1st Test, Day 3: Anderson and Co use stock answers to cut off the tail
Polishing off the tail has frequently been England’s Achilles heel. Seasoned England watchers are perennially exasperated by the inability of England’s bowlers to finish innings off. A four-man attack regularly work their way through the top six, but then come unstuck against the lower order. In the last two Ashes series, Australia frequently converted a rickety total of say 130-6 to a more robust 320 all out. Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson added a vital century stand in the first test of the last series in Brisbane, and the 5-0 hiding had begun.
Not yesterday. Haddin and Johnson briefly threatened with a few skittish boundaries, but, undeterred, the England bowlers stuck to their basic game plans, and soon reaped the rewards. A promising 265-6 was reduced to a disappointing 308 all out.
The red mist frequently descends on fast bowlers attempting to dismiss the tail. A couple of flukey edges over the slips to good length balls, and perthaps the odd authentic shot causes them to resort to a more extreme bouncer-yorker strategy, as if a number 9 making a few runs is an insult to their ego. ‘Drive that!’ they croon wanging down a couple of fast short ones. This frequently results in scythes over the keeper’s head, followed by carves through the covers when the yorker is sought, the scoreboard whirrs round and the initiative is lost. Been there done that got the T shirt.
Common sense prevailed yesterday morning. Lower order batsmen come in later for a reason: their defence is shaky. They are even more liable to nick a good outswinger or play around their front pad than their more reputable colleagues so why not keep asking the straightforward questions? And that’s what England did. They persevered on a good length, stock rather than shock, with old ball and new, waiting for mistakes. They soon materialized.
England gave the not out batsmen – Shane Watson and the nightwatchman Nathan Lyon – nothing. Only one run was filched in the first half hour, after which Watson was pinned lbw (for the 14th time against England) and Lyon followed shortly afterwards. The dangerous Haddin, having piled into one over from Ben Stokes, was snared by a delicious Anderson outswinger which grazed his edge and was neatly pouched by Jos Buttler. Haddin has averaged only 18 in the last 12 months and, given his clumsy keeping, looks finished.
Stuart Broad harassed Johnson into a lazy flick which plopped into the hands of square leg and Mitchell Starc, with a test match 99 to his name and an average of 27 (there are few rabbits these days) edged Anderson’s perfectly pitched swinger to Joe Root at third slip. Never in the morning had England strayed from a full length and an enquiring line.
You cannot underestimate the advantage of terminating an innings like this. Not only does it give you a hefty lead but gives a team great heart and saves its batsmen from an interminable wait before donning the pads. On such things do the balance of matches, and series, hang.