Ben Jones analyses a rain-curtailed day four at the MCG.
COOK RE-DISCOVERING STAMINA
Whilst the England opener didn’t face a ball on Day 4, the dismissal of Anderson meant that Alastair Cook carried his bat through the innings for the first time in his first-class career. It points to the fact that amidst the perpetual rumours of his decline, Cook has discovered anew the ability to bat for extremely long periods, far more so than he managed even his golden year of 2011. This calendar year, Cook has faced 1831 deliveries, the sixth most in Test cricket, and he has played the second and third longest Test innings of the year, with only Che Pujara’s 202 (525) lasting longer in terms of deliveries. On a personal level, Cook has only faced 400+ deliveries on five occasions in his career; two of those innings have come in the last six months.
A counter-balance to Cook’s stamina is that whilst he is batting long when he does get in, he is being dismissed at the start of his innings far more than he used to. In 2017, 35% of Cook’s innings have been less than 20 deliveries in length, the highest proportion for any year in his Test career.So Cook is getting set less frequently than he has across his career, but is making it count far more. Perhaps something his successor as captain could learn from?
After their one-ball stay with the bat at the start of Day 4, England bowled intelligently and to a clear plan. In the first ten overs of Australia’s first innings, England had bowled 23% of deliveries full of a good length, and 32% short. In the second innings, they shifted this to 17% full and 48% short. Ignoring the allure of the cloudy conditions, Root instructed his bowlers to hit a shorter length and scuff the new ball up to encourage the reverse-swing which has proved more dangerous on this flat Melbourne wicket.
As a tactic, it worked. In the first five overs they only managed an average of 0.6° swing; from overs 6-15 that crept up to 0.7°; then in the following five overs it flew up to 1.1°, the reverse beginning to take effect. Woakes and Anderson were able to put this increased movement to use, dismissing Bancroft and Khawaja respectively as England cemented their dominance before lunch.
ANDERSON V WARNER
After England collected those first two wickets, the match situation called for either caution or counter-attack from David Warner. Surprisingly, he chose the former – and to an emphatic degree. From innings when he’s faced 100 balls, this was Warner’s slowest ever Test knock, scoring at a sedentary 1.71rpo. The restraint was clear for all to see; as shown in the graphic below, Warner did not attack the deliveries he typically has across his career, instead choosing to leave balls in that region and attack the English bowlers when they drifted fuller, shorter, or wider. It displayed excellent patience, as well as the kind of match awareness which is not typically attributed to Warner.
This approach reached its pinnacle during a wonderful contest between the fiery opener and England’s attack leader. As Anderson held a consistent fourth-stump line to Warner, playing on his patience, the Australian largely kept his cool and negotiated a tough period of reverse-swing by refusing to attack. In fact, before the contest was interrupted with a brief rain break, Warner had only played one attacking shot to Anderson, well down on his career average of an attacking shot every three deliveries. At the close on Day 4 the game is still in the balance, largely a result of the Melbourne climate, but Warner can claim he did his fair share.
HORIZONTAL HORROR SHOTS
As Bancroft chopped on against Woakes to give England their first breakthrough, this Test match passed a revealing milestone. The four drag-ons in the match are the most in any Australian Test since the 2011 MCG Test against India, where there were six. What it highlights is quite how different this pitch is compared to what’s proceeded it in the series. Horizontal bat strokes (cuts, pulls and hooks) have averaged 61.70 in the first three matches of this series. However, on this slow MCG wicket, the batting average with those strokes drops to just 27, the lowest for a Test match in Australia since England were bounced out at Perth in 2013. Whilst the groundsmen – or since this is Australia, “curators” – are not obliged to prepare a classic fast-bowler friendly pitch, it is difficult to endorse a pitch where batsmen are unable to accurately anticipate the pace and bounce.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz. @benjones_13