My review of the Fifth Ashes Test

Australia have finished the 2017-18 Ashes Series in the best way possible after defeating England by an innings and 123 runs in the fifth and final test match of the series at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) to win the series four-nil.

After a rain delay which wiped out the scheduled opening session of the test match, England started off well after winning the toss and electing to bat first, reaching 3/122 at tea, and were 3/228 before Joe Root got out just 17 runs short of a 14th Test match century, and a elusive century in the series after building a 133-run partnership with Dawid Malan for the fourth wicket. After Jonny Bairstow elected to come out to bat late on Day One (instead of a nightwatchman), he got out for five caught behind thanks to some good bowling from Josh Hazlewood on what proved to be the last ball of Day One to be 5/233 after 81.4 overs.

From 3/228, England proceeded to lose 7/118 to be all out for 346, a total which proved to be nowhere near enough as Australia began to assert their authority over the test match. However, England did start well, knocking over Cameron Bancroft for a duck, but that joy was soon short lived as the next five batsmen went onto score 50 or more, with three of them making hundreds. Surprisingly, David Warner and Steve Smith weren’t one of those three.

Warner, who was looking for his fourth Test century in his last four test matches at the SCG got out caught behind by Bairstow off the bowling of James Anderson for 56 as England once again contained his normal fast rate of run-scoring.

Smith, who scored the 26 runs necessary to become the equal-second fastest batsman (111 innings) to 6,000 Test match runs, joining Sir Garfield Sobers, and with only Sir Donald Bradman ahead of those two in the record books, fell 17 runs short of a fourth century for the series, which would have equalled Bradman’s record for most centuries in a single Ashes series, and would have equalled Smith’s own tally of four centuries in any test series, which he achieved against India back in 2014-15.

Smith also fell 13 runs short of a remarkable 700 runs for the series, scoring 687 runs at an average of 137.40, which was 242 runs more than the next best batsman from either Australia or England.

For once, Warner and Smith weren’t the main stars of the show, with Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Mitchell Marsh all scoring centuries, important not only for Australia, but important for themselves.

Khawaja reached his sixth Test match century, which was his first since November 2016, scoring 171 as he went past 2,000 runs in his Test match career. Now, it is up to the selectors to keep faith in Khawaja in all conditions and believe that he is the best number three batsman in Australia on all pitches. However, if I did have a suggestion for Khawaja to remove the perception that he lacks a presence at the crease, I would suggest that Khawaja needs to work a lot harder at his fitness, as he has had injury troubles in the past with knees and hamstrings, which may give him more confidence within himself, and give the sense that he has a greater presence when he bats.

Shaun Marsh also reached his sixth Test match century, scoring 156 to finally fulfilling his immense talent, while younger brother Mitchell Marsh made his second Test match century, scoring 101 to cement his spot in the team going forward to South Africa in an innings that was powerful and brutal. In addition to this, Shaun and Mitchell became the fifth set of brothers to score centuries in the same innings in Test match cricket, joining Ian and Greg Chappell, who achieved this feat three times, Steve and Mark Waugh, who did this twice, while Mushtaq and Sadiq Mohammad, and Grant and Andy Flower each did this on one occasion.

As a result, Australia declared at 7/649, and from there, England were no chance of forcing any kind of result, and despite a brave, and in some ways courageous performance by England captain Joe Root, scoring 58 despite retiring ill on two occasions throughout that innings suffering from the symptoms of viral gastroenteritis, and spending some hours in hospital in an attempt to treat the condition, England were bowled out for 180 to lose the test match, and the series convincingly.

However, the summer of cricket is still far from over, with five one day internationals (ODIs) between Australia and England, as well as a Twenty20 (T20) triangular series between Australia, England, and New Zealand, with matches being played in both Australia and New Zealand, with all of these matches sure to produce exciting, entertaining cricket that will leave us on the edges of our seats, and produce some close results!

I predict Australia to win the ODI series 4-1, but for either England or New Zealand to win the T20 triangular series.

 

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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.