Essex v England, LV= Challenge Match, Chelmsford, 1st day June 30, 2013

Swann, Bresnan avert embarrassment


England 328 for 7 (Swann 62*, Bresnan 55*) v Essex

A few weeks ago, when Lancashire bowled Essex out for 20, there were those within the England set-up who privately expressed concerns about the value of this game as preparation for the Ashes.

Those concerns were understandable. Despite a talented squad, Essex are currently placed in the middle of Division Two of the County Championship and, with a view to their county commitments, took the opportunity to rest three or four first-choice players for this match. Would they put up any sort of resistance?

Yet a second-string attack who had, before this game, claimed only eight first-class* wickets between them this season, dismissed England's top seven for only 212. An unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 116 between Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann spared any acute embarrassment, but it was a day that suggested the surfeit of limited-overs cricket England have experienced of late has not been ideal preparation for the Ashes.

Some caution is required before anyone concludes that England's Ashes plans are in chaos. Complacency was certainly a contributory factor in one or two dismissals - notably Kevin Pietersen's - and this game was designed precisely with the aim of easing England's players back into the disciplines required for first-class cricket. It would be wrong to read too much into it.

It was an inglorious performance from England's top-order, though. Inserted by prior agreement and on a blameless pitch - Ravi Bopara, the Essex captain, later admitted he would have liked to bat but was happy to agree to England's request - each one of the top seven made a start but failed to convert it into a meaningful contribution due to some looses strokes and a lack of concentration.

There were some encouraging performances from Essex players, too. Tymal Mills, a 20-year-old left-arm fast bowler who played at the request of the England management, generated speeds in excess of 94 mph according to the television speed gun, while Tom Craddock, a 23-year-old leg-spinner who went into this game without a first-class wicket this season, claimed three in his first nine overs and demonstrated good composure in the face of Pietersen's aggression.

Pietersen had settled in against some woeful bowling. Fed a diet of full-tosses and long-hops, he eased three of his first four deliveries to the boundary and demonstrated his intent against Craddock's legspin by driving the first delivery he faced from him over mid-on for four. He was dropped moments later attempting a repeat, Craddock unable to cling on to a sharp return chance, but then tried the shot once more and was well held by a relieved bowler. Pietersen's dismissal, careless as it was, will irritate some but, in the grand scheme of things, it is more important to note that he looked fit and in fine form. He is likely to treat Ashes matches with far greater respect.

If that wicket owed something to Pietersen's impatience, the wicket of Matt Prior owed more to the traditional skills of a legbreak bowler. Drawing Prior into pushing at one outside off stump, Craddock took the outside edge with a delivery that turned appreciably on its way to the keeper.

In between times, Ian Bell was the victim of a wonderful piece of fielding. Jaik Mickleburgh, at short leg, anticipated Bell's stroke as the batsman shaped to dab-sweep and, moving sharply to his left, clung on to the catch one-handed. Bell had struggled for fluency throughout, but it was a somewhat unfortunate ending.

Earlier, Joe Root had endured a painful start to his career as an England opening batsman. Root, promoted in place of the discarded Nick Compton to allow room for Jonny Bairstow in the middle-order, got off the mark with an edge that bounced just short of the slip cordon and was later struck on the left knee by a delivery from Mills. Despite the ball appearing to hit Root on the pads, the batsman was clearly in some pain and, a few deliveries later, was drawn into poking at one from Saj Mahmood that he could have left outside off stump and edged a catch to second slip. Root spent much of the rest of the day with an ice pack on his knee, but an England team spokesman said that it was not considered a serious injury.

Mills was impressive, if inconsistent, but faded as the warmth of the day began to tell. Working up a sharp pace, he dismissed the England captain (and Mills' Essex team-mate) Alastair Cook with a delivery that was probably a bit too close for the cut shot the batsman attempted and Jonathan Trott, who was drawn into feeling for one angled across him that he could have left.

By contrast Mahmood, once seen as an England fast bowler of great potential, barely passed 80 mph and conceded five an over in a performance littered with full-tosses. He did, however, compensate with the wicket of Root - just his second first-class victim of the season - and later saw Bairstow leave one that tailed in a fraction to hit the top of off stump.

But if England were to take any positives from the day, it will have been a reminder of the strength of their lower-order batting. While Bresnan resisted stoutly, Swann counterattacked in characteristic style. He hit Craddock for four boundaries in five balls and later Mills for three in succession as the pair steered their side from any danger and both completed half-centuries shortly before the close.

Essex rested their captain James Foster, swing bowler Reece Topley and allrounder Graham Napier from their full-strength side, while England left out James Anderson and Stuart Broad from their likely first Test line-up. While Broad has a minor shoulder injury, the result of diving to regain his ground in the dying moments of the Champions Trophy final, an England spokesman confirmed that he would have been fit to play had this been a Test. It was also confirmed that England have no plans to send any of their squad bowlers along with Compton to further enhance the Worcestershire side in their game against the Australians later this week.

*This match had first-class status removed on the third day

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • H on July 2, 2013, 17:58 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer Never been a big fan of batting for a draw by just trying to survive. Against top bowlers they will get you eventually, but if you get runs you make it harder for them to set attacking fields etc.

    If Adelaide had been drawn, the series would not have been decided in Perth (Australia would have been 2-0 up with 2 to play). At the MCG Australia were 84-5, still 75 runs short of England's woeful first innings. But England's backs were broken and the Australians had nothing to lose. Would it have been the same at 2-0 with 2 to play? Might Australia have folded and conceded a slim first innings lead? Would that have been enough? And had England won that Test might the SCG have been the stage for an epic comeback to 2-2 and the retaining of the Ashes?

    But, as you say, in the real world we got soundly beaten, 5-0, and we were lucky to get 0. I always thought Strauss should have been the captain and I can't help but wonder if things would have been different if he had.

  • Mark on July 2, 2013, 16:11 GMT

    @H_Z_O That, is the question. If England had gone for quick runs, would the match have ended in the same way? As you say, quite possibly not. Would the series have been as one-sided as it was had England drawn? Australia would have won still, but obviously not 5-0... it may have been 2-0 or 3-0.

    For me, the biggest "what if" is the matter of the captaincy. Had it been Andrew Strauss instead of Andrew Flintoff the final result would have been a lot closer. My bet is 2-1 or 3-1.

    However, in the real world, it was 5-0 and the rest is history. Once England threw away the Adelaide Test from such a strong position, that 5-0 margin was inevitable.

  • H on July 2, 2013, 14:36 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer I actually thought England should have gone for quick runs in Adelaide in 2006, so I've played that "what if" scenario in my head quite a lot ;). Of course, the questionable decision Strauss got that sparked the collapse did little to help in that regard either.

    As for 2005, you're right that Australia collapsed from 264-1 to 367 but they were 185-0. Without KP's 158 they'd have been chasing 184 to win. Of course, nothing's certain (see Adelaide 2006) but it would have made for a nervy fourth innings ;).

  • Mark on July 2, 2013, 7:12 GMT

    @Mr.CrickCheat it's an original way of looking at things. He averages 49.0 in all Tests and 52.7 v Australia. QED, he underperforms against Australia?

  • Mark on July 2, 2013, 7:03 GMT

    @H_Z_O Playing "what if?" is the most popular game in cricket. In that deciding Ashes Test in 2005 you can also say that Hoggard and Flintoff were running through Australia (264-1 to 367ao), so there was every chance that Australia would have collapsed again, as they had done so many times in that series even without Pietersen's runs.

    What would have happened if England had gone for quick runs at Adelaide instead of fiddling around? Maybe they would never have collapsed and Australia would have had to chase 250 in an afternoon and never established a stranglehold on the series :-)

    No one will ever know what would have happened In these cases because cricket often does not obey logic and, perhaps, it's just as well that they do not.

  • H on July 1, 2013, 20:59 GMT

    @Mr.CrickCheat his 158 at the Oval in 2005 while the rest of the England batsmen were losing their heads (his first Ashes series, it must be said) might not have won the match but it sure as hell won the Ashes. Australia were rampant in that match, Warne and McGrath running through the English as they had done so many times before. Without Pietersen, that match would have been lost and England would not have won the Ashes in 2005.

    It's also really cheap to look at the margin of victory after the fact and say the runs didn't matter. Without those runs in Adelaide, England would have had to chase 156. In 2006 at the same ground they were 59-1 going into day 5, a lead of 97. 70 runs later they were all out and Australia comfortably chased down 168 to win what looked like a certain draw. There's absolutely no certainty England would have chased down the 156, so who knows if KP's runs won the match?

  • Brian on July 1, 2013, 18:55 GMT

    hello ruester, yes I have read KP's record against Australia. Seventeen tests, and only one century which could palpably be described as "match-winning" (his 227 at Adelaide), and even that was such a big margin of victory England could well have won anyway. Whatever his talents, his match-winning centuries in Ashes tests are far exceeded by his number of complacent (and sometimes match-losing) dismissals (e.g., bowled round his legs by Warne at Adelaide 5 Dec 2006). So I will not be told to shut up.

  • H on July 1, 2013, 13:25 GMT

    @CricketingStargazer yeah, that was my thinking regarding the India series too. Despite the dry wickets we saw at the Champions Trophy, I can't see the pitches for the Tests being anywhere near that dry.

    I agree that on form both sides are actually fairly close and I think it could come down to attitude and mental fortitude. If Lehmann can instil that in an Australia side that's looked uncharacteristically devoid of it recently, we might be in for a shock. Otherwise I'd back England's gritty experience to just edge it. It's shaping up to be a great series, whatever happens. Good news too; close, tense, nervy series are the most fun (hence why 2005 remains my favourite).

  • Mark on July 1, 2013, 11:45 GMT

    @H_Z_O That was my reasoning. And it has been a success. Bresnan has an unbeaten century, which will not do his confidence any harm, reaching the century with a six and Swann just missed out with 94. England passed 400 and declared. Job done. Just the route was odd.

    And only Finn missed out on reaching double figures.

    The India series is only relevant if England has a blazingly hot summer and five dust bowls are produced. As the tendency seems to be to wetter summers, that strikes me as unlikely.

    If you take the last three series played (i.e. season 2013/13 on), England are P8. W4, D3, L1; Australia are P10, W3, D2, L5. Not quite as massive a difference in current form as some people would have you believe. A lot of people are thinking back to the 1989 series, but there is also a parallel to 1985. Then Australia had some administrative issues at the start of the to, looked sublime against the counties, rolling Somerset easily, had the 4 fastest bowlers in the series... and lost 3-1

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2013, 11:29 GMT

    There are many positives from this too….I don't know why everyone is talking about collapse of front line batsman. This line up will destroy Aussies bowling line up for sure in Ashes, and Swann and Bresnan showed how deep this line up is. In this particular game, they will go across 400 for sure and Bowlers will put pressure on Essex. Significant sign for the English cricket. Players are plying their best game in need. On the other side Big challenge for the Aussies, they are already considered as under Dogs and now they can't be relaxed after picking up 6-7 wickets because this match shows how well tailenders can bat and can spoil the party.

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