Eng v Aus, 4th Investec Test, Chester-le-Street, 1st day

England's self-inflicted wounds

England's batsmen did not appear to know whether to stick or twist on the opening day, but should have followed the lead of their captain

George Dobell at Chester-le-Street

August 9, 2013

Comments: 36 | Text size: A | A

Ian Bell came down the pitch in the first over after tea and picked out mid-off, England v Australia, 4th Investec Ashes Test, Chester-le-Street, 1st day, August 9, 2013
Ian Bell has batted wonderfully for England in the Ashes, but his shot straight after tea was a bad moment © Getty Images

After the apocalypse, when the first few survivors emerge from their bunkers and caves, it seems safe to assume they will find only two types of creature unscathed: a certain type of hardy insect and, marking his guard and waiting for his next ball, Alastair Cook.

There is more than something of the dung beetle about Cook. There are times when he makes his job appear hideously unattractive, when he appears unequal to the struggle, when his batting is so grindingly unattractive that you want to hide your children's eyes from it. He is as much cockroach Cook as captain Cook.

But Cook has always been more interested in substance than style. And despite the fact that he was clearly not at his best on the first day of this Test, he provided an example to his team-mates in determination and persistence.

Cook's innings was torturous. He batted as if his feet were set in concrete and as if the bat handle were laced with barbwire. He never looked comfortable and barely timed anything sweetly.

But he survived. He survived for almost four hours. He fought and he concentrated and he refused to give it away. He saw the shine off the ball and the energy out of the bowlers. He put so great a price on his wicket that it took an excellent delivery, a peach of a ball that pitched outside off and nipped back, to finally prise him out.

The point that Cook understands better than any of his team-mates is that there is no hurry. There are times in Test cricket when it is necessary to score quickly and seize the initiative. But generally, particularly as an opening batsman, the priority is survival and accumulation. The runs follow. They may come slowly, but they come a lot less slowly than they will if you're back in the dressing room ruing your dismissal.

There is no need to try to steal the initiative with aggressive batting. It can be gained with more certainty and more security by stealth. It can be gained by refusing to give the opposition a chance and by gradually wearing them down and batting them out of the game. It doesn't have to be gained the Kevin Pietersen way. Draws, at least draws where the weather has not intervened, have become almost an anachronism in Test cricket in England and Cook understands that the game still allows the time to build an innings over a day or more.

Our position is our fault - Trott

  • Jonathan Trott admitted England had been the architects of their own downfall after losing nine wickets of the opening day of the fourth Investec Ashes Test at Chester-le-Street. Choosing to bat on a slow but blameless surface, England subsided from a position of 107 for 1 to end to the day on 238 for 9.
  • "We're disappointed as we got ourselves into a good position and then got ourselves into a bad position," Trott said. "As a group, we're disappointed that we've ended the day probably behind.

  • "Generally in cricket you get yourself out. It can be due to good pressure from the opposition and you end up playing a shot to a ball you shouldn't. It's not too often you get unplayable deliveries.Generally the fault is on yourself as a batsman and I think we could all say that today. It was a little bit uncharacteristic of us as a side. We put a lot of value on our wicket, so when that doesn't happen, there a few disappointed guys.

  • "250 is an average score at Durham. We could say we're at par, but clearly we're not. We didn't have the best of days towards the end."

  • Trott defended England's slow scoring rate, but accepted they had not played the offspin of Nathan Lyon very well. He did insist, however, that England could still win the game.

  • "You look at his figures and say we didn't play him the best," Trott said. "My dismissal started it. We're disappointed because we were getting out in soft ways. The ball wasn't really turning a huge amount, so the guys are disappointed and keen to put it right.

  • "You don't have to go out there and score like a one-day game. You hang in there and wait for your time. You earn the right to score runs in Test cricket.

  • "But we have a similar score to the one we made at Trent Bridge. We ended up winning that game, so hopefully we can do the same here."

But while Cook made Australia work for his wicket, some of his colleagues gave theirs away as if contributing to a charity. While much of the day was characterised by grim defiance, several of the batsmen - Cook apart - fell to aggressive strokes or playing at deliveries they would have been better leaving alone. To lose four wickets on the first day of a Test to a finger spinner on a pitch offering little or no turn speaks volumes for the self inflicted nature of England's problems.

There was little balance to their approach. Jonny Bairstow, surely desperately in need of a strong second innings performance to retain his place, went scoreless for over an hour at one stage then he squandered that resistance by falling to an unnecessary sweep. While Jonathan Trott batted beautifully to help England to a promising platform of 107 for 1, the flick he attempted across the line that resulted in his dismissal was unnecessary.

The same word - unnecessary - may be used to describe Pietersen's stroke, pushing at a non-turning off-break angled across him and edging to the keeper, or, perhaps the nadir of the innings, Ian Bell's decision to skip down the wicket four balls after tea in an attempt to hit over the top and lofting a catch to mid off. Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad fell to strokes so gormless that it is tempting to try to sell them a time share. It was all so unnecessary.

England's problem was not that they blocked too much for too long; it was they did not do it for long enough. They seemed so uncomfortable with the policy of defence, so full of the need to assert themselves, that they perished in an unnecessary attempt to break the shackles. They should have had the mental strength to know that ending the day on 160 for 1 was quite adequate.

There is an irony here. Earlier this summer, Nick Compton was dropped, in part, due to a perceived inability to score with the requisite impetus. Despite having registered two centuries in his previous five Tests, England replaced him with men who were deemed more positive. Even in the two games prior to his dropping, Compton seemed uncomfortable with his natural game, like a man forced to drive too fast in dangerous conditions. He did not play his natural game.

This sent out a message to England's other batsmen. It told them, possibly subconsciously, that they had to be more assertive. That they had to push on. That their run-rate mattered. It was, in retrospect, a significant error on the part of the England management.

The problem actually stems back further than that. Since they reached the No. 1 Test ranking, England have lacked the patience to build formidable Test totals. Whether that is due to sated hunger or whether other sides have worked out methods to bowl to them is debatable.

Certainly England's struggles here owed much to the pressure built by Australia's bowlers. While the seamers did not use the new ball quite as well as they might have done - Cook and Joe Root were barely forced to play - the ability to 'bowl dry' and to build pressure on England was executed brilliantly by a very well disinclined attack.

But England had done the hard work. They had seen off the new ball, the bowlers at their freshest and the pitch at its most lively. They had built the foundations. All of which just goes to make their largely self-inflicted collapse all the more galling.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (August 11, 2013, 21:38 GMT)

Test cricket is a marathon, not a sprint. We had an excellent opening pair,building strong foundations, in Cook and Nick Compton. Together, they posted 6 stands of over 50, including 3 of over a hundred and and one of over 200. How many 50 partnerships have Cook and Root posted? No wonder Cook bats slowly when he cannot rely on his 2 and 3. We are getting bad starts and needing to be rescued by Bell and Peterson because of the selectors' bloody-minded determination to get Bairstow into the team come hell or high water. Root is obviously not ready to open for England. We should bring back a man who has made 2 hundreds and a 50 in 9 Tests, not to mention 2 50s against the Australians in tour matches. The selectors should admit they got it wrong and restore Nick Compton. But they are as rigid in their thinking as Cook is in his captaincy.

Posted by TeamRocker on (August 11, 2013, 9:08 GMT)

I agree as well as disagree with this article. There was nothing wrong with Cook's approach, and he was well set up for a big 100 before Bird bowled that absolute ripper of a delivery. However, it's unfair to demand the same levels of willpower and determination from the rest of the players, particularly Prior or Pietersen. Each batsmen should have batted in the way they found natural and comfortable, though without throwing their wicket away (Bell).

Posted by Biso on (August 11, 2013, 5:27 GMT)

@Humdrum. Agree with your comment that England did well while India and Australia had aging players / were in transition. Aussies are closing the gap even though their batting is yet to become solid. At the moment, Aussies are certainly struggling with their batting while their bowling looks good and they have the fast bowling stock to do better. They definitely need spinners. At this point the results of the last two tests actually rest on the Aussie batting. If they bat well Australia will win both the tests.

Posted by Biso on (August 11, 2013, 5:20 GMT)

I do not agree with the article. One cook is enough. Maybe one more batsman with the same approach after Cook is out. If you do not score runs , you are doomed. Batting is a team effort. You need both Cook and Pietersen's. I would prefer a Pietersen blinder in difficult conditions ( although the risk is always there).

Posted by humdrum on (August 10, 2013, 13:13 GMT)

Right now, the english selectors seem more clueless than anybody else.

Posted by olideans on (August 10, 2013, 10:57 GMT)

The English plan is not right. Don't get me wrong, I'm English, and I want to see us doing well, but the plan is not right. I agree with Dobell's sentiment about Compton-gate, he was dropped because he couldn't score quickly enough; but then it seems all the batsmen have been told to play a grinding test innings of yesteryear, when it's not all batsmen's natural game. Yes, you have to be watchful and play yourself in, but by trying NOT to score you can bat yourself out of form. To put it another way, to score your natural way can bat yourself into form. England's batsmen are picked for different reasons: some for their defensive play, some their attacking play. And, though you do have to play in a particular way in specific situations, yesterday - the opening day of a test match - they all seemed very uncomfortable batting in a way that appeared unnatural to all but 'la Cucaracha Cook'.

Posted by   on (August 10, 2013, 10:46 GMT)

George, the point about Cook's performance is that when you bat like that, the opposition don't need to take your wicket. Cook's scoring rate wasn't hurting them in the least, in fact all it was doing was putting pressure on the other batsmen. I would have understood Cook's approach if England had been put in on an awkward pitch against a rampant attack, but they won the toss and chose to bat, on the first day on a good pitch. It was almost as if he'd made up his mind to play that way before he even went out there. You're right of course, there's no hurry as such, but if you set the tone with a big block and end up only 238 on after day one, the opposition still have a great opportunity. These players all play ODI cricket which has taught them how to pinch singles, manoeuvre the ball, rotate the strike and yet Cook chose against all this yesterday, clearly not from Old Trafford, and England paid the price.

Posted by StJohn on (August 10, 2013, 10:22 GMT)

Admittedly Compton had a poor home series against NZ, but the decision to drop him so soon after he had a good away series in NZ was inconsistent with the more recent mantra of giving players a decent run in the team to prove themselves. I think Compton should return for the 5th Test to open with Cook. I like Bairstow, but Compton has performed better in an England Test shirt so I'd drop Root down the order to take Bairstow's place. Compton's perhaps more defensive approach has been criticised at a time when stickability and Boycott-like (or Boycott-lite?!) innings building qualities have, paradoxically, been sorely missed (and missing).

Posted by   on (August 10, 2013, 10:16 GMT)

Batting too slowly is just as risky as batting too quickly. A batsmen can paint themselves, and their team into a corner and allow the opposition bowlers to keep coming at them, if the bowlers are patient enough. If England where playing the likes of Mitchell Johnson then the runs will eventually come, but here we had Siddle and Bird and too a lesser extent Harris who are very fit and work very hard. Eventually something had to give and it was the English who lost their cool and Lyons of all people cashed in. In the end England lost 9 wickets and if they had batted more positively they could have had a respectable 280 - 300 runs on the board but instead they have 240, with a opposition attack feeling very confident against them.

Posted by AmigoAustraliano on (August 10, 2013, 9:32 GMT)

Wow... Only took 500 words to finally say 'well bowled Australia'.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (August 10, 2013, 9:08 GMT)

@shot274: absolutely right. If Oz find batting as difficult as the majority of the England players did on day 1, then all-fair-minded spectators will have to accept that batting is not an easy business here. That said, England's bats did not really apply themselves, apart from the dungbeetle (!) & a spritely Trott. There was something of an air of: the Ashes are retained. With a draw here & we have the series too - not that a draw seems very likely at the moment. England is not very watchable in this vein & it's a pity for the local population that the fare thus far has been turgid. I can't help feeling that a fresh face or two would have been right to keep the season-ticket holding members of the Eng side on their toes. There seems to be a disproportionate sense of security of tenure in some quarters. We know that has its benefits, but it can tilt too much the other way, into complacency (not that it would ever be admitted). If Oz is more enterprising, then they will deserve the win.

Posted by gm47 on (August 10, 2013, 9:00 GMT)

@ sandy_bangalore You say flair of sub continent..... Are you still upset that England thrashed India home and away :)

Posted by gm47 on (August 10, 2013, 8:51 GMT)

"""Australia could have been 2-1 up"""" could've, would've,should've........ England could have been 3-0 up but are not. It's 2-0 and will finish 4-0.

Deal with it !

Posted by humdrum on (August 10, 2013, 8:43 GMT)

The cold facts are that the rise of England's fortunes coincided with the decline in fortunes of Australia and India(mainly owing to retirements/transition phase) and they seem to be reverting to their mean even as the other teams have started their ascendancy.Any cricket lover,worth his salt,would be able to spot the glaring difference between the english team of two years ago and that of today. Ditto for aussies. It is highly amusing that they fancy their chances of going back to no.1 rank.If only they took off their blinkers....

Posted by milepost on (August 10, 2013, 8:35 GMT)

The bowlers earned the wickets, the batsman were out-smarted and their scoring was dried up. It's pretty clear Australia have the upper hand in the bowling stocks, though Swann obviously remains a clear asset for England. Keep blaming England for underperforming or poor shot selection or not plying to ability or potential or getting bad decisions or any of the other excuses I read here. It looks to me like Austraila can play and rather than just compete, they can beat England. Lot of test match to come but Austraila have now strung together 5-6 days of excellent performance and that is on what these teams shall be judged, despite your excuses.

Posted by Patchmaster on (August 10, 2013, 8:34 GMT)

@ Sandy_Banglore..........so England have been put in their place by Australia. Even though Aus have lost several Ashes series in a row - including this one ! Aus have been out in there place me thinks........

Posted by sandy_bangalore on (August 10, 2013, 7:33 GMT)

England is the most unwatchable team in cricket(except KP), and its extremely satisfying to see them put in their place by AUstralia! None of the flair of the sub-continental teams, and neither the aggression of the Aussie or the SA teams. Dour, attritional cricket. If attendances and viewership for test cricket further dwindles, they are squarely to blame.

Posted by bumble23 on (August 10, 2013, 6:41 GMT)

@ Subash. Please dont be biased against england. If ashton Agar had been adjudged stumped against swann in the first test match it would not have even reached the 4th day. Joe root might have secured his place with a century but compton should have opened right from test 1. It has been a comedy of management errors made by flower and the selectors. To be fair because of compton's and cook's opening partnerships england were able to grind the indian bowlers and win the test series in india. Irrespective of what form compton is in now he should be recalled for the next test.

Posted by kamalakannan1k on (August 10, 2013, 6:33 GMT)

This was the worst batting displayed by eng. Poor shot selections, one or two playing too slow and one or two playing very fast. Recent comparison of Cook and God of Cricket ( SRT ) was unwanted, Cook is not even near to SRT in any format of Cricket.

Posted by tph86 on (August 10, 2013, 3:45 GMT)

@ Subhash - What a load of rubbish.

1. The decisions in the Trent Bridge test were poor, but they went both ways (Agar stumping, Trott LBW). The Aussies got close due to miracle last-wicket partnerships.

2. It's not clear that England would have been drubbed at Old Trafford. Two sessions with seven wickets in hand is not that difficult to negotiate. The idea that they were saved from certain doom by rain is nonsense.

3. Cook is too defensive to win test matches? His record as England captain is W-8, D-5, L-1. If England avoid defeat in this match he has won 4 series, drawn 1 and lost none. Not to mention his batting records and the number of innings he has played to set up victories. More than one way to attack than T20 style.

As for dropping Bairstow for Stokes or Morgan...read Jarrod Kimber's piece on the virtues of dropping players who aren't immediately setting the world on fire.

Posted by browners76 on (August 10, 2013, 2:34 GMT)

Simply not good enough. We should be putting this poor Australian side to the sword, but instead were keeping their interest alive by these poor batting displays. Gooch must be going mad at the wasteful dismissals and brainless strokeplay. How we've gone from being 5-0 shoe-ins to probably a 2-2 draw is pathetic. The bowlers better discover some zest and get us back in the match. Also where is Onions? What's the point of bowling beautifully for 2 full seasons and getting zero reward....even on your home ground! The selectors are way to reserved. Bairstow needs to go, and if Root produces nothing at the Oval then he too needs to go back to Yorkshire.

Posted by Dashgar on (August 10, 2013, 2:04 GMT)

Cook proved that the strategy of defending longer still wouldn't work. If your only though is defense the bowling will get you in the end. The peach always comes eventually. If Cook had been positive there may have been less slips in place so he's confident to play at that ball and he survives. As it was he was out and a critical time of the match having done little damage on the scorecard. Ed Cowan would have been hung, drawn and quartered by the English media for such an innings.

Posted by dunger.bob on (August 10, 2013, 1:34 GMT)

This certainly seems a tricky wicket. .. slow, low and hard to time the ball. The bowling was good even though it was pretty much gun barrel straight all day. I saw no more than a dozen swinging deliveries in the first session. It's tricky to bat on and maybe a bit tricky to bowl on as well. Line and length are critical it seems.

Anyway, England were frustrated. I can't believe they were in any way happy with the run rate. They were frustrated and maybe even a bit angry. Afterall, they're supposed to be the hero in this show and it was supposed to be them handing out the lessons. .. Hence the bad shots.

I always read George's articles with interest. His general attitude towards the game is so different to mine that he may as well be an alien from the planet Zog. An English friend of mine asked me why Aus. always try to bat so quickly. I told him it's simple. As soon as they changed from timeless Tests we realised we had to bat like that to make up for the time you guys waste.

Posted by RJHB on (August 10, 2013, 0:44 GMT)

Hmm so impartiality as a journalist is going the way of the dodo huh? Galling indeed! Lol Well as an impartial observer of the "English" batting order, one aspect of their play has been obvious to me at least, since the last Ashes series anyway: they do indeed like to score quickly for the most part, hit lots of boundaries and dominate. This is fine if you're the Australian or West Indies lineups of days sadly now past, but these Poms are not in their class. Look at the lineup: Cook is strong, few if any weaknesses; Trott is good but hitting across the stumps to leg constantly will increasingly get him into trouble the older he gets and the better the bowling to him is; Pietersen is reckless, is his way, but he must hit boundaries or die; Bell, severe weakness against good spin, hits in the air ALOT; Prior, very good but another who must score quickly or perish. As for other batsmen tried, none have been settled on, further weakening England's ability to score big regularly.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (August 9, 2013, 23:01 GMT)

The idea of Cook playing dungbeetle is highly amusing but quite a positive way of understanding his work. It is unglorious sometimes. I love cricket but at certain moments I am driven to distraction by certain antics of batsmen.Just blocking ball after ball after ball is one. Openers may not always be the fastest scorers but they generally know how to work the ball away for singles and elsewhere Strauss points out the industriousness of Graeme Thorpe in doing this. It keeps the scoreboard ticking over and is what I call positive play. It did not happen today and the result was a very negative batting performance. Generally if players can do the singles play then the odd two accrues and the boundaries follow suit and the score mounts. The batsman is not taking risks but simply being proactive. Root amd Cook were not playing that way and the result was a turgid morass,and while Trott and KP turned things around no-one else tried. Worst of all were Prior and Bairstow. What a mess!

Posted by shot274 on (August 9, 2013, 22:40 GMT)

I cant believe all this criticism after 1 days cricket. The golden rule of cricket is never to pass judgement till both sides have batted an innings. It would not surprise me at all if England got a first innings lead-slender perhaps but a lead. This wicket is ideal for Anderson ,Broad and Bresnan.This will not be a high scoring contest. 250 may well be par or even above par!

Posted by raulraj on (August 9, 2013, 22:06 GMT)

I agree that England gave their wickets away but Australian bowlers bowled really tight line and forced them to make errors. You cant be No.! test side making 170/2 on Day 1. Probalby thats what made england score quickly. Now I want to ask the most important question of the Day.....Where are the people who were thought Cook can break Sachin's Most centuries Record? I bet they are the same people who think Cook is touch too slow for test matehes. He is good player. I would suggest ICC to Play cricket Marathon with: Cowan , Cook , Misbah , Dravid, Trott, Shiv Narayan Chandarpaul, Gavaskar....Mind you they all were slow but all of them are One of few great test batsman......This is Test cricket, some time bowlers will be on top sometimes batsmen...thats why its % days.....So just enjoy the ashes war between Bat and Ball..n stop giving ur opinoin on every little thing acting like u know cricket..

Posted by jackiethepen on (August 9, 2013, 22:05 GMT)

Bairstow batting over an hour without a run was the nadir of the innings. I was a little surprised that Cook opted to bat. Durham on their home ground usually send in the opposition. Par score is 250 for the first innings so England should have taken more notice of local conditions. As it is England tried to find a way. Cook actually swung and missed at quite a few as well as being diligent. KP and Bell both tried to be more aggressive. None of it really worked. I would have loved to have seen Jimmy take advantage of the Durham wicket. We had heavy rain all day and then sun. Sounds perfect for him.

Posted by neo-galactico on (August 9, 2013, 21:11 GMT)

Eng batted well in the 1st session, absorbing pressure and removing the shine off the ball as they should. But in the 2nd session I think they should've played more positively, not aggressively. Cook especially as the set batsman should've looked to score runs rather than leaving everything as if playing on Day 5 trying to save the test. When you stop scoring like Eng did when the wicket comes the scoreboard still hasn't moved, it's going nowhere slowly. KP batted irresponsibly but that's his game. Bell was trying to assert himself on Lyon like in the last game. Cook got a jaffer. While Prior has credits left the same can't be said of Bairstow and to some extent Root who has only one big score as an opener albeit with a bit of luck. Quintessentially, England hasn't been batting well as a unit now since last year against SA.

Posted by a328232 on (August 9, 2013, 20:55 GMT)

Australia could have been 2 - 1 up in the series at this point with slight luck. As it actually turns out the Ashes is already gone.

Posted by   on (August 9, 2013, 20:55 GMT)

It would be after all fair if England lose this test, the way they have played this series, they should ideally have been 2-1 down by now. Taking no credit away from Anderson, England shld attribute the first test win to the rub of the green going their way on more than one occasion w.r.t. umpiring decisions (Broad n.o decisions and the decisions against Clarke and Agar) and its quite clear that they would have been drubbed in Old Trafford had it not been for the weather. A loss here would be a wake up call which they need. Alastair Cook's has been way too defensive in everything - just not good enough to win test matches and this innings is an ideal testimony. Bairstow has been plain incompetent, if he were to get a 50 in the second innings, that would the worst thing for England as he would keep his place in the next test. Root is by nature an attacking player, him playing the way he is could be attributed to the captain's defensive thinking. Morgan or Stokes at no 6 would be ideal.

Posted by The_other_side on (August 9, 2013, 20:31 GMT)

George Dobell is spot on here. English batsman are not playing their natural game. Joe Root except the 187, looked fish out of waterin the entire series. Bell, Bairstow both got out to unnecessary strokes. Another important observation is Aussie bowling- at best it is relentless but by no means incisive, given the pitch conditions. But English batsman failed without trying to attack and dominate with the exception of Pietersen. So England can blame themselves here. What happens from now on depends largely on how Australia play. So it is Australia's game to lose...

Posted by Kido123 on (August 9, 2013, 20:26 GMT)

@George Dobell: Agreed to the most part of the analysis..I guess Eng batsman are either over confident or they lack confidence in what they do..

credit to Australia the way they bought in Bird to playing 11.. it gives a suprise to the opposition and you arte taken back a little when you see some one ready to bowl that you were not expecting.. small things like this makes a huge difference..

I still wonder Y Onion was not given a chance given the fact that Broad is just holding up one spot and eng are playing with 10 ppl insted of 11 :(

Posted by gtr800 on (August 9, 2013, 20:16 GMT)

Ok granted that you have a guy like Cook or Trott traditionally who is supposed to anchor your innings. I don't blame Cook for scoring at an extremely slow 50 of 150 odd balls, but you must have others who play their 'natural' game. Even the pretty good Indian batting line up previous to this one had some varying openers, VVS Laxman, Dravid (Anchor), Sachin ( Flamboyant), & then the rest who played their natural game. You cannot impose a defensive mindset onto a person like Bairstow or Prior as was shown today. There were plenty of opportunities for him to hit the ball in that 120 odd balls they faced yet they only managed 30 odd runs. You cannot all become Cooks, because that would suck big time (to the viewers)! Play your natural game to an extent as well as with responsibility. England were 140 for 2 then they slip in less than 100 runs to being nearly all out. That is dire stuff from a wicket which if you played the ball on its merit you could have had 350 all out.

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