CA Chairman's XI v England XI, Tour match, Alice Springs, 1st day November 29, 2013

Ballance lone bright spot for England


CA Chairman's XI 16 for 0 trail England XI 212 for 7 (Ballance 55) by 196 runs

Like many before them, several of this England squad arrived in Northern Territory looking for a land of opportunity, only to find it can be a harsh, unforgiving place.

This part of Australia is undeniably beautiful. But it can also be brutal. And, as England may be discovering, a single mistake can have disastrous consequences. Coming back from the Test defeat in Brisbane, if they could do it, might prove as great an achievement as anything in their recent history.

This two-day game against modest opposition should have been a chance for batsmen to find form and bowlers to find rhythm. Instead it has probed at weaknesses and provided another reminder of the poor form of some in the squad. It has been, to date, something of a wasted opportunity for England.

Certainly the continuing struggle of Matt Prior, with the bat at least, has extended well beyond the 'blip' phase. Not only has he scored just 56 runs in six first-class innings on this tour but, since mid-May, he has batted 24 times in first-class cricket and not made a half-century. Indeed, he has scored just 351 runs at an average of 16.71.

Quite where things have gone wrong for Prior is unclear. In May he was presented with England's Player of the Year award for the previous 12 months and there has been no absence of hard work since. But the man who was, not so long ago, talked about as a possible No. 6, is currently batting with the tentative uncertainly of a No. 8; pushing at balls in hope, rather than waiting with confidence. Here, after a couple of characteristically flowing strokes, he perished to an outside edge after flirting with one he would have been well advised to leave alone.

Joe Root's dress rehearsal as No. 3 - he opened here but is most likely to take Jonathan Trott's position in the second Test in Adelaide - was also underwhelming. Not for the first time, he perished attempting a back foot force and slicing to gully. It is not a low risk stroke on Australia's quick wickets.

Perhaps such an assessment undersells the performance of this Chairman's XI attack. On a pitch offering assistance throughout, the inexperienced seamers acquitted themselves impressively, maintaining a probing line and length and benefiting from a painfully slow outfield that gave batsmen little value for their strokes. Simon Mackin, a towering 21-year-old with Western Australia, was the pick, though Jake Doran, the 16-year-old keeper, will also remember the day with fondness after taking a fine, low catch to dismiss Ian Bell.

The one England player who enhanced his reputation was Gary Ballance. On the thin evidence available, it seems likely that Ballance will make his Test debut in Adelaide and bat at No. 6. Here he showed admirable patience in compiling a half-century - it took him 124 balls to get there - though how meaningful runs against the Chairman's XI spinners are ahead of a Test against Mitchell Johnson and co is debateable.

Ballance is not, at this stage, the finished article. For a start he is, by England's high standards, below the required fitness levels. But he has an excellent record, is highly regarded and, crucially, is the man in the right position at the right time. His chance of going on to make an unarguable case for selection was ended after a mix-up with Bell but, perhaps due as much to the failures of others as his own success, he looks to be in pole position. Opportunity knocks for him.

Meanwhile Michael Carberry clipped a half-volley to midwicket, Bell edged a decent one that he could have left and Ben Stokes' pleasing innings was ended by an outstanding catch at short leg.

Jonny Bairstow also batted nicely but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he does not feature particularly prominently in the England management's plans. Not only was he obliged to bat at No. 7 - surely too low for someone being considered for a spot in Adelaide - but the declaration also came before he had an opportunity to press his claims.

Both Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin then bowled with admirable pace, but neither made the batsmen play enough. Rankin, in particular, overdid the short ball. Neither have, to date, done their chances of usurping Chris Tremlett as third seamer much good.

There was, at least, encouraging news off the pitch. The sight of Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad working together in the nets - Pietersen as coach; Broad as batsman learning to combat the short ball - would have been impossible not so long ago. Pietersen, underlining his reaffirmed commitment to the team ethic, also appeared as 12th man in the dying overs of the day as Root was suffering from stomach trouble. He is expected to be fine in the morning.

Tim Bresnan would appear to have a much better chance of playing in the second Test, having performed creditably for the England Performance Programme in Queensland. He will join the Test squad on Sunday and undergo an assessment by the medical team. If he is deemed fully fit - and it is likely he will be - then he will be added to the squad for the rest of the tour.

But it was the batsmen, not the bowlers, who let England down in Brisbane. Bringing in Bresnan would be like calling the coast guard for a house fire.

The rest of the EPP squad - Tymal Mills, Moeen Ali et al - will next meet the full Test squad ahead of the Perth Test. There are no plans for any of them to be added to the Test squad at this stage, though they will be utilised as net bowlers in Perth.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 1, 2013, 0:32 GMT

    Yes, agree, Bresnan is o Botham, but a seriously handy cricketer and ally good inclusion fornAdelaide, Melbourne and sydney.

    The author's focus on England's batting over bowling is a bit weird. England need to win a match to win. All the runs in the world won't matter if Broad is left to do too much

  • Cam on November 30, 2013, 8:49 GMT

    @DJAbacus, I agree, it is only one test but to be fair we've been on the back of some poor cricket so a massive win at the Gabba was uplifting. However, I can't see how England can handle our pace attack. A 20kph difference between the bowling units is significant and we made 700 runs with wickets to spare and England failed twice on a good wicket. Your 3 has gone home (a very very good player), Root has just failed twice again (as he does with regularity), Cook is all over the place, Prior is so out of form I think his career is in jeopardy. Bell and KP aren't getting any runs. It's just really hard to see them not getting really well beaten on current form. I don't think they will make runs in Adelaide, I expect the to continue their 18 innings run of not going past 400 and the bowlers are bowling with a shuttlecock.

  • Cameron on November 30, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    Agree @disco_bob, it's telling they still have no second or third seamer options. England will have a field day in Adelaide, many of them I suspect.

  • disco on November 30, 2013, 7:42 GMT

    2nd day report Panesar and Swann in the wickets, but it's a kind of a glass half full situation as it may be more pertinent to say Stokes, Finn and Rankin between them took one tail end wicket for 140 runs in 43 overs.

  • Cameron on November 30, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    @David Brumby, spot on. I mean some here would slate Australia underwater but that jealously came from the ease with which Australia used to dispatch England with and how they are obviously doing so again now after cruising effortlessly to the 5th largest victory in Ashes history. A wicket or two in the start of an inning and the England batters will be knowing exactly what is to come.

  • Dummy4 on November 30, 2013, 2:34 GMT

    Isnt't it amusing reading all the jealousy towards the Aussies and the terror of those same people that Australia might be on its way up again.

  • Michael on November 29, 2013, 23:57 GMT

    Anyone would think this side of Clarke's wee Bradman's Invincibles. They are not but one of the most vincible sides around. Therefore the lack of any sort of positive input either from writers or from comments here I find intolerable. We won in India and we won in the summer. 1 victory does not redeem them

  • James on November 29, 2013, 22:29 GMT

    This is a great test for Cook's captaincy. There are times in life when everything just falls into place, & you don't even have to try.

    This is not one of those times.

    Everything seemed to go right during the English series. Even when Eng played poorly, somebody bowled well right at the end, rain saved their butt or they got a fortuitous umpiring call. Such is life. You take it when it comes your way. When it doesn't, you man up...

  • James on November 29, 2013, 22:27 GMT

    One thing that makes me think that Eng might not only lose but could get thrashed, is this bizarre victim mentality which has befallen the team, Eng media & some fans. Images of them stonewalling the press in Brisbane didn't look good. Good teams just don't do that. It's like they now see that the world is against them. Sorry, but I read that Broad story in the Courier-mail, and it was meant to be humorous. It does not an anti-England conspiracy make. The Clarke incident at the end of the 1st test is not evidence of a sledging war. It was out of character for Clarke, coming in the heat of the moment. Though certainly foolish & inappropriate, Warner's press comments were more playful than vicious - mere banter with pressmen - take a look yourself on YouTube! Note that all early comments laughed Warner's words off as a joke - till media spin turned them into outrage.

  • Zubair on November 29, 2013, 21:33 GMT

    Moeen Ali scored more than 2,000 runs in all forms of the game this summer, and took 55 wickets with his off-spin bowling. He is also the 2013 Player of the Year award as voted for by the Professional Cricketers Association. Bresnan scored 57no and took 4 wickets in the first innings against Queensland in which Moeen didn't ball but made 83 with the bat. More importantly in the second innings Bresnan went wicketless after a duck and the ball was thrown to Moeen who took 5 wickets with his offspin, that of batsmen no3,4,5,6 & 7, effected the run out of Joey Burns their no3 centurion, and also remained not out himself when being made to bat lower down the order. A 5 for and 100+ runs down under for the 2013 player of the year. Eureka Let's legislate that a place in the 1st XI must be pre-reserved for the player of the year. At least we'll have one more match winner in the side this way.

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