My review of the Fourth Ashes Test

The fourth Ashes Test match of the 2017-18 Ashes Series, the Boxing Day Test match will be a test match that won’t be remembered fondly by many people as it turned into being a dull draw due in most part to the drop-in pitch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG)

Australia won the toss and elected to bat first, and both Cameron Bancroft and David Warner put on an opening partnership of 122 before Bancroft fell leg before wicket off the bowling of Chris Woakes for 26, before David Warner brought up his 21st Test century the ball after getting caught at mid-on on a no-ball off the bowling of debutant Tom Curran.

After Warner (103) and Usman Khawaja (17) both got out, Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh put on a 100-run stand for the fourth wicket before Curran officially got his first Test match wicket after Smith chopped-on for 76. From there, Australia lost 7/67 to be all out for 327, a score well-below what Australia was expecting with Shaun Marsh (61) being the only other player to pass 50.

From there the match changed, and Alastair Cook was the star of the show, scoring the highest score by a player who has “carried the bat” in the history of Test match cricket, 244 not out as he regained the form that has seen him approach the 12,000-run milestone in Test match cricket, and is now the sixth-highest run-scorer in the history of Test match cricket, surpassing¬†Mahela Jayawardene,¬†Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and Brian Lara during that wonderful innings at the MCG.

In terms of other contributions for England, Joe Root got out on 61, which is the fifth time in a row that Root has failed to go onto make a century after reaching 50, while Stuart Broad made 56, surpassing the 100-run milestone in the series as England got bowled out for 491.

From there, the chances of an Australian victory and a five-nil whitewash were all but gone. However, Australia managed to save the match comfortably in the end thanks to the Australian captain Smith (102 not out) as he surpassed 600 runs in the series, and his deputy Warner (86), who missed out becoming just the third batsman to score centuries in each innings of a Test match held at the MCG.

However, the talk towards the end of the match, and certainly afterwards, was the pitch, and the supposed lack of life in the pitch for anyone to truly succeed on, which meant neither Australia or England could make a realistic push for victory.

In my view, the pitch offered variable pace and bounce, but it was only subtle, which meant it was difficult for the bowlers to take wickets, and the batsmen to score runs. There was little encouragement for the spinners as the match progressed, which meant no team could progress the match forward to force a positive result.

Overall, when you consider the facts, it was a below average pitch, and something needs to be done to make sure drop-in pitches perform more closely to the characteristics of a normal pitch.

I don’t think the MCG needs to rip up their drop-in pitches to start again, but I think the answer to “naturalise” the drop-in pitch lies below the pitch, at the bottom of the pitch rather than on the surface of it, and I think the bottom of the pitch needs to be softened and broken-up a little bit to get the types of pitches that people are looking for.

In addition to this, the MCG drop-in pitches should be installed at a lower-level ground during the winter months to allow the traffic of different sports, such as Australian rules football, rugby league, rugby union, and/or football to run over it to make the pitches more natural and maybe a touch softer. However, getting a club(s) to agree to having these pitches installed at their ground during the winter months will take a lot of convincing, and not too many, if any, would agree to such a strong request.

So, while the drop-in pitch debate continues, Australia and England head to the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) for the final test match of the series with Steve Smith just 26 runs away from reaching 6,000 Test match runs, and if he does it in the first innings of the match, he will be the equal second-fastest (along with Sir Garfield Sobers) to reach the milestone in the history of test match cricket, in terms of innings.

David Warner will be aiming to score his fourth test match century in as many matches at the SCG, while Stuart Broad is currently two wickets away from 400 in Test match cricket.

The pitch at the SCG will be under scrutiny since it hasn’t hosted a first-class match this season, but historically, it has been a pitch that has always turned, and has also been a pitch that has been good for batting.

I think Australia will bounce-back from a difficult Boxing Day Test match to win the final test match of the series in Sydney to claim the series four-nil.

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2017-18 Ashes Series Preview

We are almost there! We are almost ready to continue the most storied rivalry in world cricket!

It is Australia versus England in the 2017-18 Ashes Series, and it begins on Thursday with the first test match from The Gabba in Brisbane, and there has been a lot of debate in the build-up on both teams.

Australia are ranked fifth on the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test Match Rankings, the same position that they were on those rankings before the 2010-11 Ashes Series, a series which England won 3-1, and a rating that is 13 points less than the rating they had back before that series. There has been plenty of debate as to who should be in the Australian Cricket Team, and many people, including former players and so-called experts, have made their feelings known as to what they think about the selections made for the opening test match of the series, in particular the selections of Cameron Bancroft, Shaun Marsh, and Tim Paine.

Looking at these three divisive selections, Bancroft was a near-certainty to be selected in the team, having scored 442 runs across the opening three matches of the 2017-18 Sheffield Shield season for Western Australia at an average of 110.50, highlighted by a wonderful innings of 228 not out in the first innings against South Australia at the WACA, but what no one seemingly expected was that Matt Renshaw was going to be dropped in favour of Bancroft, who although was struggling with his form a touch, having made 70 runs across three Sheffield Shield matches, seemed under no pressure for his spot in the team just a few weeks ago.

Marsh was another one of those divisive selections, and although he has made three half-centuries so far this season in the Sheffield Shield, you feel like his level is going down a touch, and many people would have preferred the selectors to go with either Bancroft in this middle-order position, or if they had to drop Renshaw, to go with a younger player, such as a Jake Lehmann, or a player that could a match-winner for Australia, such as the ultra-talented, but potentially-flawed Glenn Maxwell.

However, the selection which probably created the most debate was the wicket-keeping position, and it came as a huge shock to many people that Tim Paine, and not Peter Nevill or Matthew Wade, was selected. Paine has battled a number of injuries, especially with his fingers for a number of years, but when he has been fit, Paine has proven himself to being a great gloveman, and with two half-centuries in his last two first-class matches, compared with zero between Nevill and Wade across six first-class matches, and it was a very easy decision in the end to go with Paine.

However, when you look at the Australian team, the likes of Steve Smith, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Nathan Lyon will be expected to perform strongly throughout the series, but the key players who could decide whether Australia wins this series or not will be the likes of Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, and Pat Cummins, who along with the five I mentioned before, will be under pressure to deliver decisive contributions for Australia with bat, or in the case of Cummins, ball.

England are ranked third on the International Cricket Council (ICC) Test Match Rankings, one position higher than where they were before the 2010-11 Ashes Series, but with a rating seven points lower compared to before that series. In general, England appear to be a more settled team before this series, which can be a good thing, but they have also had their issues in the lead-up to this series, especially in regards to Ben Stokes.

Stokes was involved in a brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol back in September, and while there was damning video footage showing Stokes continually punching a person into submission, there is speculation that he may not be charged for what he did by local authorities, and could be in the England Ashes squad sooner than we may think.

Also, despite being more settled, I think there are some question marks on some players, not on the likes of Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Ben Stokes (if he plays a part in the series), Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, and James Anderson, but on the fringe players looking to fill the more open spots in the team.

Mark Stoneman looks set to fill the opener’s role alongside Cook despite his modest first-class record, but has passed 50 on all four occasions so far in the three tour matches for England, including scoring 111 against the Cricket Australia XI in Townsville.

James Vince also seems to be the likely candidate to bat at number three despite his mixed form, while Dawid Malan looks a near-certainty to bat at number five, and Chris Woakes, along with Craig Overton look set to be the extra bowling options to support Anderson, Broad, and Moeen Ali for the first test match in Brisbane.

So, who is going to win the series?

While I don’t think they will win 5-nil this time, I am favouring Australia to win the series by a scoreline of 3-1.

I think Australia will win the first test match in Brisbane, but England will hit back immediately to win the first-ever day/night Ashes Test Match at the Adelaide Oval. Australia will respond to this by winning what appears to be the final Ashes Test Match at the WACA in Perth inside four days thanks to a dominant performance by the Australian fast bowlers, before England respond in stoic style to force a draw at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to keep their chances of retaining the Ashes alive.

At the fifth and final test match of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Australia will dominate most the match, forcing England into the position, where under normal circumstances, they would be forced to play for a draw in the fourth and final innings of the match. However, England decide to go after the massive target, but get bowled out with about eight overs left in the test match, losing the final test match by between 30 and 50 runs to give Australia back The Ashes.