Posted by: tootingtrumpet | August 3, 2019

First Ashes Test Day Two – The Final Over of the Day

Ball One – A quiet morning – except when it wasn’t.

The English Test summer to date had yielded 927 runs and 50 wickets, an average of 93 runs and five wickets per session – frenetic seems too soporific a word for such manic action. So its 11th session’s 61 runs and one wicket in a morning of old school(ish) Test cricket felt like a return to past times. But it was never dull, indeed many would claim that the wrestle for the initiative was more absorbing than the clatter of boundaries and wickets. That said, Joe Root was fortunate to survive a delivery from James Pattinson that hit the stumps hard but failed to dislodge the bails and Rory Burns had his slice of luck when Nathan Lyon failed to review a not out decision that was shown to be hitting leg stump. Test cricket doesn’t really do boring any more.

Ball Two – Root and Burns painstakingly construct a platform

Halfway through the 12th session of Test cricket, the second 100 partnership of the season was registered, Burns and Root following in the unlikely footsteps of Jack Leach and Jason Roy. It took 34.2 overs, a pedestrian run rate of just under three an over – prompting Michael Vaughan to remark that Australia were controlling the run rate well, as if it mattered. Root had battled through a tough start and was beginning to time the ball, but Burns was ugly and lucky, edges not going to hand. But runs is the only currency in which batsmen trade and Root and Burns knew that their hard work in taking bowlers into third and fourth spells would give the opportunity to cash in later as tiring bowlers flogged a soft ball into a docile surface. It’s not glamorous, but it is effective.

Rory Burns today

Ball Three – Rory blows hot and cold

Watching much 21st century sport can be a gruelling experience of admiring techniques forged in the fire of 10000 repetitions. Rugby players execute their skills at the breakdown, rolling round to get on the right side of the ball; tennis players repeat serves, groove top spin backhands and whip forehand passes; F1 drivers hit apex after apex, tight to the racing line as dictated by telemetry. But cricket doesn’t really reduce to mechanical routines. Plenty has been said about the ticks and twitches of Steven Smith, who posted 144 yesterday. Today, considerably more sketchily, Burns scored 125*, an innings of awkward squats, crooked stances and bizarre head swivelling – like a drawing by Arthur Rackham into which life had been breathed. Lest we forget, Smith and Burns are batting in Test cricket, the same art as practised by Greg Chappell, VVS Laxman and Mark Waugh. They find their own way.

Ball Four – Time Gentlemen Please!

Of course on another day, things would have been very different because there’s no game like this game for making fools of those who claim to know stuff. But it seems obvious to me that England need to bat time more often than they do, settling in to sessions that yield 70 or so runs for a wicket (or two at most). In Jason Roy at opener and Jos Buttler at five, England deploy mercurial talents who can destroy any attack. But they do not bat time. In aggregate, the pair have played 177 First Class matches not including this Test – and made 14 centuries, with a highest score of 144 (Buttler: Roy’s is one fewer). This Test is Rory Burns’s 124th First Class match during which he has made his 17th ton with a top score of 219 not out. Even Santa Claus only needed one Dasher…

Ball Five – Bowler of the Day

The Australians might look at their figures and wonder how that could possibly be true. They stuck to their task on a pitch that gave them a bit, but not very much, and they had less luck than a two-leaved clover. None more so than James Pattinson, back in Test cricket after a three years hiatus, having faced down the physical and mental challenge of overcoming a major back operation. He bowled fast, with hostility, discipline and stamina, but had only the wickets of Roy and Buttler to show for his considerable efforts. He’ll wake up stiff tomorrow morning, but knows that he’ll have to go again and that if he’s still bowling in the middle session, he might be needed to bat well on Sunday too.

Ball Six – Batsman of the Day

The cliché goes, “Rory Burns will never enjoy a luckier innings than that.” And that conjecture may be true, because he played and missed and edged through the slip cordon more times than I can remember. But he’s a certain kind of lucky batsman, in that he’ll never be fluent and so never look really in. His set-up is ugly, his pick-up askew and his balance lurchy, but he has an abundance of other qualities to compensate and make him an effective (if probably never more than that) Test batsman. His mental strength (forged in years when others were called to development tours and he was stuck in the nets at The Oval) allows him – maybe forces him – to focus on the next ball to the exclusion of the doubt that might creep into the consciousness of a more naturally gifted player. That’s a quality that can go a long way in this game – ask another doughty left-handed opener who gave Imposter Syndrome short shrift, Australia’s Chris Rogers. He averaged 48.5 in 15 Ashes Tests, having played his first at the age of 35.


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