I never thought to use the descriptor ‘dud’ for the Australian cricket team — but day one of the final Ashes test deserves no less.
At close, Australia look good to spare my blushes and nail the 2-1 result I’ve been talking about — but that’s thanks largely to England’s profligacy. The bowling was uninspired, the captaincy by the numbers — the only thing Australia really had going for them is an England batting lineup concentrating not on the next ball but the ticker tape parade at the end of it all.
The day in one word? Boring.
Simon Barnes thinks the problem is that the home side, especially its middle order, was too deferential.
Everybody has been trying to pinpoint what has been amiss with the England middle order in this series. I have the answer: it is that the England middle order is too Wimbledon, too Victoria, too Waterloo. It’s been ever so slightly apologetic. The problem with Nos 3, 4 and 5 is diffidence.
In fact, the trouble with the England cricket team has almost always been diffidence, at least when they play Australia. Every now and then, diffidence is set aside, but in the three centuries in which the two nations have played each other at cricket, more often than not, when Australia have bumped into England, England have said sorry.
Yeah, well. Presumably the England middle order rang in some body doubles of Australian parentage in the first three Tests, and most especially at Lord’s.
I’d suspect a far bigger problem has been distraction, a shifting of focus from the main event to the sideshow. The undercurrent throughout the fourth Test was, oh if only Freddie was here and he was fit. The only topic of discussion between the end of the fourth Test and the start of the series decider was, will Freddie win it for us?
Interestingly, much of the commentary after day one revolves around Australia’s critical blunder in leaving out Nathan Hauritz, and how Swann is likely to be the difference between the two sides. Fair enough — if England had the nous to take advantage of an unusually generous Australian bowling lineup and pile on the runs, as the lunch time score of 108/1 in 26 overs suggested they would. Trouble is, they then threw away 7 for 199 in two sessions — absent a daunting score on the board, Australia’s coming-into-form batting lineup is a good bet to take it away in the first innings, forcing a seriously under-confident England to play catch up, and negating any advantage a wearing pitch might afford.
Punters have apparently staked close to $70 million on the series result.
On Wednesday afternoon, the odds on Australia winning at The Oval on the Indian market were 2.40, England winning it 4 to 1 and a draw at 1.25. Betfair (on Thursday, hours before the start), offered odds of an Australian win at 2.42, England 5.2 and a draw 2.5.
I’ll stay with my 2-1 prediction — and hope the next four days provide something resembling a real cricket match. Day 1 didn’t.