Alastair Cook – If he has the happy knack of making runs when needed, does he also have the happy knack of failing to make runs when they’re not needed? The Lord’s Ashes Test (and a Royal one to boot) is the biggest event for an England captain to manage and he betrayed a little fatigue with all the palaver at the toss – expect the fierce concentration to return at Old Trafford.
Joe Root – Already looks likely to open for ten years or more (as Alastair Cook did at the same age) with a superbly compact technique and the mental strength to play to it. Started getting ridiculous when he snared Clarke and Khawaja with his off-breaks, but look at the scorecard – it did all happen.
Jonathan Trott – The new ultra-positive early approach paid off, as he made a very handy half century in the first innings when England were wobbling and memories of Australian wins at HQ were flooding unpleasantly back. Out off the inside edge second time round, trying to force things early. Doesn’t seem as serenely oblivious of life outside his bubble as he did when reeling off the centuries and might need to rediscover that zen quality if he is to improve on just three centuries in his last 25 Tests, despite regularly getting starts.
Kevin Pietersen – Eight years on from his skunk-hair and six-hits debut in the Test that lit 2005′s blue touch paper, it was a quieter KP in every sense who limped out of Lord’s, happy for the new generation to win the plaudits. He hasn’t played much cricket this summer and he looks to be trying a bit too hard at times – the rhythm, as important to batting as to bowling, will come soon though and, with it, the big scores.
Ian Bell – It seems incredible now, but some people were questioning his place just a fortnight ago. Never mind his technical correctness, the beauty of his cover drives and the wisdom of his shot selection, his value to the team can be illustrated in the hardest of cricket’s currencies – runs. In the first innings, he arrived at 28-3 and left at 271-5; in the second, he arrived at 129-4 and left at 282-5. That’s middle order batting of the highest quality.
Jonny Bairstow – Suffered a little in comparison to Bell’s masterclass at the other end when making 68 in the first innings, but, without that knock, England may have fallen away rapidly. Like KP, he hasn’t had much cricket this season and might be better for some time in the middle. He has an unorthodox style, but a strong bottom hand never hurt Graeme Smith.
Matt Prior – Since winning England’s Player of the Year Award at the start of the season, he just hasn’t been able to get going with the bat, but is still a reassuring presence to have on either side of the stumps, despite missing Clarke’s wicket from a straightforward stumping. Having earned a reputation for being overly keen to call for the DRS review in its early days, he is now its shrewdest operator.
Tim Bresnan – Bowled the perfect in-ducking delivery to see off Shane Watson in the first innings and then kept Joe Root company for three hours as England crushed Australian spirits on Saturday. There’s less than two runs between his Test batting and bowling averages and, if he doesn’t often produce the eye-catching performance, he usually finds a way to contribute.
Stuart Broad – Flayed more quick and classy runs down the order and then nailed the Australian captain LBW to effect two momentum shifts that were welcome, if not exactly needed. Plugged away in his pressure-building role with the ball without ever threatening one of his streaks.
Graeme Swann – Was expected to take wickets on a track that offered plenty to Australia’s tyro tweakers and did without ever being at his absolute peak. Had the good grace to look sheepish on taking Chris Rogers’ wicket first time round with a shocker of a full toss, but got him with a smart ball when in his sights next time round. Looked far too good for the Aussies in the second dig when turning it out of the rough and may feel a tinge disappointed to miss out on a ten-fer.
Jimmy Anderson – Looks like he believes he can get a wicket every time he bowls – and it looks like the Australians think that too, such is the chasm in confidence between him and his opponents. He will have appreciated the support of his fellow bowlers in this match – and the break before the next Test.
Shane Watson – As is the case with a few of his colleagues, his secondary skill may be keeping him in the side. His bowling is canny and effective; his batting anything but. In his compulsive falling over a planted front leg to be LBW (rather like Graham Gooch did so often to Terry Alderman in Ashes past) he is in danger of becoming a caricature of himself. But Alderman needed to bowl very well to get Gooch’s wicket; England merely need to wait for Watson’s.
Chris Rogers – Did not help himself when recommending the DRS option for Watson’s first innings plumb LBW and then failing to review his own howler from Marais Erasmus. But the dismissal felt like it was coming, as he seemed too anxious to force the pace against Swann, when his preferred jabbed ones and twos fitted the bill perfectly. Unlike many of his colleagues, at least he can line up head, hands and feet when playing strokes. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t play one in the second innings to be bowled by a straight delivery. He might become Swanny’s bunny.
Usman Khawaja – Looked as nervous as a kitten (or a Cowan) in making a poor 14 in the first dig – has he really played 65 First Class matches? Showed a bit more of what got him selected in the second innings, balancing attack and defence well, as he battled with the ball turning out of the rough, but succumbed to the pressure with the tea break in sight.
Michael Clarke – Even his bouncy bonhomie must be tested by the task before him and maybe it’s getting to his recently peerless batting. Is in grave danger of hitting an all-time low for an Australian captain – by receiving the sympathy of the crowd. Had no answer as England more than doubled their score after tea on Saturday, as Root and Bell had the boot on the throat and pressed down hard. But who would have had an answer? Got a second chance second time round after Prior’s fluffed stumping and found a willing foil in Khawaja to put together a rare partnership against some probing bowling. His mind looked a little addled in turning a ball he ought to have left, straight into his opposite number’s hands – but he’ll take some solace in notching a fifty to get his series going.
Steve Smith – Landed his sharply spun leg-breaks and found a perfect quicker ball for the compulsively cutting Prior to pick up three unexpected wickets. The golden arm was still working in the second innings when he snapped up a set Bell with a long hop. But he’s in as a batsman and now looks very vulnerable lunging at Swann’s spin and then played a mirror image of Phil Hughes terrible first innings flay, then called for an equally misjudged review and walked off looking just as crestfallen.
Phil Hughes – Played an astonishingly ill-conceived stroke in the first innings and then topped it with an equally misconceived review (though one presumes that he didn’t hear the click that everyone else heard). Appears to have no defensive technique at all to the spinning ball. How many more matches like this can the selectors tolerate?
Brad Haddin – Couldn’t carry on with the bat where he left off at Trent Bridge and his keeping is in a downward spiral of poor judgement and lack of confidence, which led to an horrendous mix up with Michael Clarke and a let off for Joe Root – that cost his team 172 runs. Padded up to be unluckily LBW to Swanny and walked away looking more cheesed off with the match than the decision – as well he might be.
Ashton Agar – Restricted by a injury and, if truth be told, inexperience. There are plenty of less intimidating places to learn how to bowl and he should find them and return a better cricketer for it. His potential is obvious, but that’s all it is at the moment. Two seasons as a pro in the Lancashire Leagues would improve his cricket no end.
Peter Siddle – No praise is too high for his refusal to be bowed after a dismal, disgraceful Australian first innings – the vicious vegan just ran in hard and knocked over three top order bats with force of will. Even he couldn’t do much after that, but he deserves better support than he is getting.
James Pattinson – Didn’t really deal with the Lord’s slope in the first innings, but had the radar set second time around. It may be a harsh judgement on a young man, but in this disappointing Australian XI, he may be the biggest disappointment of all – too easily emasculated by slowish pitches and orthodox batting. Puts upper order batsmen to shame with his discipline and technique with bat in hand.
Ryan Harris – Found the right line and length and bowled fast and straight, looking like a grown-up in a team with too many “kids”. His efforts on Thursday were magnificent and he could have done with a longer rest on Friday before being asked to do it all again. Unlike plenty of his colleagues, you can imagine him in previous touring parties.
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