Thursday, July 11, 2013

Day one of the Ashes was an indictment of today's Test batting standards

It was a great ball from James Andersen no doubt, pitching at a full length on middle and off to hit Michael Clarke's off stump and leave him looking bemused. That would have probably got most current right-handed batsmen out too. But why was Clarke playing that from the crease instead of out on the front foot to cover the swing and movement off the seam? He was completely squared up too, instead of holding his side-on position in helpful conditions for seamers. And Clarke is considered one of the most technically adept batsmen of this era. This just goes to show how far batting standards have fallen since pitches began to get easier around the world.

It was a gloomy and overcast first day of the Ashes in Nottingham, no doubt. But the Trent Bridge wicket was slow and dry, with not a patch of grass or moisture on it. This was no Headingley of old, or one of those unplayable wickets that New Zealand liked to produce for visitors from the sub-continent. There was movement off the seam, for sure, but the pace and bounce were such that a ball had to be almost over-pitched to pose any danger. Only the much derided Phil Rogers, the middle-aged bat recalled to the side after playing a solitary Test for Australia nearly six years ago, showed how to leave the away-going ball and get forward to the ones pitched up on the stumps. But he too tended to fall across, which proved his undoing in the end, although he was a trifle unlucky to be given out LBW to Andersen bowling round the wicket into his pads.

The conditions were certainly not as easy as we have got used to seeing, but imagine a Bob Simpson or Geoff Boycott on that wicket. Wouldn't they have settled down to bat through the day? At any rate, the mode of dismissal of virtually every batsman from either side had less to do with the conditions and was more a question of technique. Alistair Cook chased a wide half-volley, Joe Root was rooted to his crease, Jonathan Trott's bat was a mile away from his body, Johnny Bairstow played across the line and Matt Prior hit a wide ball in the air. Only Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell got out to good balls. On the Aussie side, Shane Watson was too expansive too early on that wicket, Ed Cowan chased a wide half-volley a la Cook, Michael Clarke got squared up by a good ball to which he should have been forward in defence, and Phil Rogers was trapped moving across the stumps.

It was good to have a bowler-friendly atmosphere for the first day of the Ashes, rather than a bat-fest. But really, to see 14 wickets go down with not even a fifty was an indictment of today's Test batting standards. Some commentators put it down to first day nerves after the big Ashes buildup, but faulty technique was evident too in almost all the dismissals.

Let's see how it goes from here. If the sun comes out, and the ball stops swinging, the batsmen may well come into their own. As a game, it's poised nicely. But as a showcase of Test cricket, it has been a false start.

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