimed the catch, look disingenuous at best and a cheat at worst. He was neither as he took a splendid catch. The fear is such timidity by umpires may actually decide a match, although the way Australia are playing currently, it is unlikely to be in this series.

Poor does not accurately convey the awfulness of their batting in the first innings. It is time for some of their big names to stop whining, feeling sorry for themselves or bickering and get down to the basics of selling their wickets dearly and having some pride in their performance.

They may not be as good as England, that much is clear but they do not need to concede so readily. Australian sporting culture is based on fight, grit and a never-say-die attitude. Not in this team though. The suspicion is celebrity culture and money from assorted T20 competitions has robbed the Australian cricketer of his heritage.

Harris and the hardworking Peter Siddle are absolved from that. They deliver their best every time without fear or favour. The batsmen are not fit to be in the same dressing room as them. They have two days to restore some pride and interest in the rest of the summer.