The fourth Ashes test ended in a tame draw as both sides found it difficult to score runs or take wickets across the five days. Despite leaving Melbourne without a win in the series to date, the English could take a lot out of their efforts in the Boxing Day Test.
ANDERSON ENDS 2017 THE NUMBER ONE BOWLER IN THE WORLD
In unfriendly conditions, the England bowling attack has lacked bite this Ashes Series with all but one of the leather-flingers averaging in excess of 30 runs per wicket after four tests. The fact that Jimmy Anderson has found a way where his team mates have stuggled underlines why he ended 2017 the number one ranked bowler in the ICC rankings.
At the MCG, on a pitch that offered very little assistance to the bowlers, Anderson used all his cunning and guile to extract all the life and movement humanly possible. Was able to entice an edge from David Warner in the first innings when he was seeing it like a beach ball and ended Usman Khawaja’s second innings with one that just nipped away.
HIS ABSENCE PROVIDES STARC REMINDER OF MITCH’S IMPORTANCE
It has long been said that Australian cricket has an embarrassment of riches in the fast bowling stocks, as deep as these stocks may be, we all received a reminder that some players are nearly impossible to cover. The combination of a docile wicket and the absence of the leading wicket-taker in the series saw Australia fail to dismiss England twice for the first time this summer.
Captain Steve Smith will be hoping that Mitchell Starc has no lingering effects from his heel injury in Sydney and beyond because, at his best, the big quick makes Australia a much better team.
OPENING THE BATTING IN TEST CRICKET ISN’T EASY
When picking the First Test team, the Aussie selectors saw the need to drop Matt Renshaw after 10 Tests that brought 623 runs at an average of 36.64. Despite the undoubted potential the big left-hander had shown, like Joe Burns before him who averaged 37.95, it was felt he had not done enough to retain the position in the face of the challenge presented by Cameron Bancroft.
After four tests, including two hard fought innings in Melbourne, Bancroft has illustrated how difficult a task opening the batting in Test Cricket actually is. Despite his big 82no in Brisbane, the 25-year-old is averaging just 29.83, less than both Pat Cummins and Tim Paine. With a tour of South Africa ahead, the selectors will be hoping that Bancroft can get a score in Sydney and save them from a difficult conversation when picking the touring party.
COOK’S RECORD-BREAKING KNOCK
Alastair Cook’s form had been the subject of intense scrutiny in the lead up to the Boxing Day test. In a stunning answer to the criticism, Cook produced the highest ever score by a touring batsman at the MCG. The first Englishman to carry his bat through an innings in 20 years, the 10 hours of torment he put the Australians through in the field was particularly pleasing for the former skipper.
“Last night (the feeling) was relief and I was quite emotional, and today I was quite proud that I came back, got in the game and dug deep to get a big one,” Cook told BT Sport after day four. “It’s one of those 10 hours where I’ll look back and go ‘yeah, things were working well’. The whole tour I’ve been struggling to get that rhythm of batting and I was a bit embarrassed by my performance, but at least today I’ve gone on and got a big one. “It’s never going to be pretty, my batting, but sometimes it’s effective.”
Already England’s leading run-scorer in Test Cricket, Cook’s marathon innings saw him pass Brian Lara into sixth position on the all-time runscorers list. “I feel a bit sorry for him (Lara),” the ever-humble opener said upon learning the news. “It’s quite special isn’t it. I can go to bed tonight and be quite proud of those stats.”It’s been one of those good days, there’s been enough bad days.”
SMITH CONTINUES ON HIS MERRY WAY
It was fitting that Steve Smith was not out at the end of the fifth day of the Boxing Day test, given the imperious manner in which he has relentlessly accumulated runs throughout the series. That his dismissal for 76 in the first innings was a surprise, if not seen as a failure, goes a long way to illustrating just how prodigious he has been this summer.
The ‘Best since Bradman’ calls are starting to grow louder as his achievements continue to grow. With an average of 63.55 after 60 Tests, he is moving into territory only bettered by Sir Donald Bradman. His second innings century was the 23rd of his career and was brought up in just his 110th innings, a pace second only to that of the ‘Boy from Bowral’. The ICC seem to agree with the assessment too, with Smith now second in their All-Time Batsman rankings.
It has been an unbelievable ride to this point in time, let’s hope it long continues.
AUSTRALIA REFUSE TO LOSE
When the sun rose on the final day of the fourth test there were just two results possible and an Australian victory was not one of them. On a pitch that offered little to the bowlers was still difficult to bat on, there would have been a time in the recent past that Australia would have found a way to lose the match. Not so this squad.
Unflinching in their defence, David Warner (37.88), Steve Smith (37.09) and Mitch Marsh (17.46) ignored the pressure that snail-like strike rates might have created to bat Australia to safety. Although the draw brought an end to hopes of another Ashes clean sweep, sometimes avoiding defeat is the best result available.
THUMBS DOWN FOR THE MCG PITCH
Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle advised the ICC, what the rest of us already knew, that the MCG pitch was a poor one for Test Cricket. Offering little to the bowlers and of a two-paced nature that made scoring laborious, the pitch made the achievement of a result in the match difficult.
The judgement has prompted a great deal of overreaction and teeth gnashing in response. While the pitch deserves the criticism it has garnered, it is wise to remember that the draw in this match is just the second at the ground in the last 20 years. After 140-years of Test Cricket at the ground, is it possible this is just an aberration?
MOEEN ALI’S WOES CONTINUE
Moeen Ali arrived in Australia for the Ashes on the back of a stellar 2017 calendar year. With 32 wickets at 23, and 439 runs at 33, there were high expectations on the kind of impact that the all-rounder would have on the series.
Completely bamboozled by Nathan Lyon and unable to test the Australians with the ball, what he has been able to produce has fallen a long way shy of these forecasts. Having started the series considered a key plank upon which England would retain the Ashes, his average of just a tick under 21 with the bat and over 150 with the ball, might see him in the series out of the team.
CURRAN OVERSTEPS THE LINE
The MCG was stunned on Day One when it appeared that Tom Curran had claimed his first Test Wicket by dismissing David Warner on 99. Before Warner had a chance to beat a retreat to the dressing room, he was told by the umpires to wait upon a review on whether he had been dismissed on a legal delivery.
Curran’s worst fear was realised when the replay quickly showed that he had overstepped the line in delivering the ball. Reprieved Warner would not make the same mistake again and brought up his 21st Test Century moments later.
While it made for gripping drama at the time, it also illustrated the reticence that umpires have to call no-balls live. How many others are being missed by this approach that sees close calls only checked upon a dismissal? Could it affect the result of a match? Would we be better served by the third umpire watching the front line throughout the match?
We don’t know the answers to all these questions but there has to be a better way.