Match Analysis

Cummins feels heat as Australia struggle to keep pace with Bazball

For the first time in the series, Australia's containment strategy unravelled

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
20-Jul-2023
Pat Cummins has not had many bad days in his entire Test career, let alone while he's been captain, but Thursday at Old Trafford can challenge for the top of the list as Australia felt the full force of Bazball.
It started when he drove the first ball of the day from James Anderson to cover point and did not get any better. By stumps he had been taken for nearly six an over - and it was higher before his final three-over spell - as England's scoring rate ran away from Australia. He also missed the opportunity to catch Moeen Ali when he seemingly lost sight of the ball at mid-on, dropped a chance at midwicket off the same batter (although Moeen fell the next ball he faced), and in the final session couldn't back up a throw from the deep by Steven Smith which left him chasing the ball towards a mass of cheering England supporters.
Across two sessions, England scored 323 in 56 overs and even that was pulled back by Harry Brook and Ben Stokes playing for the close. Between lunch and tea 178 runs were flayed from 25 overs and the 206-run partnership between Zak Crawley and Joe Root took 30. In what has been an excruciatingly tight series it was, for that period, the most one-sided cricket that had been played.
For the first two Tests of the series at Edgbaston and Lord's, Australia found ways to keep up with, and even temper, England's approach. In the opening match the home side scored briskly, but Australia took wickets at regular-enough intervals that things didn't get out of control and they were able to nick the victory at the end.
At Lord's they dominated for significant periods and, with the help of the short ball, overcame the loss of Nathan Lyon. Stokes made them nervous on the final day after Jonny Bairstow's run out ignited tempers, but they had enough runs in the bank.
However, cracks started to emerge at Headingley when England were able to get away with the bat over shorter periods, notably after lunch on the second day which enabled them to get almost level and then, as promised by Stuart Broad, knocking off the target one-day style although it was tighter than they would have wished.
Australia have often spoken about doing things at their own tempo this series and not getting sucked into playing England at their own game. It worked - just - at the start of the series when it was aided by some of England's own errors, particularly in the catching, and they were able to build strong first-innings totals but now Australia have made mistakes themselves.
Old Trafford has been where, on day two at least, they became overwhelmed by England's approach. Having put in a wasteful display with the bat to only reach 317 from 183 for 3, they looked as shell-shocked and rudderless in the field as any time in recent memory while Crawley and Root were together.
While England's post-lunch surge took shape, at times there was barely a ball where fields weren't being changed and bowlers not being talked to. And it did not feel proactive. The game was being played a pace that Australia couldn't keep up with. There was more than the occasional furrowed brow and even a startled look as boundary after boundary was peeled off, many in increasingly audacious fashion. Root's reverse scoops over the slips were back after last appearing at Edgbaston.
"They are scoring quickly, [so] you feel like you can take a wicket," Daniel Vettori, Australia's assistant coach, said. "Do you keep going? Do you keep pressure? I feel like today was probably the first time our press was met with them going at seven an over. In the back of our minds we always knew England had this in them because they play so aggressively.
"You see the respect our players have for their tactics with the fields we have set to mitigate that at times. Today was the perfect storm of them coming hard at us, and us not being able to come back against them with wicket-taking options, which is what has allowed us to be ahead in the series so far."
The build-up to the Test had been dominated by talk of how Australia would structure their XI with Cameron Green fit again. It was Todd Murphy who lost his place in what was always going to be a hotly debated decision given Australia had last played without a specialist spinner in 2011-12. It's quite possible he would have been carted by England's batters as well, but with Travis Head introduced in the 23rd over the absence of a frontline spinner was noticeable. Head, who was reverse swept for four first ball by Crawley then sent for six from the next, ended up going at eight an over.
Meanwhile, Mitchell Marsh's figures may not suggest he should have bowled earlier than the 36th over, when he entered the attack, but it was an odd decision by Cummins to not at least try him earlier against Crawley who he had removed twice at Headingley. By the time he did bowl, Crawley had 112.
"It is a constant factor trying to marry up your own bowling against the plans," Vettori said. "Through the whole series Pat has been exceptional. He likes advice, he likes to talk to talk to people around the group. It was just one of those sessions where we pushed exceptionally hard and England responded. The amount of boundaries that they were able to score even with the field set the way they were, we just weren't able to mitigate that run rate at all. I think he has done an exceptional job all through the series."
The weather may yet come to Australia's aid, but even if that's the case to just be talking about such an escape shows how the mood has turned since Lord's. Whatever happens from here, this was a day where Australia, and their captain, had few answers against an England side that is doing all it can to set up a decider at The Oval.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo