Freddie Wilde and Ben Jones analyse day three at The Gabba.
SLOWER BALL DUPES MARSH
Shaun Marsh had played judiciously to reach a well-deserved half-century, before some intelligent bowling from Stuart Broad removed him. The England seamer sent down two deliveries slightly back of a length which Marsh, now in good nick, was trying to drive on the up – however, the second of these deliveries was 8 kph slower than the previous, drawing Marsh through the shot early and lobbing a catch to mid-off. It was clever bowling from Broad but poor shot selection from Marsh with the ball never really full enough to drive.
At the start of day three England maintained their outside off stump line to Steve Smith, who continued to be watchful in response. After half an hour of play and with the second new ball looming, England opted for a change of tactics. Joe Root set an extraordinary field with no fielders in front of square on the off side, a wide mid on, a deep mid-wicket, a square leg, a deep square leg, a long leg and a leg slip. In the seven ensuing overs from Jake Ball and Chris Woakes Smith was peppered with a barrage of short deliveries. Smith was having none of it though, and swayed beneath or defended all but a handful of them – once attempting an upper cut and playing two controlled pulls.
Although England may have been frustrated Smith didn’t attack the short balls and offer a chance to dismiss him, the tactic ground Australia’s scoring to a halt with Smith scoring just three runs from 26 balls. The old ball had presented Australia with an opportunity to reduce their first innings deficit but England’s fields and lengths protected their lead.
BROAD UNDER-BOWLED TO SMITH?
After lunch, with Australia in strife at 213 for 7 and still trailing England by 89, England chose not to bowl either of their premier fast bowlers James Anderson or Broad. While there are some doubts surrounding Anderson’s fitness, the decision to not bowl Broad was a strange one, especially considering Broad has dismissed Smith six times in Test cricket at an average of 30.83 runs per dismissal. Across the innings Broad only bowled 57 balls to Smith – just a couple more than Ball and Woakes and 35 fewer than Anderson.
CUMMINS’ PATIENCE DEFIES ENGLAND
Pat Cummins’ innings of 42 off 120 balls contributed to a partnership of 32.2 overs with Smith which lifted Australia’s WinViz from 31% to 43% and reduced England’s from 54% to 33%. Cummins’ innings was one defined by patience – he left 30% of his deliveries, some on length as much as line – as the beehive on the right illustrates. This patience was combined with judicious shot selection which saw him play only three different attacking shots: 12 drives, three flicks and two cuts. Cummins’ eschewed any kind of risk and in doing so played his longest first class innings and lent precious support to his captain.
ANDERSON & BROAD’S LACK OF SUPPORT
England’s task was made more difficult by the fact that excellent bowling from Anderson and Broad was not backed up by the reserve pace bowlers. While Anderson and Broad pitched 44% and 42% of their deliveries respectively on a good line and length, that figure was only 33% an 31% for Ball and Woakes. The pressure that was built up by the senior bowlers dissipated when the junior seamers came on and allowed Australia to keep eating into England’s lead.
Matters were made worse by Moeen Ali’s struggles. While Nathan Lyon was arguably the best Australian bowler in the first innings Moeen could not replicate such a performance. Moeen only extracted 3.32° of spin compared to Lyon’s 5.37° and bowled a notably fuller length, pitching 47% in the full range compared to just 24% for Lyon which reduced the threat posed by the bounce from the Gabba pitch.
Smith’s epic 141* off 326 balls was an outstanding innings played in a difficult situation and on a sluggish pitch. Smith thwarted some disciplined bowling and defensive field settings by displaying remarkable patience, unwavering concentration and a strong technique. The beehive on the right shows how, aside from the short ball barrage before the second new ball England largely maintained a consistent line outside off stump, staying away from Smith’s strength on his stumps where he averages 61.90 and delivering 52% of their deliveries in the channel outside off stump, where Smith averages just 43.10. Despite some unusual fields Smith was not tempted into playing loosely and left 23% of his deliveries, well above his career average of 15%. Smith’s technique gave him remarkable solidity, particularly in defence, and across his innings he only missed ten shots and edged seven – an average Test innings of that length would include 46 false shots.
When errors in line and length did come Smith was quick to latch onto them, scoring at 6.75 runs per over v short balls – which bounce to around chest height – and 3.64 runs per over against anything fuller than six metres. Smith’s scoring zones, which show him to have scored 63% of his runs on the leg side and 44% of them behind square illustrate how Smith minimised risk and stuck to his strengths. The match situation and England’s tactics put Smith under enormous pressure but an innings of obdurate restraint and brilliant skill withstood the storm.
Although Mitchell Starc and Cummins’ short ball barrage was box-office, it was the quality of Josh Hazlewood which brought the wickets. In the first innings Hazlewood appeared to be confused by the slow nature of the pitch and bowled a fuller average length than in any innings at the Gabba in his career. However, in the second innings he pulled his length back and pitched 43% of his deliveries on a good line and length. This probing accuracy and a hint of swing and seam created indecision for Mark Stoneman, Alastair Cook and James Vince. This maximised the effect of the shortest ball he bowled today, which surprised Cook so much that he compulsively hooked, and was well caught by Starc. A beauty of a delivery, which swung in by 0.82° and seamed away by 1.74° was enough to prise out Vince as well. At the end of day three Australia’s WinViz stands at 61%.