Australia have taken a two-nil lead in the 2017-18 Ashes Series after winning by 120 runs at the Adelaide Oval in the first-ever day/night Ashes Test Match between Australia and England.
It was a match highlighted by the performance of Shaun Marsh with the bat, scoring 126 not out from 231 deliveries to score his fifth Test match century in his 25th Test match for Australia, surpassing the record of his father Geoff, who scored four centuries in 50 Test matches for Australia from between 1985 and 1992.
It was a tough and gritty performance which proved to be the difference in a match where for the most part all other players failed to go on to make big scores on a pitch which it was often hard to score quickly, thanks in part to the behaviour at times of the pink ball, as evidence by David Warner’s struggle to get going in the second innings, scoring 14 runs from 60 deliveries. Warner seems to be struggling to find top form at the moment you sense, but you would have to believe that playing at the WACA in Perth, a place where he has a great record, averaging 89.22 and achieving his highest Test match score of 253 there against New Zealand back in 2015, will bring the best out of the Australian vice-captain.
Other performances to highlight include the five-wicket hauls in their respective second innings’ for both James Anderson (5/43), which was incidentally his first Test match five-wicket haul in Australia, and Mitchell Starc (5/88), who took the last three wickets of the match to give Australia a two-nil series lead, as well as Nathan Lyon’s performance in the first innings (4/60), and the performance of Chris Woakes (4/36) in support of Anderson in the second.
However, the biggest talking points of the match were of two key decisions, one made by England captain Joe Root, the other made by Australian captain Steve Smith. Before I talk about Root’s decision at the toss to bowl, I want to talk about Smith’s decision to not enforce the follow-on after Australia bowled out England for 227, which left England 215 runs behind Australia after the first two innings’ of the match.
In my view, regardless of the result of the match, Smith made the right decision not to enforce the follow-on, and although Australia’s batting performance in their second innings wasn’t necessarily up to scratch, Smith’s decision not to enforce the follow-on was vindicated with a 53-run opening partnership by England’s opening batsmen in Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman, and England were at one stage 3/169 before a wicket late on Day Four, with Pat Cummins clean bowling Dawid Malan from round the wicket to change the momentum of the match.
England proceeded to lose 7/63 on-route to losing the second test match of the series by 120 runs. However, even if England managed to go onto win the test match to level the series, I think Smith made the right decision not to enforce the follow-on, and would have been more vindicated in my mind of that decision if England had gone onto win the test match, despite this thought process going against common logic.
Instead, if Australia had lost the second test match, the vast-majority of the criticism should be directed at the Australian fast bowlers in Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins for their lack of overall fitness and durability, as well as Pat Howard, the General Manager of Team Performance with Cricket Australia for his inability to manage the overall fitness and durability of fast bowlers in Australia.
Cummins, in particular, looks so stiff and unnatural when he is running in the field, and still has a pronounced limp in his gait when he is walking, and until he starts to run a bit more naturally, a long process given the back problems he has had in the past, Cummins will always be vulnerable to injuring his back again when he is bowling.
And while many of us are criticising the batting performance of Australia in recent times in Test match cricket, the inability for Australia to produce fast bowlers who are durable for a long period of time has hindered Australia’s ability to produce top-quality batsmen. It is important to think about this before criticising the batsmen because you can score as many runs as you would like, but if you don’t take 20 wickets, you are no chance!
As for Joe Root’s decision to bowl first at the toss, even if England were able to come back to win the test match, Root made the wrong decision to bowl first as England failed to bowl out Australia in the opening innings, especially when they need to bowl out Australia for a small total, so it was a massive mistake, as is his belief that England can come back to win or retain The Ashes.
At the WACA Ground in Perth, a place where England haven’t won a test match at in 39 years, and have lost eight of their last 10 Test matches there, including their last seven, I am expecting Australia to dominate the third test match of the series in what will likely be the final Ashes Test match held at the WACA, with only a minor miracle able to prevent Australia from regaining The Ashes.