Ben Jones analyses day five at the MCG.
WARNER AVOIDS TEMPTATION…BRIEFLY
England were desperate on Day 5 to lure David Warner into a loose shot, and were willing to buy his wicket. They bowled wider and shorter to him on Day 5, trying to induce a loose attacking shot. To begin with, he played 18% attacking shots in the opening passages of Day 5, compared to 22% on Day 4, resisting temptation and ensuring his team were well on the way to avoiding defeat. Regardless of the terrible shot against the off-spin of Root which brought his dismissal, surviving that first hour brought England’s WinViz down from 33% to just 11%, Warner’s job largely done.
After managing to draw Warner into the poor shot which dismissed him, England followed it up with a straight forward plan to Shaun Marsh. Root’s seamers delivered some excellent grouping the the Australian No.5, building up a long sequence of balls just outside his off-stump, two of which Marsh edged. The two balls which did take the outside of the bat were played from almost identical positions, one flying for four, the other caught behind. The wicket ball was 50cm fuller and found 0.53° of seam movement, compared to the 0.07° from the boundary ball, but the key for England was their accuracy – Marsh had to play at almost 70% of his deliveries, and eventually this proved fatal.
Yet again, England ran into a brickwall in the shape of Steve Smith, blocking their path to victory. Fans and players alike will have grown very used to the sight of the Australian captain at the crease this series, but this was yet another level of control and discipline shown by Smith, to ensure his team avoided defeat. To all intents and purposes he refused to attack through the covers, more than halving his career strike rate through that region from 67.95 to just 29.89. His was a beautifully restrained innings, and Smith’s ability to adapt his technique according to the challenge facing him has become arguably his greatest asset.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT MO?
With a game to chase today, Joe Root repeatedly turned to Dawid Malan before his supposed frontline spinner, before turning to himself, leaving Moeen grazing in the outfield. Ordinarily, such a decision would attract outrage from onlookers, but almost everyone agreed that Moeen had reached new levels of innocuousness. Amongst all his away Tests, Moeen’s three lowest-spinning matches have been in this series. For a man who’s played series in South Africa and West Indies, that’s a real concern, and to watch the off-spinner bowl right now is to see a man bereft of confidence. In series where he’s bowled 300+ deliveries, Moeen’s never averaged more than 65 before this tour, where he’s averaging a staggeringly poor 134.33. Without doubt this has been his lowest ebb as a Test cricketer, but in some ways the sheer extremity of his struggle suggests this tour is an aberration, an outlier. It would be a surprise to see him at Sydney – but will we see him in an England shirt again?
Despite the optimism of the morning, it was always going to be an uphill battle to take the necessary wickets to force victory on the final day. This Melbourne pitch has attracted a lot criticism, and rightly so. It’s been difficult for all involved to ply their trade. It’s had by far the least bounce of any pitch this series; the first three Tests saw the seamers get an average of 0.96m bounce, while Melbourne has seen just 0.8m. There’s also been the least seam movement of any pitch in this series, offering just 0.45° of movement compared to the series average of 0.653°. With no lift or lateral movement off the pitch, it’s no wonder that England have focused on achieving reverse-swing. Yet if those in charge of pitch preparation at the MCG are eager to maintain the prestige and magic of the Boxing Day Test, they would do well to see this match as a never-again occasion.