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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My review of the Third Ashes Test

Australia have regained The Ashes! They have taken a three-nil lead in the 2017-18 Ashes Series after defeating England in the last-ever Ashes Test match, at least for the foreseeable future, at the WACA (Western Australian Cricket Association) Ground in Perth by an innings and 41 runs in what was a dominant display for the most part from the Australians!

England, in fact, started off the match very well, making it to 2/91 at lunch on Day One before Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow built a fifth-wicket partnership of 237 runs after being 4/131 midway through the second session on the opening day. However, England managed to lose 6/35 in the second hour on Day Two to be all out for 403, a total well-below the score of 500-plus that they and many others were expecting.

Australia made them pay with Steve Smith and the returning Mitchell Marsh dominating the England bowling attack, smashing them into submission and towards another Ashes defeat. Smith made 239 in a man of the match performance, his highest test match score and the second double century in his Test match career, both achieved against England, as he reached 1000 runs in a calendar year for the fourth-consecutive time to move within one of Matthew Hayden’s record of scoring 1000 runs or more for five-consecutive years.

Smith only needs a further 27 runs to reach 10,000 first-class runs, and has the most runs after batting in 108 innings in the history of test match cricket. He only needs 204 runs in the Fourth Test Match to become the second-fastest player to reach 6000 runs in the history of Test match cricket, with only Sir Donald Bradman (68 innings) reaching the milestone in quicker time (should Smith reach the milestone at the Melbourne Cricket Ground).

In addition to this, Smith (62.32) has the second-highest batting average in the history of Test match cricket (minimum of 20 innings), and looks set to be the best batsman since Bradman.

And what about Marsh?

He has really tightened up his technique while maintain the devastating stroke-play and shot-making that we have become accustomed to seeing in limited overs cricket to score his first Test match century in his 22nd Test match, defying the critics that have been on his back, and in fact on the back of his brother Shaun, the critics who feel like they have been given an easy run into the Australian team, in particular Mitchell, due to their father Geoff Marsh playing 50 Test matches and 117 one day internationals for Australia between 1985 and 1992, showing symptoms of tall poppy syndrome.

However, the selectors kept faith in Mitchell Marsh throughout the good times and the bad, and he has managed to repay their support, at least for now, by breaking through to get his first century in Test match cricket.

Australia declared at 9/662, a lead of 259 runs, and from there, England were no chance of coming back, being bowled out for 218 to surrender The Ashes back to Australia.

England have a number of questions to answer, in terms of selection, for the final two test matches of the series, but in terms of what they are lacking, England need a quality all-rounder, a quality spinner, and a fast bowler who can actually bowl express pace and intimidate the opposition.

Ben Stokes should be ashamed of himself for letting England down, as he would have been the quality all-rounder in the England Cricket Team if he wasn’t stood down from his duties after an altercation outside a nightclub in Bristol back in September. He will be castigated by many people until The Ashes are returned to England!

In terms of a quality spinner and a fast bowler who can bowl express pace, England, other than Graeme Swann in the spinning department, have not produced either a quality spinner or an express fast bowler in years! England need to give leg spinner Mason Crane a go, and actually believe in him for a period of time.

As for the fast bowlers, James Anderson is still bowling very well, Craig Overton is a promising prospect, while Stuart Broad has been awful and should be dropped from the England team immediately, while Chris Woakes hasn’t been much better, and is seemingly a stop-gap option for England at the moment in place of Ben Stokes.

I am not sure who England should select to replace Broad, but it must be someone with express pace that can intimidate the batsmen! Do they go back to Jake Ball? Do they give George Garton a go? Do they go with someone outside of their current squad? Or, do they ignore my advice and continue on their current path, hoping that things turn around like magic?

And talking about their current path, there is no way in the world that Andrew Strauss, the director of England cricket, let alone the previous management, should have barred Kevin Pietersen from playing for England again, and English cricket is paying for that decision today.

Pietersen may be portrayed by many people as a man who disrespected team culture, and only had a clear focus on himself when in fact that was far from the truth. I think Pietersen was more than willing to help the team, and probably had many, many ideas as to how the England team could improve, but no one was willing to listen to him, or if they did listen to him, weren’t willing to take him seriously because he was different!

While Andrew Strauss and the previous management of the England Cricket Team have been painted as “the good guys” of this whole debacle, but they should be described as bullies, people who should never, under any circumstance, be put into positions of responsibility of any “minor” organisation, let alone in management positions inside the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

Organisations run by these bullies, or have bullies in key management positions within organisations will struggle and eventually fail! Organisations who don’t allow people within them to be themselves, or find the best way of doing certain things for themselves will fail in the end! Organisations that don’t hire people that are different to most others and think outside the square will die!

In fact, Pietersen should be the current-day England captain, and should have taken over from Alastair Cook after the 2013-14 Ashes Series! I think he would have captained England in a similar fashion to the way that Steve Waugh captained Australia, and would have taken over the England captaincy at a similar age to Waugh.

I believe Pietersen would have led England potentially into a glorious era, and I believe he would have finished his Test match career with an average over 50, and with over 10,000 runs in Test match cricket! In addition to this, I think other players, such as Cook and Joe Root would have benefited from Pietersen being the England captain, allowing them score runs without the pressure of responsibility, something which Root is struggling with at the moment!

Talking about Cook, since the 2013-14 Ashes Series, he has scored 3665 runs at an average of 43.63, which is lower than the rest of his career, where he had scored 8047 runs at an average of 46.51, and before the start of the 2013-14 Ashes Series, Cook had scored 7801 runs at an average of 47.85.

As well as this, Cook has gone 10 innings without scoring a Test match half century or better, which is the longest streak without scoring 50 or more in an innings in his entire career. In my opinion, I think his mind is just not there any more, and I think his career is coming to an end at the end of this Ashes Series.

However, even if many of these suggestions were taken up sooner rather than later, only poor weather can prevent Australia winning the 2017-18 Ashes Series five-nil!

My review of the Second Ashes Test Match

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.

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.