Action: second Test December 1, 2006

Shocking selection, stolid batting

Until Duncan Fletcher came along in 1999, the England team had some powerful traditions

Until Duncan Fletcher came along in 1999, the England team had some powerful traditions. The selection was haphazard and irresponsible. The bowling was inconsistent. And the batting, with the odd glorious exception, was apt to be stolid. All three of these tendencies, Fletcher and his men now seem hell-bent on restoring.

Adelaide, the most old-fashioned of Australia’s Test grounds, produced an old-fashioned day of vigilance and attrition on one side, perseverance and mind games on the other, and perfect balance overall. In other words, Test cricket.

England did well to lose only three wickets, but Australia did well to concede only three an over (even allowing for a squishy outfield). If you play the old trick of adding two wickets, something the new ball may yet deliver, then Australia are slightly on top. The pitch is so dry that the time to make runs is in the first innings. England could be all out for 350, as they were last time at Adelaide, from a similar position. Or they could push on to 500 – and still concede a first-innings lead.

The pitch has turned so much, so early, that England’s most likely wicket-taker would have been Monty Panesar. If he was playing. When he was left out last week, it was the most depresssing England selection for 14 years. But this was worse, because Adelaide is more of a spinners’ ground, and because the bowling was so toothless at Brisbane without him. He should have been the second bowler on the team sheet, after Flintoff.

England’s selection policy has gone to pieces on this tour. Bowl rubbish and your place is unquestioned. Bowl really well, early in your Test career, and you get dropped. Miss a year through injury and you can have your place straight back, even though you haven’t taken any wickets to speak of – and didn’t take many in the past. With values like that, the management hardly deserve to get back into the series.

The batsmen, however, do. Too limited to take the Edgbaston 05 route and bash their way out of a corner, the top order opted to do it by blocking. Ian Bell, so fluent against Pakistan a few months ago, turned into Chris Tavare in Brisbane, and stayed in that mode for two hours today. Off his first 95 balls, he scored just 23. Here was the doughty rearguard the traditionalists were calling for last weekend. They shall not pass. All shall sleep.

It was impressive, but also in danger of being self-defeating. Paul Collingwood was better, busier, smarter at finding the gaps in an intricate field. For possibly the first time, Ricky Ponting was in danger of being too clever. Why did Stuart Clark only have a few more overs than Michael Clarke?

Eventually Bell emerged from his shell, and he was rocking along – 37 off his last 53 balls – when he got suckered into a Strauss-style hook. He has now reached 50 four times against Australia without getting beyond 60. He is a fine supporting player, but a no. 3 needs to be more than that.

It was left to Kevin Pietersen to bring some modernity to the game. For the third Test in a row, he had the better of a thrilling duel with Warne. The old boy had been back to his best in the first two sessions – probing and threatening, yet going for no more than two an over.

Bell managed only nine off 44 balls from him. Pietersen faced Warne nearly as much, 42 balls, and smacked them around for 29. Collingwood, foraging astutely, has collected 43 off 69 balls from Warne. Between them, these three have given England a chance to make Australia’s elderly geniuses really feel their age.

Tim de Lisle is the editor of Intelligent Life magazine and a former editor of Wisden

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 4, 2006, 10:18 GMT

    So let me get this straight... one of the advantages of playing Ashley Giles over Panesar is his FIELDING? He cost England 110 runs when he dropped Ponting yesterday. Not to mention the initiative.

    Watching Giles bowling today (Monday) was painful and embarrassing. The man has no business playing test cricket for England. Kevin Pietersen is a superior spin bowler, so if we are picking spinners for their batting ability, let's put Giles on a plane home, give KP the spinning duties, and stick Ed Joyce in the middle order.

    England retaining the Ashes from this point will be dependent on their ability to take 20 wickets in a match, and this means with the old ball as well as the new. Spinners are specialist old ball bowlers. Giles CANNOT TAKE WICKETS. Not only this, but his long, negative spells not only bore the opposition and the crowd, but kill the morale and momentum of his own team.

    Well done to Giles for recovering from a serious injury, but something better came along while he was away, and it's time for him to be retired. Giles poor bowling and catching has probably cost England victory in this match.

  • testli5504537 on December 3, 2006, 23:17 GMT

    I'm almost as amazed at the comment above about 'Monty will cost us 40 runs per game in the field and 40 with the bat' as Fletcher's boneheaded selections so far in this series. Seeing as Giles's drop of Ponting yesterday cost 107 runs i'd like to see the original poster now back this comment up! Monty's fielding isn't great but he might cost us 10 runs per innings max on a bad day, and his batting (namely the 26 he made on a raging turner at Trent Bridge against Muralitharan) shows promise. Thoroughly agree that his non-selection was the most disappointing England pick since Gooch left Gower out of the 1992-3 India Tour, for similar 'jobs for the boys' reasons. With Panesar we'd have a good chance of winning this test now, as it is i can't see it being anything other than a draw or perhaps an Aussie win if they avoid the follow-on and Warne gets his act together.

  • testli5504537 on December 3, 2006, 16:32 GMT

    Apologies Chris for the mis-spelling. As you can see it was nearly midnight and the eyes are not what they used to be. Keep working hard - your chance will come again.

  • testli5504537 on December 3, 2006, 15:21 GMT

    does fletcher expect his batsman to keep wicket and bowl? if not why not? he expects wicketkeeper and bowlers to bat.

  • testli5504537 on December 3, 2006, 13:33 GMT

    Totally agree with the posts about Jones as well. Just looking at his stats on cricinfo, highest score in the last 12 innings is 33?? I admit Chris Read is hardly the most brilliant batsman as well but he has to be a better bet than Jones. I really hope Jones proves me wrong and posts a decent score at some point but he just doesn't look capable of it. Out of his depth at test level. Also agree with the Monty posts, lets back our batsman to get runs and the bowlers to get wickets. So that means putting in a bowler who can get wickets - Panesar and not Giles who might just get 20 or 30 down the order. If we play Mahmood he can do that job and actually bowl people out at the same time!

  • testli5504537 on December 3, 2006, 13:25 GMT

    Absolutely agree with some of the posts below. I'm not a cricket expert like most of you guys undoubtedly are but i just can't understand the selection of James Anderson. Mahmood played in the summer and agreed he could be eratic at times but he seems like a really good prospect as well as a semi decent lower order batsman who is guaranteed to get more runs than Anderson. He also seems to bowl better than him as well so I'm a bit mystified as to why he's been left out. Could any of you guys explain?!

  • testli5504537 on December 2, 2006, 23:48 GMT

    I hope Fletcher takes public opinion on board. His selection decisions on this tour have been a nonsense. Sure Monty was a must to play in this match but lets not forget the gloveman in possesion who had done no wrong. As Gold B.... Jones failed again on a feather bed, Reid should be re-called for Perth where the edges will fly faster than ever and Jones will be more than likely to drop the Ashes. Reids treatment has reached a new low and breaks all the rules of selection ethic and man management, At least we can rest assured that new coach Rod Marrsh will restore some sense to proceedings. Yes win lose or draw Fletcher its time to go.... you have lost the plot!

  • testli5504537 on December 2, 2006, 19:27 GMT

    I'd like to apologise on behalf of my country for the disgusting behaviour of that little brat Shane Warne. His openly jeering at vanquished opponents and throwing cricket balls at batsmen's heads doesn't reflect the attitude of most Australians to sport. I don't understand why the umpires didn't react at the time, or what match referees are for if not to enforce acceptable behaviour on the field and penalise players who foul the cricket environment the way Warne regularly does. I hope England retain the Ashes purely because Australia continues to select this idiot, and I find this admission surprisingly easy to make.

  • testli5504537 on December 2, 2006, 18:34 GMT

    I fully agree with Giles selection. Monty will cost us 40 runs in the field and 40 runs (20 per innings) with the bat. Add to that his lack of experience and his poor showing in the warm up matches (where even Harmison did ok) and there is no wonder about his non-selection. Giles bowled better than him in those games, so he played. Simple - Giles other benefits were just that - extras.

  • testli5504537 on December 2, 2006, 17:55 GMT

    Agreed, and as someone else pointed out, if Giles is selected for his batting, why is Anderson selected when he is a worse batsmen than Monty? This is a disgrace and I don't see England winning. Actually in my opinion England lost the Ashes when Fletcher dropped Read and selected Jones. 3 stupid selections. Giles couldn't even make it into the Bangladesh side or play for an aussie state team.

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