Ben Jones and Patrick Noone analyse day three at the MCG.
COOK’S EXPANSIVE MASTERPIECE
At the end of the Perth Test, there was a fascinating television exchange between Ricky Ponting and Geoffrey Boycott, regarding Cook’s method against full pitch fast bowling. Boycott was extolling the virtues of Australia’s full length to Cook, but Ponting was certain that these deliveries were half-volleys, and that Cook should be looking to attack them. Well, it appears that Cook was listening in and agreed with the Australian, because he scored at 4.5rpo against full deliveries from the seamers, his highest scoring rate of the series. He also attacked more balls from the seamers than he has in 18 months; 33% of deliveries from Smith’s pace unit were attacked, England’s opener finding fluency and rhythm as he progressed towards his double-century.
Allied with this increased intent was Cook’s trademark understanding of his own game. Assessing the pitch early, the left-hander established his scoring areas and stuck to them throughout his innings, his second hundred runs coming in almost exactly the same areas as his first hundred. Methodical, intelligent, match-defining; his highest Test score in Australia was textbook Alastair Cook.
ROOT’S POOR EXECUTION
Cook’s successor as captain had a less positive day. Joe Root was once again guilty of not converting a half-century into three figures when he departed just before drinks in the first session. The England captain top-edged a bouncer from Pat Cummins, the second shortest ball he faced in his 133-ball innings (pitching 12m from his stumps).
It was the first time in the series that he had been dismissed to a ball from a seamer pitching 10m or shorter from his stumps. That length has actually been a profitable one for him; he’s scored at a run rate of 5.16 runs per over and the only delivery today that he faced shorter than his wicket ball was pulled for four.
However, the difference between those two bouncers from Cummins was subtle, but crucial. The wicket ball pitched 3cm closer to the stumps than the boundary ball and seamed away 0.2°, as opposed to the boundary ball which deviated 1.0° in to the right-hander. That served to cramp Root for room and the extra bounce that Cummins found with the wicket ball – 1.65m compared to 1.46m from the boundary ball, despite it being 16cm fuller – proved to be the England skipper’s downfall.
This MCG pitch has attracted a lot of criticism for rewarding neither aggressive bowling nor strokeplay. Yesterday, Australia didn’t seem to cotton onto this, playing only 22% defensive shots on Day 2 as they lost 7-83, whilst England played 34% and made 192-2. We’re yet to see whether Australia have learnt their lesson with the bat, but they have adapted well with the ball in hand. In the morning session on Day 3, Steve Smith’s quicks managed 25% more seam than on Day 2, as well as 54% more swing. This coincided with an average speed of 137kph, 2kph slower than yesterday. Rather than coming out with numerous plans or schemes to prize the England batsmen from the crease, Hazlewood and co simply dropped their speeds and focused on lateral movement, and it gave Australia the first session, even as they fell away later in the day. Slower, but more skilled – that’s the way to go on this pitch.
England’s all-rounder has had a terrible tour with the ball, and after a promising start at the Gabba, his batting has followed suit. , Moeen came out firing. 50% of the balls he faced were met with attacking strokes, a proportion he’s bettered only once in his career. Yet this wasn’t the crisp counter-attack of vintage Moeen, but the nervous act of a man who has lost his ability to stick at the crease. In 2016, when he averaged 46.86 in Tests, he faced 72 deliveries-per-innings, but in 2017 that has plummeted to 43 deliveries. Considering this drop-off, it was arguably a good tactic from Moeen to attack from the beginning, but such an approach needed a huge slice of luck – which he emphatically did not receive.
Ben Jones and Patrick Noone are analysts at CricViz.