Ben Jones and Patrick Noone analyse day two at the MCG.
BROAD RETURNS TO FORM
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Stuart Broad’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Averaging 61.80 in the first three Tests of this series, many were calling for him to be dropped, but on Day 2 the Nottinghamshire seamer found some fluency with the ball, collecting 4-51 and spearheading a prolific morning for England.
His return to form was characterised by a much called-for change in length. His average length at Perth was 7.4m from the stumps, but Broad pushed that up 60cm in Australia’s innings at the MCG. The fuller length was not accompanied by a substantial increase in lateral movement (0.1° more swing, 0.03° more seam), and actually brought fewer false shots (12% here compared to 13% in the series so far), so what brought about Broad’s change in fortune?
Well, fortune is the right word. Broad has actually been extremely unlucky this series, with batsmen averaging 32 false shots before being dismissed by the England veteran. By comparison, Mitchell Starc had taken a wicket every 8 false shots, and the average for the series is 12 false shots per wicket. Whilst the slight adjustment in length may have changed Australia’s approach to Broad, his revival could well be nothing more than him reverting to the mean.
WAY OF THE DRAG-ON
Australia lost three wickets to drag-ons in the morning session with Steve Smith, Mitchell Marsh and Tim Paine all playing the ball onto their stumps. The manner of the dismissals hinted at there being some variable bounce in the MCG pitch that was not evident on day one.
The ball that Tom Curran bowled Smith with to pick up his first Test wicket bounced 87cm while a ball he bowled in the 26th over yesterday pitched at a similar length (10.3m) and bounced 1.3m. Similarly, Chris Woakes bowled Marsh with a ball that kept 30cm lower than others at that length, before James Anderson saw off Paine with one that bounced 15cm lower than it would have done on day one.
The variable bounce saw Australia’s batsmen alter their footwork as playing off the back foot became progressively more dangerous as the pitch slowed up. The percentage of front foot shots against the seamers increased from 51% on day one to 58% in the morning session of day two; an indication that the ball was keeping lower and batsmen were less able to trust the bounce.
VETERAN PLAYING STRAIGHT
Alastair Cook had struggled this series, but a return to the basics of the game saw him notch up his 32nd Test century, and mark a defiant return to his best form. Whilst the ex-England captain has built his career on being excellent square of the wicket, today he got himself set at the crease by playing wonderfully straight. Indeed, 24% of his runs were scored in “the V” between mid-on and mid-off – almost double his career average, and the highest proportion since England’s 4th Test vs India in Mumbai last winter.
However, traditional strengths like Cook’s cutting and pulling aren’t to be ignored. Australia’s quicks fed him too many balls in those strong zones today, with 31% deliveries short of a good length the highest proportion of any innings this series, and 30 of his runs came with those brutally effective strokes, scoring at 7.50rpo and bringing back memories of 2010/11 for the downtrodden England fans.
AUSTRALIA ATTACK LACKING VENOM
Despite Mitchell Starc’s verbal barrage before the match, Australia’s attack looked severely lighter with the left-arm quick sidelined by injury. Further weakened by Pat Cummins’ illness, the hosts registered their lowest average speed for the series (138.35kph), their lowest amount of seam (0.43°), and their second lowest swing figure (0.65°).
In particular, Starc’s replacement in the side disappointed on two levels. Superficially, Jackson Bird is quite simply not as threatening a bowler as Starc, as shown by their respective abilities to draw false shots – Starc had drawn an edge or a miss with 14% of deliveries in this series, whilst Bird could only manage 8%. Yet it’s on a second, more fundamental level, that Bird really changed the balance of this attack. Before this match, 42% of his Test deliveries had been pitched on a good line and length, around 10% more than the global average, and that accuracy is a key part of his game. Today , he managed a healthy 38%, but his average speed of 134kph was not enough to trouble England, conceding runs at 3.2rpo.