Our Treasurer, Phil Reeves, occasionally pens a column for the Bulletin. His October offering is below.
There is a book to be written entitled “The Art of Winning Test Matches” probably by Mike Brearley. I doubt though that there would be a chapter on the method employed by England at Headingly ie get bowled out for 67 then have to chase a record score in the 4th innings and win it with a 9th wicket partnership of 76. It was mighty exciting though and I imagine we all have stories of where we were, what we were drinking and which parts of our anatomy we were chewing.
The following day I happened to be off on a golf tour and had a long drive up the great north road to Ganton. There was some sporting success there also as I had a hole in one on the 10th which was nice. I found almost by accident that 5Live sports extra were playing on a loop the last hour of TMS commentary on the match. Listening was much more enjoyable now I knew the result and I enjoyed that stirring finish immensely. However as I drove north I began to reflect on the match as a whole. I was not able to get out of my mind that appalling first innings by England that really should have cost us the match. In the same way that French aristocrats before the revolution used perfume to hide their lack of hygiene, the final day rather masked a pretty awful test performance. Had the Aussies taken any of their multiple chances on that final afternoon (and retained the Ashes) the feeling would have been very different.
What worries me, and has done for a while, is this belief that by batting aggressively (some would say recklessly) a side can increase its chances of winning. In a radio interview after the match Paul Farbrace indicated that Jason Roy had been selected to “take the game away” from the opposition with his batting. This does seem to be the current England strategy and complements the thought of Joe Root’s that it is better to bat for runs rather than just bat for time. It may not be a coincidence that Trevor Bayliss the coach is essentially a white ball coach.
The problem with it is in England’s first innings when we saw so many horrible shots and in that case the desire to bat aggressively ensured we neither got runs nor occupied the crease. I just don’t see why in order to “take the game away” from the opposition you have to try knock the cover off the ball from the outset. Clearly this will work sometimes but I would suggest not very often against a very fine attack on helpful pitches with the Duke ball.
It is not as if the alternative theory of batting more responsibly has been unsuccessful. In England’s second innings Root, Denly and Stokes at the start played with great circumspection and indeed batted out time. That final innings lasted 125 overs and you could see by the end the Aussie bowlers were shot. This is not surprising if you have only a four man attack which is their key weakness and batting more time plays on that weakness. Also Steve Smith in the first test of this series and the first test in Brisbane in the last Ashes played pretty slow but high scoring innings which indeed “took the game away” from England. Pretty good examples of what you need to do to win a test which is not, most of the time, to bat like it was the last few overs of a T20 match. Clearly most of our batsmen have the skills to bat carefully but I just wonder what instructions they are given.
Speaking of Steve Smith, he is clearly a high class batsman and probably the best in the world at the moment. However I do not enjoying watching him that much. His technique is just too strange to be attractive although he must have a fantastic eye for a cricket ball. Some of the most watchable batting I have seen this summer has been from that Aussie amazon Elysse Perry. She is a handy cricketer being able to also open the bowling but her batting is straight out of the MCC coaching manual. A lot of the time she employs a forward defensive (a shot rather going out of fashion) so solid it looks like her bat is a mile wide. She and Smith are heavy run scorers and key to their team’s success but her batting is so much easier on the eye. If you have not yet seen her in action I heartily recommend it.
And so we saunter towards autumn, as I write there is still an Ashes series up for grabs, the championship is brewing up nicely and we can look forward to the England tour of South Africa. Further ahead we have of course next season the ‘Undred coming our way, something to contemplate during the long winter evenings…..preferably with a glass of something strong at our elbow I suspect.