Review: 1st Ashes test: England vs Australia

Australia were supposed to win this test.  I thought that they would win by an innings.  It wasn't supposed to be close.  And yet, somehow, England have won.  While the margin was relatively small, by test standards, just 169 runs, and it was a fairly close match, by test standards, just the fact that England won was a shock, and a huge one at that.  It wasn't supposed to be close, let alone for England to win.

Australia had 3 dominant fast bowlers.  Mitchell Johnson had torn England apart the last time they met, then returned the favour to South Africa too.  Mitchell Starc had been the player of the tournament in the ODI World Cup.  And Josh Hazlewood, the newest member, was in dominant form, the best of the 3, at test level.  They were doing so well that World number 2 Ryan Harris decided that he wasn't needed so retired, leaving the bowling task in their hands.  While Nathan Lyon loomed as the weak link, even he isn't doing that badly.

It is not like Australia had major batting issues either.  David Warner and Chris Rogers are in great form - indeed Rogers had scored 6 50s in a row leading into this match.  Steve Smith is now the number 1 batsmen in the world.  Michael Clarke is still in pretty good form too.  And Australia had found a viable number 5, with Adam Voges scoring a test century on debut, with a test batting average of 167.  

There were only two holes: Shane Watson and Brad Haddin.  The other 9 were walk up starts.  

So powerful were Australia that in form Mitchell Marsh and in form Shaun Marsh had to sit on the sidelines, so that Watson and Voges could play.  A myriad of great Australian fast bowlers, all in form, had to wait.  James Pattinson didn't even make the tour, nor did Jackson Bird.  Even Pat Cummins had to wait until Ryan Harris retired.  

But Watson and Haddin are in horrible form.  Neither legitimately makes the side on form.  But it's just two players.  9 wonderful players and 2 weak ones.

It is not like they don't have potential.  Back in the last 2 Ashes series, Haddin was wonderful.  It is just that in South Africa he was horrible and now he looks like he should have retired.

Watson is still one of Australia's best ever all-rounders.  Just that he doesn't bowl often enough nowadays and isn't taking wickets anymore.  

England, in comparison, were all over the place.  Alastair Cook was dumped from the entire side from the ODI World Cup and his place as captain, and even in the test side, is in serious question.  As for Adam Lyth, he simply doesn't look like he belongs.  

It isn't all bad for England, though, as Gary Ballance looks good, as does Joe Root.  But two good batsmen isn't usually enough to win matches against quality opposition.  

Ian Bell, worryingly, is out of form - but he did well in the previous 2 Ashes series, so there was hope of a revival.

Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes were both out of form, and having 2 part-time all-rounders in the same side looked to be at least 1 too many, not to mention that Ali was doubling as the only spin bowler.

Stuart Broad is okay, and James Anderson is serviceable, as always, but Mark Wood is seriously questionable as to whether he really should be in the side.  

The difference between the two sides should have been enormous.  They both had similarly balanced sides so pitch doctoring shouldn't matter.  Australia won 5-0 at home.  While this is in England, and England won the last England Ashes series 3-0, it shouldn't have been enough to help England get over the line.

England did the right thing by winning the toss and batting, though, which, in many close contests, is the difference between winning or losing.  It has often been said that they should not have a toss at all, as it should just be that the visiting team bats first all of the time.  That'd counteract the home ground advantage and make for fairer contests.  But England got lucky.  Lucky that that silly rule still exists and lucky that they won the toss.  And, of course, lucky that this was a good batting surface where winning the toss was a big deal.  

Australia opened with the fearsome 3, and England survived.  Sort of.  But not really.  Early on, it was all Australia's way.  Until Brad Haddin stuffed up, messing up a simple caught behind off Joe Root when he was on 0.  As many people have said, had Haddin held on to that catch, Root's 134 wouldn't have been scored, nor would he have been able to bat in partnership with Ballance, Ali and Stokes.  England may have been all out for 250 instead of 430.

It was a shaky 430.  A weak 430.  But it was still 430.  And it was at least 100 more than they should have got.  

Mitchell Johnson was ineffective.  He went for 111 runs and didn't take a single wicket.  While Starc and Hazlewood were steaming in, and Lyon was serviceable, Johnson was hopeless.  He never looked like taking a wicket.  He wasn't quite as bad as he was in his dark old days but he wasn't great either.  To his credit at least he kept his confidence up, but it wasn't great.

Then Australia came out and with Rogers and Warner they looked like they'd get a lead without losing a wicket.  Only for Warner to gift his wicket away.  But then Smith and Rogers looked like superheroes.  Only for Moeen Ali to trick Smith into giving his wicket away.  

Moeen Ali of all people, had backed up his 77 with the bat now with a genius wicket of the world's number 1 test batsman.  

From there, it was a bit of a procession, albeit a slow one.  To Australia's credit, they at least got to 30.  But they just kept getting out in the 30s.  Only Rogers went on with it, but he too failed to truly capitalise, getting just 95 runs instead of the big century that Australia needed.

And then, finally, the tail failed.  There were no batting heroics from Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood.  Even Brad Haddin failed.

And, against all of the odds, England had a lead.  A 100+ run first innings lead batting first.  Teams don't usually lose from there.

But England tried their best to lose, just the same, with weak opening batsmen followed by Ballance getting out for a duck, and suddenly it was up to a shaky Root and a very nervous Bell.  But they each got 60 and set Australia an imposing target.  Australia wanted to chase 250 but instead they were set 412.  

It wasn't like Australia couldn't chase it down either.  This batting line up against that bowling line up on this pitch could do it.  

But only Warner and Rogers have good 4th innings batting records.  Watson is the next best.  But most of the others stink.  Steve Smith, number 1 batsman in the world, stinks in the 4th innings.

And then, suddenly, England's bowlers came alive.  They tricked Warner and Rogers into giving their wickets away.  First, Warner played a lazy shot through slips, which was dropped, and then they appealed for an obviously false caught behind, even reviewing it.  It was wrong, of course, but it worried them.  And this intimidated Rogers enough for him to gift his wicket away.  They out-thought him.  

Smith and Warner, though, gave Australia some hope with a big 2nd wicket partnership, only for Warner to be out-thought again, this time with another phoney review by England.  It was smart for them to do it, because it got under Warner's skin.  The very next ball, he was actually out LBW, and there was no point reviewing it.  It was umpire's call.  He was out.  And the match was now out of Australia's grasp.

While I suppose we can complain about England getting both opener's wickets with fake reviews, abusing the DRS system to their advantage, at the same time they wasted both reviews on this tactic, so what if they had had dodgy decisions afterwards that they couldn't overturn?  It was a risky strategy to use, and it worked.  They got under Rogers and Warner's skin.  They intimidated them out.

I am not going to complain about them using those tactics.  Indeed, the way that they did it was sheer genius.  It gave just the right amount of pressure to give them second doubts.

From there, England capitalised because from there Australia's batsmen got themselves out.

Okay, so Mitchell Johnson had a brief little cameo of 77, and when he was there with Watson it briefly looked like Australia could do it.  Even with Starc there it looked a possibility.  But ultimately it was 169 runs too many.  Ultimately it wasn't quite enough.

When we look at who won it for England, we can go no further than Mooen Ali.  While he was overlooked for man of the match honours, it was his wicket of Steve Smith in the first innings that changed the course of the game.  He out-thought Smith.  His 77 batting first also meant the difference between a decent 300 and an imposing 430.  

Joe Root's 134 & 60 won him the man of the match award, but to compliment that is akin to saying that the match was decided because Haddin dropped him on 0.  Root looked horrible early on.  While I guess he had to capitalise on bad play from Australia, he wasn't really anywhere near the best player.  Moeen Ali was.

Beyond those two, though, there were worrying signs for England.  Stokes was okay, and Ballance was decent, but beyond them there were many serious concerns.  The bowling, for the most part, wasn't up to scratch.  The batting was wobbly to the extreme.  Yet they managed to get there because Australia were worse.

Australia had Rogers with the bat and Starc with the ball, and they also had Hazlewood with the ball.  Even Warner was good in patches.  But Warner gifting his wicket away twice symbolised why Australia lost: it wasn't so much that England won as Australia, or at least Warner, lost.

The decision to give Brad Haddin yet another test hurt Australia too, as shown when he dropped Root.  He has been out of form for over a year now, and it is costing Australia more and more each time.  

And then we have Shane Watson.  

Watson shouldn't have played.  Not when Mitchell Marsh scored back to back centuries in the warm up matches.  Not when Mitchell Marsh was bowling as well as the front line bowlers.  Not when Mitchell Marsh can bowl long spells, while Watson can only bowl the odd over here or there.  There is no comparison between the two.  Watson shouldn't have played.

Watson was clearly given one last test to prove himself, and, with 33 & 19, he clearly failed.  He will be dumped.  If he isn't, then the Australian selectors should be sacked.  And then it all depends on how well Marsh does as to whether Watson plays again.  Potentially, Watson could be stuck as an ODI/T20 only player now.

But England played Lyth, Stokes and Moeen Ali, when they probably shouldn't have.  Even Woods was a controversial pick, and there were calls to drop Bell too.

So perhaps it is overly harsh to blame the selectors for giving Watson and Haddin yet another chance.  

But the fact that those two failed so badly does look bad.

And the fact that Moeen Ali was so good spelled defeat for Australia.

Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes played better than expected, while Australia's 2 controversial selections, Watson and Haddin, were both horrible.  

So why did Australia lose the unlosable game?  Were England good or were Australia bad?  Indeed, did England cheat by doctoring the pitch?  Was it even just about them winning the toss?

The end result was a bit of a combination of them all.  Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes were certainly surprisingly good, and Australia were certainly bad by dropping Joe Root on 0, not to mention Warner gifting his wicket twice.  But England's tactical DRS calls in the 4th innings, which cost the wickets of Warner and Rogers, was great too.  And Mitchell Johnson was ineffective.  

Joe Root capitalised on his lucky breaks too, as did Ian Bell in the 2nd innings.

It is not like England are guaranteed a victory were they to meet again.  But they might.  They are a chance of doing it.  They were no chance of winning this test.  And yet, somehow, they did.

How do Australia come back?  Simple = don't suck as bad as they did in this test.  Just replacing Watson with Mitchell Marsh might be enough.  If Haddin were to be given the boot as well, it might be enough to turn things around.

But Australia don't want to make too many changes.  They need to be careful.

As for England, they need to learn from this too.  If they get into complacency and think that they can do the same things next time and win, then they could be in for some trouble.  But at the same time if they can gain from this confidence, then it could be good.  Moeen Ali, for one, should have gained a lot of confidence.  Ben Stokes too.  Even Ian Bell should feel a little bit more confident.  At least more confident than he was before this match.

It is now tough to predict the 2nd test.  It could be a big win for England, who will surely be buoyant from this win, and could carry it through to the next test.  Australia will certainly be rattled by this shock loss.  But it remains to be seen how they come back.

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