England v Australia, 2nd Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day July 20, 2013

Australia pay for batting madness

Australia's penalty for madness with the bat on the second day is pain on the third

As the evening shadows began to creep across Lord's, Ashton Agar stepped in to bowl to Jonny Bairstow. His languid action, more stilted in this match due to a hip complaint, wound up towards the crease in seven bounding steps, before his left arm began its ascent.

Usually it rolls over smoothly and propels the ball down towards the batsman with flight and a little spin. But this time he pulled out of the motion before completing it, having lost grip on the ball. Offering a gently embarrassed smile, he shuffled back to his mark to try again. It had been that sort of day for Australia, as Friday's madness became Saturday's consequences.

There was only ever the slimmest chance that England would allow Australia back into the Test after Australia's staggeringly slipshod first innings batting display, and it was arguably gone the moment neither Brad Haddin nor Michael Clarke chose to accept a regulation outside edge from Joe Root late on the second evening.

The tourists' bowlers battled manfully on day three, working away patiently despite the near hopelessness of their situation. But they were unable to wring dramatic results from the dry yet still quite trustworthy pitch, as Root, Tim Bresnan, Ian Bell and Bairstow pushed the target well beyond the realms of the possible.

The bowlers' frustration at finding themselves in such a predicament was plain on their faces throughout. Ryan Harris grimaced and cussed frequently, James Pattinson's expressive features were contorted more often in exasperation than intimidation, and Peter Siddle charged in angrily. They knew their best efforts were being thwarted by solid, unspectacular stuff from England; exactly the sort of batting the Australians should have aimed for on the second afternoon. The coach Darren Lehmann has spoken admiringly of how this series Bell has played within his limitations, and on this day Bresnan and Root in particular would follow that blueprint grandly.

The lessons for Australia's batsmen were many, from Bresnan's dogged occupation of the crease in the morning to absorb the freshest of the bowling, to Root's commendably straight bat in either defence or attack. Overall the impression was of batsmen not prepared to give up their wickets cheaply, even if the only two wickets to fall were to misdirected pull shots. Good spells were respected and bad ones punished. Scoring was steady but not unduly hurried, and the closing overs of sessions were played out without the merest hint of a brain explosion. Having survived only 53.3 overs themselves, the tourists have already slogged through 110 from England in this innings and in the process have also worn down the bowlers who represent Australia's best chance of nicking a Test match.

Harris, so incisive and effective on the first day of the match, was clearly diminished by lack of rest. His pace wavered somewhat, and he was unable to conjure the wickets he has so often provided when fit. Returning to his bowling mark time after time, Harris would no doubt have recalled similar scenarios when playing for an underperforming South Australia before his move to Queensland.

The discontent of bowlers in a weak team are compounding - there is less rest to be had, the opposing batsmen are not afflicted by the heavy legs associated with long hours in the field, and teammates wait for chances more in hope than the expectation associated with regular winners.

For Agar, this was a sobering day. The dryness of the surface suggested opportunities for spinners, as Steve Smith had demonstrated in the first innings. But his lack of success reflected the fact that at 19 he remains a bowler in development, regardless of how beguiled the selectors have been by his obvious natural ability. It is likely that Agar will become a very fine cricketer, but right now it is not quite clear that bowling should remain his primary string. Save for one delivery that bit out of the rough and spun across Root's bat to Clarke at slip without taking a touch, there was little mystery or venom in many of Agar's offerings.

Watching on from the pavilion, Nathan Lyon can rightly wonder at how he may have fared. His omission from the Trent Bridge Test was a tight and contentious call, its consequences obscured for a time by the blinding light of Agar's debut 98 at No. 11. But on a day like this, it cannot be debated that Lyon would have posed more problems for England's batsmen, having learned as he has the nuances of Test match bowling over the apprenticeship that had appeared geared towards this series. Lyon has taken his absence from the team as well as could be expected. For all the romanticism of Nottingham, Agar may soon be dealing with similar emotions.

Speaking of injustices, Bell's survival of an apparent clear catch by Smith in the gully when he had only 3 maintained a theme almost as disquieting as that of Australia's anaemic batting displays. For the second time in as many Tests the tourists were denied a wicket by umpiring error, in this case the third official Tony Hill being fooled by the optical issues presented by television footage of a clear catch. Like Stuart Broad, Bell stood his ground with the brio of an established performer. In this instance, the fielders' frustration at their plight as warranted. But in the context of the day it was a misleading moment. Australia deserved precisely the fate that befell them. Like Agar to Bairstow, they have completely lost their grip.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2013, 10:46 GMT

    Australia should have somehow convinced Hussey to play the 10 ashes test matches then retire in full glory.. Hussey coming in at No.4 would have lent more solidity to there batting and the selfish clarke would have performed better then. Watson at one down and brad hodge to open instead should have been the only way for Australia to have added muscle to its batting..

  • Simon on July 21, 2013, 10:46 GMT

    I don't think you're to qualified Jared Hansen. Narine, Ajmal, Swann are all better bowlers than Herath and O'Keefe will struggle to make the NSW team despite having the only spin pitch in the country at his disposal. No-one has ever stated Lyon is the best spinner in the world Chris Sun so writing it makes you the joke.

  • Sam on July 21, 2013, 10:34 GMT

    I love siddle's neverending optimism and how sensible he is about things like umpiring errors, it shows why he is such a persevering fierce competitor. But i think deep down he would think, as lehmann has said, our batting performance was completely unacceptable. I hope at some point in the series they can redeem themselves but after that i doubt it. As this article points out test match batting isnt just about batting long to build innings and score runs its about protecting your bowlers so they can stay fresh. Against a side like england this is even more important because as they have shown many times they are all about wearing down the opposition and beating them into submission. Its a shame our bowlers are having to pay the price for such a poor batting display and its worrying with injury prone players like harris, watson and pattinson.

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2013, 9:59 GMT

    @Chris Sun "A lot of Australians" would call Lyon the best spin bowler in the WORLD??? I bet you couldn't find more than a dozen in the whole country. He has terrible control of his line, length and pace, poor tactical sense and hurries through his overs without thinking it through. I don't like Graeme Swann much but he's definitely better. Monty Panesar, for that matter, is a better bowler. Herath is legitimately the best. I don't even think Lyon is the best in the country given O'Keefe's last Shield season.

  • Benjamin on July 21, 2013, 9:28 GMT

    @capitalMarkets - Spot on with Haddin, if you remember back to the last ashes in OZ I believe he had dropped more than he caught after the first 3 tests. I can't believe they have him ahead of Wade. With Wade being 24 give him the chance to develop. I've been a critic of Haddin for a long time and despite his second innings in the last test his glove work is horrid

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2013, 9:01 GMT

    Except for Clarke and Rogers I cannot imagine any one playing a long innings like that of Root in the Australian batting line-up.Can you?

  • Samuel on July 21, 2013, 8:56 GMT

    @CapitalMarkets - I don't think he confused them as much as caught them on the hop: he's barely bowled as of late and England probably hadn't prepared to face him. Warne aside, leg spin tends to get thumped in England - I believe Mushtaq Ahmed has the second best average of any leggie to play in England, and even he averaged 32. Even Kumble averaged above 40. Basically, I wouldn't expect a part time leggie to cause many more problems, although with this England batting line-up at the moment you're never sure what you're going to get!

  • Rod on July 21, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    I actually don't think that Smith is a better cricketer than Agar (although he may be fitter at the moment). If you're going to play a specialist spinner, pick your best spinner. I do think that Smith was a bit unlucky to get a quality delivery and Bell is one of the best fielders in the world close to the wicket. Smith should not neglect his bowling as leg spinners are sufficiently rare for him to have confused England's middle order once already.

    Catches win matches and I've been disappointed with Haddin's keeping.

    Australians should recognise that their close catchers are slightly further from the bat than they should be. They should be standing in places where a regulation edge will hit them in the midriff; it means less time but it would have meant that several chances, including the one Smith probably took but which wasn't given, would be coming at catchable height. Australian pitches are generally quicker than English ones and I don't think they have made the adjustment yet.

  • Pulkit on July 21, 2013, 5:28 GMT

    Obviously the Aussie bowlers are paying for the abysmal display by their batsmen. On a pitch like this, I reckon it is probably harder to get out the way Australia did than to post a par score. The English bowling was hardly spectacular and the only pressure there was the ones these batsmen created for themselves.

    To expect miracles out of the bowling line-up is foolish. They bowled very well today but there wasn't much in there for them and the English batted calmly.

    I sincerely hope the Oz batsmen learn something from this test (that they'll be losing by quite a few runs) and come back and actually play the next time.

    Also, call back Warner. Yeah, he probably won't make any decent scores but there is a chance he might click and that's more than I can say for this lot. Get him down to #6 or #4...depending on whatever will work for Hughes to not get out before 10. I suspect he'll find a way anyways.

  • Benjamin on July 21, 2013, 5:00 GMT

    Just to continue on my rant, I don't mind if we get slaughtered by genuinely good bowling but when we throw wickets away to stock standard or rank balls, Watson, Rogers, Kawaja, Haddin, Hughes - they deserve to get smashed. I wished the media would give them more heat, for some reason they seem to be going easy on them.

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