Thursday 22 March 2018 / 07:25 AM


After having reclaimed the Ashes after just 3 Tests this series, Steve Smith was quoted saying, “We’d love to win 5-0.”

The Boxing Day Test, the fourth of the series, saw Australia bat first with opening pair David Warner and Cameron Bancroft racking up a century partnership before the latter fell in what can only be described as a scratchy knock of 26 runs from 153 balls. Warner survived a scare on 99 to post his first ton of the series before falling shortly after for 103.

The out-of-form Usman Khawaja buried himself further with an insipid 17 off 107 balls before captain Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh steadied the ship, both scoring fifties. When Smith went for 76, Australia were 4/260, but then lost their remaining six wickets swiftly to be all out for 327.

Australia then set about the continued downfall of the Englishmen with the ball. Instead what transpired was a stubborn innings where very close to half of the 491 runs scored by England were made by under-pressure opener Alistair Cook, who carried his bat with a brilliantly measured 244 not out.

Australia’s fielders, most notably Smith, dropped catches and showed little communication or understanding in the slips cordon as edges consistently went to the boundary.

Australia claimed wickets steadily throughout day three, but their tactics to the lower-order batsmen went beyond baffling – they were downright stupid. Chris Woakes, Tom Curran, Stuart Broad and James Anderson all copped a constant barrage of short balls. Those four batsmen occupied the crease for nearly four hours combined, helping add 184 runs to England’s total as their tail wagged for the first time this sereis, with Broad the most heavily targeted.

Broad scored a genuinely gutsy 56 as Smith belligerently persisted in trying to force his square peg tactic into a round hole. Short balls to intimidate lower-order batsmen are the norm – it gets them intimidated and on the back foot. Once you have achieved this, the plan should then be to get them out.

But Australia’s three-pronged, copy-and-paste, bowling attack just persisted with short bowling. Smith then changed his field as if he was playing in a one-dayer, to allow Cook to get off strike easily so that the short ball onslaught against the tail could continue.

Incessant short bowling is the lowest tactical form there is. The reward of the wicket can – and often does – come at great cost: runs and time. It has its place in limited-overs cricket, but as a tactic it is utterly mindless and beyond stupid at Test level, as England proved on day three.

Jackson Bird, who looked incapable of lasting longer than four overs per stint, and Pat Cummins, who unbelievably took 27 overs before producing his first maiden over, were genuine carbon copies of each other style-wise, albeit Bird was slower.

Nathan Lyon produced less flight than Bird did with his off breaks, but was still somewhat effective, while Mitch Marsh came in the side to serve as a fifth bowling option, trundled out a barely noticeable 12 overs from the 144 delivered.

The quicks had no variation at all between them and Marsh, who is slower, was rarely used.

The silliest aspect came after Broad came to the crease. He copped a fiery few overs of short bowling before being made to face Nathan Lyon. Why bowl constant short balls then follow it up with a spinner?

Australia’s pace attack applied zero pressure. The best way to do this is either via quick wickets or maiden overs. Australia’s pace attack bowled 101 overs, 12 maidens and took 6/362. England’s quicks bowled 100 overs, 30 maidens and took 10/249 in the first innings. It is insane to think that one quick bowler could make this much difference, but the Australian attack lacks any venom without Mitchell Starc.

Australia needs a genuine seamer who can and does swing the ball instead of Jackson Bird. Marsh needs to bowl more, Lyon needs to slow down a bit and Smith needs to know when to pull the pin on a rubbish tactic, instead of persisting with it for half the day.

The measure of a good captain is the ability to make changes on the fly, recognise when a tactic is not working and have plenty of flexibility. These are lessons Steve Smith has yet to learn but needs to before his side departs for South Africa in March.

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About the author

Andrew Ferguson

A rugby league historian and stats buff – most notably as the brains behind the phenomenal Rugby League Project resource – Melbourne-based Andrew has written extensively for Rugby League Review and the Men of League magazine, and is a valued addition to CBS’s rugby league stable.

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