Alastair Cook – Still getting in and getting out, an uncomfortable series continues with two more scores that contribute to, without defining, an England innings. Never fluent in the first dig, he was sent back by a very fine delivery from Jackson Bird. With that dismissal on his mind and having seen some good deliveries from both sets of bowlers, he may have felt that ball on bat was the way to go second time around. But nicking one behind is often the price paid for such adventure – and the excellent Harris cashed in. Australia saw plenty of Cook in 2010-11 and they’ve used that knowledge to stifle his favourite cuts and nudges – good planning and even better execution.
Joe Root – Opening is the hardest job in cricket: all eyes are on you; the best bowlers are at their freshest; and a hard new cherry is bouncing, swinging and seaming at you. And you have just the one chance. The Golden Boy’s Midas touch has deserted him and everything he touches now is going to Brad Haddin – if he touches it at all. Root has what it takes to succeed in Test cricket, but does he have what it takes (right now) to succeed as a Test opener? How much time England are prepared to invest in seeking an answer to that question will determine his role at The Oval and, maybe, in the return series Down Under. With the series secured, he may be able to play more freely in the Fifth Test and that might just be what he needs – it worked for David Warner.
Jonathan Trott – Not so long ago, especially with Cook falling early, Trott would dig in and look to have the middle-order strokemakers play around him while he complied a risk-free, slightly ugly, century or so, at a strike rate of about 50. In other words, he’d have played the kind of innings that Chris Rogers delivered twice. Instead, in his skittish summer, both Trott’s innings pushed along at 80 and both were terminated in the batsman’s wasteland between 20 and 50. Finding unorthodox ways to get out is never a good sign for a batsman, so a return to the venue of his glorious Test debut might be coming at just the right time.
Kevin Pietersen – 26 and 44 are not really KP scores, but getting out off the leading edge while trying to work a spinner to leg, is certainly a KP dismissal. Threatened to get away and produce a big one without ever convincing – he’s champing at the bit, but never quite gallops off into the distance. He might need to give Nathan Lyon a bit more respect at The Oval – knowing KP, he won’t, but he’ll get a ton anyway.
Ian Bell – It was a case of ring out the old, ring in the new, as the old Bell appeared in the first innings, lifting one to mid-off just when his country needed a score. With his detractors readying their “I told you sos”, there was no mistake second time round, as he appeared to bat on an entirely different surface to anyone else, delivering the century that was the difference between the two sides. That’s 500 runs in four Tests – or more than Shane Watson and Steven Smith combined. He may not have a Man of the Match award, but the Man of the Series is The Sherminator (who got the girl in the end too)..
Jonny Bairstow – Did little to appease his growing troupe of doubters, but will probably be safe now that the series is secured. Another Test in which he didn’t fail, but he didn’t succeed either. England don’t cut and run easily these days, but Compton or Carberry with Cook up top and Root protected a little at Six, looks more likely to deliver runs at The Oval – and Down Under.
Matt Prior – A brilliant piece of work to see off the obdurate Rogers in the first innings was the highlight of an undistinguished match in an undistinguished season (he even appeared to make a rare bad call or two on the DRS). Cricket is like that though, and the runs, catches and stumpings (and even run outs) will come. And, if the past is any guide, they’ll come exactly when they are needed.
Tim Bresnan – When the England second innings was in danger of dribbling away, he added an important 45 runs from Number Eight: when the Australian second innings was in danger of getting away, he snared the set Warner with a snorter. Whether three wickets and 57 runs is enough from 25% of England’s specialist bowling resources, is a question that will always be asked of Bresnan, but there’s a reason why England have won 15 or his 21 Tests, losing just two. Bres finds a way to contribute.
Stuart Broad – Broad, on the other hand, finds a way to win Test matches. He will always have plenty of snipers out to shoot him down the moment the wickets dry up (as they did earlier in the series) but the streaks of missing the edge and the off-stump are usually followed by a clatter of wickets, as the millimeters work his way instead of the batsman’s. Knocked the top off the Australian batting in the first innings and the stuffing out of it in the second by bowling fast at the top of off stump or the body of the batsman. In a series not short of wonder deliveries (from Harris and Anderson in particular), Broad’s first ball after the evening drinks break that cleaned up Michael Clarke might just the best of the lot.
Graeme Swann – Biffed a few runs as usual (always handy in what has been a generally low scoring series) and picked up his clutch of left-handers too, but his too frequent four balls were less expected. Has the most wickets of any bowler on either side, but has nothing like the personal advantage over his opposite number now that the Australian selectors have seen sense and picked Lyon. May find things more to his liking at The Oval.
Jimmy Anderson – As might Jimmy, not so much because of the surface, but because he needs to find something to reignite the fire that burned so brightly at the start of the series. Since zooming past 300 Test wickets, he’s found scalps harder to come by, especially in the upper and middle order. Like Prior (and like Broad before him) the form may have deserted him temporarily, but the class is permanent – and the wickets will come.
David Warner – There’s something about left-handers in form that seems to cut down on bowlers’ options. As so often with Brian Lara, Warner in the second innings seemed to give bowlers nowhere to bowl. Cook tried to close down his options on the off-side and he punched through leg, or simply lifted the ball for six. Australian hats waved in the crowd; English brows furrowed on the field. And, just like that, Bres found a horrible delivery that kicked from a perfect line and Warner, and soon Australia, were gone. Looked a much more technically accomplished batsman than England fans expected and will carry a real threat at the top of the order on home territory.
Chris Rogers – Got in, got lucky, got runs. In response to the inevitable “It’s not how, it’s how many” Rogers can point to over a third of his team’s runs off the bat and an irrefutable answer to those who claimed that he wasn’t good enough to play Test cricket. It took a long time for his old-fashioned gifts to float him up into the top six Australian batting options, but he’s there by right now. The handshakes from his opponents that marked his century showed how much he is respected on the field, and the heartfelt applause did the same for those off the field. Everyone loves a trier and nobody tries harder.
Usman Khawaja – Constructs beautiful cameos so fragile that it’s almost a surprise to find that he’s still there at the end of the over and we can enjoy a few more pulls and drives until bigger boys come and spoil things. Reminds me a little of Ian Bell – alas 2005, not 2013. Might need one big ton to feel at home and kick-start the cameos being transformed into monuments, but he’s nearly 27 now and has been dismissed between 10 and 29 in over half his completed innings in his nine Tests – so it need to happen soon.
Michael Clarke – If the accumulated tension got to him a bit in the first innings, it was his nemesis, Stuart Broad, who got to him in the second dig, with a ball that he might never see again if he plays another 96 Tests. As a captain, in bowling he has an embarrassment of riches; in batting, merely an embarrassment. Just 90 more runs from the men paid to make them and he could be 2-1 up, with the better of a rain-affected draw as well. Would Simon Katich have provided them? The Ashes and the series have gone now, but Clarke has retained his smile – though some back home may prefer a snarl.
Steve Smith – When his country needed a fifty, he failed twice. Failures can be forgiven in a young player, but his hideous horizontal bat swipe to a fired-up Broad on a capricious fourth day pitch will test his captain’s patience. His 11 Tests have comprised seven against England, two in India and two against Pakistan and, at just turned 24, he’s still averaging almost 30, He may reap the benefit when he comes up against the likes of the West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, against whom the runs may come a little more easily.
Shane Watson – Runs never seem to come easily to Watson – not in whites anyway. All his good work in the first innings was undone with his presentation of a hideously familiar “front pad, raised finger, failed review” routine in the second. He took a walk down memory lane when he limped off when bowling too. An answer to the question “Whither Watto?” remains as distant as ever.
Brad Haddin – The usual mix of spectacular and untidy behind the stumps was not matched by trademark grit in front, as he joined the Monday afternoon procession back to the pavilion, taking Australia’s faint last hopes with him. He hasn’t let his country down, but if he, at his age, is the best option for the tough position of keeper-batsman in as compressed a schedule as this, the cupboard must be very bare back home.
Peter Siddle – Did the Siddle thing of running in hard and giving it everything, but was probably a tad down on pace for a surface like this one. Only 28, but played his second Test in a team that included Hayden, Katich, Ponting, Hussey, Clarke and Symonds charged with giving him something to bowl at. He must look around the dressing room now and choke on his tofu.
Ryan Harris – Older readers may remember another weak Australian team (depleted by World Series Cricket) in which Rodney Hogg charged in and bowled fast with never a murmur of complaint, stacking up the wickets as his team lost. Two generations on, another RH shares the same fate. In three Tests, Harris has 20 wickets (behind only Graeme Swann) at less than 20 runs each. It’s not quite a record to stand alongside Shane Warne’s 40 in 2005’s losing cause, but it isn’t far off.
Nathan Lyon – Bowled round the wicket to the right-handers knowing that, in the DRS world, LBW is in play as well as the inside and outside edges of the bat. Seven wickets was his reward and also perhaps the thought that somewhere, a selector or two is wondering what possessed them to pick Ashton Agar for the first two Tests.
Jackson Bird – Not quite the second coming of Glenn McGrath, as some of the more hopeful Australian pundits had suggested, but a very handy performer who will trouble batsmen at The Oval and, especially, on the harder wickets in the return series.
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