Thursday, December 16, 2010

WACA Test: Day One

The contrast between these two teams couldn't have been more apparent today. On a track that looked a little green compared to the typical modern Test match deck, Australia went for overkill and picked five middle-of-the-road medium pacers. They then lost the toss, and watched as Graeme Swann claimed the prize scalp of Michael Hussey and took two wickets on the opening day. I suppose Australia might not live to regret their decision, in so far as England may not have to bat twice in this Test match!

A sell-out crowd provided a superb atmosphere and the best WACA track in years provided some great cricket. Make no mistake, this is not a deadly fast bowler's wicket, simply a pitch on which batsmen, quick bowlers, and even spinners could all find some assistance, if they were willing and able to put in the effort.

Ricky Ponting had a very long conversation with David Boon and Greg Chappell out in the centre before going straight over to Michael Beer to inform him that his days in the headlines were numbered for the time being. For my money, this was a defensive decision by a risk-averse Australia, and it was countered by England taking the aggressive option and bringing in Chris Tremlett.

And how Tremlett repaid the faith shown in him. He was unquestionably the star performer on the day, bowling well enough that I don't feel so bad about not being able to watch Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn this week.

Jimmy Anderson moved the ball both ways, and bowled with intelligence, but failed to find a consistent line, more often than not bowling a foot too wide and not forcing the batsmen to play. Tremlett was landing the ball, seam perfectly upright, on a dime, and he tested everyone, beating the bat with incredible regularity and ease. If he keeps bowling like this, Stuart Broad will not come straight back into the side.

The spirit and energy in the England team was palpable - players congratulating each other on every good piece of fielding, and there was plenty of that. Paul Collingwood pulled off yet another stunner to dismiss Ponting, and Swann's vertical leap to snare Brad Haddin did not suffer in comparison.

The only negative from England's point of view would be that they really ought to have bowled an insipid Australian side out for well under 200. You won't see this widely written, but Strauss' surprisingly defensive captaincy was partly to blame. There was an incredible amount of ball-chasing in the field placing, something which is usually only seen in kiddie cricket.

As far as Australia are concerned, there will be a lot of worry overnight. The pitch is good for batting, and their bowlers failed to exert any sort of sustained pressure in the evening session, struggling to find the right line or length. Mitchell Johnson's rehab is alleged to have been successful, but in the two overs I saw this evening, he looked incredibly tense and rigid in his action, and if there's one thing a fast bowler needs to be, it's loose and relaxed. The three right arm pacemen are all a little different, but there is just much of a sameness about the attack.

Australia lost a lot of wickets because their batsmen are simply not up to the task currently - whether because they looked technically unsound, as in the case of Phil Hughes, or because they lack self-belief, which is very apparent in the shot Michael Clarke played. Steven Smith is not a number six yet, and with Ponting looking a shadow of himself, there's not a lot left. It's hard to picture any of the Englishmen giving their wicket away, and frankly, it's hard to see the Australians taking the catches that the English did.

If England stay focused, then there's no reason why they can't end the second day at 350+, and go on to a 200+ lead.

A comment on the umpiring too - it was excellent, for the most part. Billy Doctrove was overruled by UDRS twice, and yet he didn't really get anything wrong. On the Hussey catch, even Graeme Swann, who is about as shy as Shane Warne, didn't really appeal - the edge was clear on review, but also clearly faint.

The queuing experience was a good one, once again. My WACA Test buddy, Rick the American from Sonoma who lives in Margaret River was there as usual, making it two yanks at the front of the queue for an Ashes Test once again. It's always fun to watch some of the elderly members turn back the clock as they race for the prime seats - especially those that then spend the day focusing on their reading or knitting.

Tomorrow's target is 2:30am, that should put me at the front again, and give me a great view of what I hope will be a massive Pietersen-Bell partnership in the afternoon. Nothing against Cook, Strauss and Trott, but they aren't the entertainers!