The Two Englands

Michael Clarke walks onto the Cardiff ground the day before the Investec Ashes starts. He stops halfway to talk to the assistant groundsmen. Soon Darren Lehmann joins him. They get down on their hands and knees, they really look at the pitch. Both ends. Clarke jumps up and down at times. Lehmann limps along, puts his coffee down, and gets as low as his body allows him.

Clarke walks down and talks to the head groundsman, Keith Exton. They chat for a bit, before Clarke rejoins his coach. There is a clear worry about the pitch.

Joe Root did not play a pretty innings at Cardiff. He was not in control. His innings could have veered off the road at any time. But it did not. The Brad Haddin drop almost gave him a license to counterattack, and he threw everything he had at Australia. It was ugly and gutsy, and he ended up as the one hundred of the match. He ended up as the Man of the Match.

Who needs a top order when Root will save the day, Ben Stokes slapped like a kid in a fairytale, and Moeen Ali is laughing it up with the tail. England made over 400, at over four an over, and turned Australia’s monstrous quicks into plush toys.

Then they just needed to be clever, and patient, with the ball. They watched Australia walk the plank against Moeen while being aggressive to the point of self-parody and get trapped in a 17-38 middling score of mediocrity. England just needed to execute their plans and rack up Australia’s errors.

With a lead, they were always in charge, and with Root saving them again, they were more in charge. Counterattacking again. Saving the day again. Ian Bell, one of their most misfiring members of the tragic top order, stood up as well. It gave them a total that Australia could only ever fail at.

At nearly one hundred with only one wicket down, was the only time that Australia ever had a realistic chance of winning, and it was no real chance at all. Alastair Cook discovered his inner Mike Brearley and every single move he made seemed to work. This was not England sitting back and waiting for a win, this was a proactive captain rocking team funky with their new England magic.

Australia might have dropped an important catch; they might have been nullified by a dead pitch. They could have lost Mitchell Starc, lost faith in Shane Watson, lost control from Mitchell Johnson, gifted wickets to a bowler they do not rate, and even given up their many starts, but they could not argue that they had been smashed in the face in every single way it mattered. The slow pitch and England had destroyed them.

The cheer of the full Cardiff crowd at the last wicket was louder than any complaining about the pitch.

England had played their perfect ‘New England’ Test. They had upset the favourites. They had attacked. Their five-man bowling attack was working as a team. Their eight batsmen line up looked freakishly long. It was a golden Test of new England. They were not expected to win, they were not expected to be this perfect. Cardiff was bathed in the golden light of their magnificence.


England lost the toss at Lord’s. But when David Warner lost his mind, they knew that patience would work against this Australian line-up. The Australian batting line-up had been misfiring on or off for over ten years. One wicket would bring in the comically out of form Clarke. Two and it was Adam Voges in his fifth Test. Three was Mitchell Marsh on his comeback and in his first Ashes Test. Four and Peter Nevill was playing his first Test, in an Ashes, at Lord’s. There was no reason to panic.

After tea on the first, Smith was still there.

Cook tries Broad. Then Moeen. Then Root. Then Anderson. Smith is on 82 for Broad’s over, one ball into Anderson’s over he has his hundred.

Cook had placed eight men on the off side, there is only a mid-on. Anderson drops short outside off stump and Smith shuffles over to the off side and hoicks a pull shot into the turf to the right of mid-on to bring up his hundred. Cook watches on as Smith swings his bat in celebration, points at the crowd and receives a bear hug from Chris Rogers.

England could suggest that Smith has still not succeeded in English type conditions, but until they prepare some, it means very little.

It was Stokes in a quality Ben Stokesian spell of aggression and intent that forced the error from Smith that went to Bell. But Bell did not take it. There was not another chance until the next day.

Broad was the only one of their bowling pack who bowled well, and Australia showed patience against him. Root was the only other multi wicket-taker. Their five-man attack suddenly looked like a tired James Anderson, a fully functioning Stuart Broad, a lost Mark Wood, a desperate Ben Stokes and an easily milked Moeen Ali. There were no obvious four frontline bowlers, and at times, it was hard to remember how they did well in the previous Test.

They could not maintain pressure, they could not take their chances, they could not hit their spots, they could not rely on Australia, they could not, they could not.

566 was the final total. It could have been a million.

When Adam Lyth jerked himself at his second ball, England’s second ball, England’s second ball of the second Test, England’s weakness was opened up again. Gary Ballance was blown away. Bell played a bad shot to a super ball. Root tried to counterpunch again, this time Australia caught him. That was a big difference. Root was not there to make the bad start fade away.

The Australian bowlers who had been stuck in treacle at Cardiff were suddenly dangerous. The two main Mitchs were not leaking runs, they were taking wickets. Six years on from Johnson’s last time at Lord’s he was exorcising his demons and reheating England’s. Together with Starc and Josh Hazlewood they bowled, fast, full and swung the ball. It woke up Lord’s, it terrified England. England did not have a top order, they had a topless order. Bare, naked, afraid.

There was calm, and a rearguard, as Stokes attacked while Cook defended, their assured batting mocked their top order on this still flaccid wicket. With some luck, they could have batted to until tea, set up Jos Buttler and Moeen, frustrated the short fuse Australians. Instead there were two inside edges.

The inside edge is a peculiar thing as it comes from a technical mistake, but it always feels unlucky. Inside edges can go anywhere. But Stokes and Cook both found their stumps. Maybe it was unlucky, maybe it was a technical mistake, maybe it was the pitch just slightly deteriorating.

It was also one of Australia’s changes. In Cardiff, Watson’s bowling lacked his usual tightness, and had his normal lack of wicket-taking. By the time Marsh had Cook out, he had taken as many wickets in away Ashes Test as Watson ever had. With him bowling well, and Nevill taking his chances, Australia just looked like a better team.

And when Stokes went just before lunch, England lost their seventh straight session of cricket. They lost their eighth just after that when their long batting order batted much like their soft top order, and the follow-on was never even properly flirted with.

Then they bowled again. The million-behind-third-innings bowling trudge. If Anderson was not tired already, he was tired of this. He was tired when another catch went down in his now inconsistent slip cordon. He was tired as he watched the other bowlers bowl these pointless overs as England rested him as best he could. He looked very tired for a man with no wickets to his name.

Cook and his new found flair was trying to find ways to stop Smith. With an atom bomb not at his disposal, Cook could not even stop Smith from doing a draw shot. Rogers got dizzy from counting his own runs. Warner bashed third-innings runs. Marsh seemed to hit Moeen into the stand with the back of his bat. And even Clarke found form.

And then England had to bat again. It might have been a flat pitch, but it was anything but a flat attack. Five sessions is a long time. It is longer without a top order. It is a long time against a team with Mitchell Johnson in it. Or with Starc. Or with five bowlers.

It turned out two sessions was a long time.

In the last innings it didn’t matter that England batted until No. 8, as they never actually batted. It didn’t matter that Moeen had taken regular wickets. It didn’t matter they had a five-man attack. It didn’t matter how positive they were. It didn’t matter that Australia had a debutant at Lord’s. It didn’t matter that Cook had improved as a captain. It didn’t matter that they had come in unchanged. It didn’t matter that they won the last Test. It didn’t matter that Australia’s middle order was untested. It didn’t matter that the pitch was slow. It didn’t matter that Australia still had flaws. None of it mattered in this innings, or in this Test.

England had been to the mountain top in Cardiff, and without even enjoying the view they toppled straight back down at Lord’s. If Cardiff was perfect and golden, Lord’s was violent and bloody.

It turned out two Tests was a long time.


Tagged ,

Cricket style guides: When can you judge a pitch?

Why you can’t judge a pitch until both teams have batted on it?

Because it’s a cricket saying.

Why you can judge a pitch until both teams have batted on it?

Weird story, but sometimes a pitch starts helpful for bowlers, especially in the morning. In that session, if the bowlers are doing well, it means the top order might disappear, but then as the pitch loses some bite, either your tail and lower middle order make runs, or the opposition top order does. Sometimes the worst sign in cricket is that your tail are no longer struggling like your top order did. Although in no situation should that result in any less vitriol being put on the batsmen who have yet again had to be bailed out by their bowlers. That is a law of the spirit of cricket, as I am lead to understand our ancient cricket scrolls.

The heavy roller actually changes the surface. It compacts it, and as it slowly uncompacts teams can sometimes get on top. An hour with no wickets, especially when your team has just been bowled out cheaply on what you assume is a friendly wicket, can eat at your cricket brain. The heavy roller is a conspiracy by batsmen to defraud bowlers, and should be used once a match, and then never again. Much like off spin.

When a team makes a million runs, there are psychological reasons why the second team will struggle more. Scoreboard pressure is real. I mean, it may not be real real, but it’s cricket real. In that a team going out to bat will look up at a total of 500 or 600 and literally shit themselves. Not to mention the basic human principles of tiredness, standing out in the field for most of two days is not the perfect preparation for batting. Standing, chasing and bowling are all more tiring than none of those things.

There are shocking occasions when a team has batsmen and bowlers suited to pitch conditions. We call these occasions “cricket”. That means that while one team might coast around like they own the place, the others might stumble around like they were forced to play cricket against their will. This should not also be confused with times when conditions have not changed at all, but one team plays better than the other team. This is also called cricket, or fucken cricket, if your team is the shit one.

It should also be remembered that pitches are made of thousands of living creatures, and over an hour, session or day, it can change the very nature of the game. They care not for fairness or the spirit of cricket, they are grass, and as such, impartial even when grown with bias. This is their game; we are merely the trampling monsters trying to kill their families while distracting ourselves from the pointless of our very existence. Their only recourse is by annoying us as many times as possible.

It is also possible for a team to bat good on a bowling pitch, or bowl well on a flat pitch. Truth.

The ball swings in the air. The ball seams and bounces off the pitch. These are two different things. One is made largely of grass and liquid manure. The other is made of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, argon and farts. The ball doesn’t swing because of grass anymore than the ball seams because of carbon dioxide. That is the heavy ball of science you just faced.

And most importantly, why you can judge a pitch before both teams have batted on it, because you are a cricket fan or an ex player who are made up of humans who intrinsically need to judge things, quantify things, and shout about things at all times. Wrongly, sure. Too early, ofcourse. Without scientific reasoning or clear thought, no doubt. No one knows exactly what a pitch will do, how it will effect a game, what part is has played. We just talk our own liquid manure.

You can judge a pitch wrongly at any point, long used bullshit cricket statements are not binding.

(Although catches do win matches).

Cricket Sadist Hour: Trademark Ashes’ sooks

Ashes, Younis, Radada, IPL and Phil Emery.

Australia’s barbarians don’t show up 

What are we waiting for, assembled in the stadium? The barbarians are to arrive today.

There is a feeling, an inbred belief, that Australian cricket is better than English cricket. It has always been there. People might deny it, but deep down, it is part of being an Australian or English fan. There might be some thought that English cricket has been tactically superior at times, but actually superior? “No bloody way, mate”.
Australia is better than England. Australia has always been better than England.
As the England fans trekked into the ground for day four, with Australia about to mount a chase of 412 on a pitch that was up and down, and even on its best day, not a pitch that Australia could understand, some still refused to believe that Australia wouldn’t win.
It was part of their DNA. Some were worried. Some were twitchy. Some feared something would go wrong. Some even thought they needed more runs. But there would never be enough runs, not against Australia. Australia has always been better than England.
But it isn’t just pessimistic fans; it is part of how almost everyone sees the Ashes. Players, punters and pundits. It’s almost impossible to think of the Ashes without the history coming through. Analytical thought seems to get drowned in a sea of Ashes hyperbole, Australian masculinity and English pessimism. England hope they will do well. Australia expect to win. Facts have no place in an Ashes contest.
In 2010-11, with all the evidence to hand of Australia’s decline and England’s form, most Australian cricket fans didn’t believe they could lose, and therefore many England fans believed them. Australia has always been better than England.
This hasn’t been a consistently good Australian team in a very long time – more or less the same amount of time that Shane Watson has been a regular in the team, in fact. The team and the player even play in a similar way.
Both have won a World Cup, both have beaten South Africa in South Africa, and won an Ashes series 5-0. When they are good, they are amazing. They are spectacular. They are throbbing muscles, curses in your ear, balls at your head.
In that same era, however, they have lost three of the four Ashes, lost at home twice, have gone back to the bad old days in India, added UAE as a hell destination, have used four coaches, had reviews into their own system, slipped down the rankings and have not managed to win one of the seemingly never-ending World T20s on offer.
At times they have bullied, at other times they have been toyed with. Their aura seems to switch on and off. They claim sledging helps them win, in the games they are already winning. They run away bare-chested screaming at clouds when they do well, and they stare in dead-eyed amazement at losses. They seem perpetually perplexed by slow pitches. They crush anything on quick ones. At home they rack up frame-worthy mega-scores, and away, they take whatever crumbs they can find.
Like Shane Watson they frustrate, bully, smash and fail in the same way over and over again.
This latest team began at Old Trafford in 2013. Chris Rogers seemed solid, Michael Clarke was in great form, Steven Smith had made great strides, Ryan Harris was a force, Peter Siddle was steady and Nathan Lyon could be relied upon. But the ages, and workloads, meant that even then, this was a short-term flare-up. Harris and Clarke’s bodies wouldn’t last forever. Rogers was already old. Siddle was over-worked.
All this proved to be enough when you added Mitchell Johnson bowling at quicker than the eye can see and faster than the brain wants to face. Johnson is now not doing that. Much of the fear and loathing of England’s fans before this Test came from Johnson, who had already said he was down on pace, and was about to bowl on the kind of wicket he had never been successful on. The fear remained.
Last time Brad Haddin came to England, he averaged 22. But this time, older, and in form so bad it is hard to remember how good he ever was, the talk was of how he smashed England everywhere in the last Ashes. There was little mention of the fact he had been obliged to, as Australia’s first innings without Haddin would have been all but forfeited. That fear was still right there.
There was fear for David Warner. Fear for Smith. Fear for Mitchell Starc. There was fear. Ashes fear, because Australia has always been better than England.
It didn’t matter that Warner hadn’t proved himself in England, Smith hadn’t proved himself at No.3, and Starc hadn’t proved himself in Tests. That was logic. This was the Ashes. Even Harris and his average of 20 limping off into the sunset did not fill England with joy or even hope. The fans barely noticed, the odds hardly changed.
The predictions came in, Australia would win said almost everyone, everywhere. Maybe it wouldn’t be 5-0. But they would win. They would bully. They would get in front and never look back. New England would be another false dawn. Australia was just better than England.

But then the Test ended and the barbarians did not come. Some who have returned from the Test say that there are no barbarians any longer.
Australia had always been better than England.

Boof’s nightmares 

Ryan Harris’s knee was just one nightmare for Darren Lehmann. Behind his folksy Uncle Boof façade, there is a coach. Coaches worry, coaches fret, and coaches worry about the dark side they can’t control. No amount of coaching cones will stop your biggest fears. They might have called it that, they might have called it SWOT, or challenges, but they had a list of worst-case scenarios. When Boof has knocked back his last team bonding beverage, and he shuts those bleary eyes, the coaching nightmares come to him.
In playing 27 Tests, Harris overcame South Australia’s on and off field decade of shame, Australia’s quest to find the next great young fast bowler, cricket statistics when he became the first quick to take over 100 wickets despite debuting over 30 and confounded medical science and common cricket sense. But his synovial fluid was all out of miracles.
Harris might not have played in the first Test, actually, knees or not, he probably would not have. But Harris meant that Australia had four frontline bowlers capable of worrying England. Harris averages 20 against England, and would have been on the bench. And Harris is pretty much an on-field bowling coach. When Mitchell Johnson bowls with Harris, he averages 20.71 and takes a wicket every 38 balls. So this series, Australia will have no use of two men who when paired together won 10 of their 16 matches with only three losses.
Harris was the first casualty of Dad’s Army, but Chris Rogers is another. Rogers makes solid 50s. He makes them a lot. Perhaps he should turn more into game changing scores. But it’s not a weakness, his fielding is a weakness. Rogers was never a great fielder, and never a mega cricket athlete, but when Ian Bell flicked the ball on the leg side early in his innings, Rogers moved like a man his age, and he failed to catch the ball.
His opening partner averages 22 in England. David Warner has an average of 41 when not playing Tests in Australia, and that includes scoring over a third of his runs away from home against South Africa in three Tests when South Africa refused to catch him. His two Ashes hundreds were both at home in the third innings when Australia were well in front in the game. Here he struggled. There was no Warner aggression, no stunning slaps that changed the bowler’s plans, day or career. Just a strike-rate of 40 and an edge into the slips.
England believed Steven Smith was a weakness at three, or they at least wanted him to think it. Australia’s batting has been weak for a very long time. Their top order has been saved by one-off performances and tail end heroes. Smith at No. 3 has the chance to change that. With Michael Clarke behind him Australia could finally have the sort of top four that they can rely on. But in his first outing, when well set and in form, he was out thought by a bowler the Australians think is a part timer, and a captain they mock for being boring.
Adam Voges was brought out for the Ashes because he knew his game, had been around, and was a solid guy that could be relied upon. After his start, with the close of play encroaching, he tried to play a ball not full or short enough, and it bobbled off the bat, but not in the hands of short cover. It was he sort of shot you expect more from someone 25, not 35. From that moment Australia was never in control of their innings again.
Watson was left with the tail. On Twitter, #Wattolotto was in full flow. Watson earned his way to stumps. But the next day, the ball hit his pad. Cricket’s most consistent impact.
Watson walks slowly up to Nathan Lyon. Watson is coy, yet no one who has ever seen him play thinks he won’t review it. Lyon and he chat, Watson listens, but is having his own internal conversation. He reviews, there are ironic cheers. The ball might have hit him just outside offstump, the ball might have been high. But it’s a risk. For the first time, he hasn’t demanded it, he hasn’t pleaded, he’s just asked. And hoped.
The predatory steady-cam operator was already out on the ground before the DRS had confirmed Watson’s fate. It was one of Watson’s best wrong reviews. Watson had not left the square and was already being mocked by the world. Watson is in his fifth Ashes, he was Australia’s last batsman, and this might be his last Test.

Brad Haddin’s form, with the gloves, with the bat, is poor. In the first innings he had 17 byes, he’s added seven more in the second innings. In the nets the day before the Test he batted as if an inner ear infection was affecting his balance. On day three, he was a 50/50 proposition of laying wood on the ball. His runs came from edges, slashes and one slog. At one stage, without seemingly being able to hit the ball with his original bat, he had that bat replaced, and instantly found the edge twice, losing his wicket.
Then there was the Joe Root chance. Including byes, his score and Root’s score, Haddin is currently minus 136 in this match. The analytical way of sorting out the Root catch would be to show Haddin what he did so he could self-correct himself. The Uncle Boof way would probably have been to delete all footage from Cricket Australia hard drives and buy Haddin a beer.
That drop was like teenagers deciding to sleep into the abandoned cabin in the woods. The wicket was slow, but Australia were fast. If Haddin takes what is only slightly removed from a regulation catch, Australia might have got in front.
Instead, the two Mitchells are not used to crush the will of a young middle order, but instead bowl at Root until time seems to stand still. Well, each ball does. Each Australian thunderbolt sticks in the pitch and says, “Ah, you again. We knew we’d see you here, but we had no idea you’d be this powerfully slow, and, we, um, cannot, argh, get , come on, any, ugh, pace…”
It’s India, it’s Port Elizabeth, it’s the UAE, it’s Australia’s bête noir. Slow wickets seem to have a consciousness that infest Australian cricket minds and lay eggs of confusion.
Those eggs were hatched by Australia’s gamble in doubling down on Mitch. Before Mitchell Johnson won the Ashes and Mitchell Starc won the World Cup, there was always a hesitation in playing the two of them together. On their best days they leave a trail of destruction behind them. On their worst days they do the same thing. Both Mitchs went at over four runs an over in the first innings. Starc took wickets and Johnson kissed his cap at fine leg as the crowd ironically cheered his wicketless hundred. Perhaps Haddin’s old hands could have saved them, but instead, they bowled for longer than they wanted, on a pitch they didn’t understand, leaking runs and pressure until eventually Johnson’s aura and Starc’s ankle went.
Three days into the Ashes when Darren Lehmann lays his head to rest he sees bad things. Ryan Harris will never bowl again, Chris Rogers looks slow in the field, Warner and Smith are yet to prove themselves in England, Voges played a rash young man’s shot, Watson might have played his last review, Haddin has played, missed and dropped, the slow pitch has eaten them and their double Mitch dream team is leaking. None are nightmares. All are realities.
Starc has come back to bowl, gingerly at times, held together with jabs, tape and Lehmann’s love and affection.
Australia’s Ashes hopes are currently more Starc’s ankles than Harris’ knee. By stumps tomorrow, they might have a fresh diagnosis.o

Chris Rogers’ arm guard 

What was once white is now brown, or at best, grey. Through the middle the brown has mutated to yellow. At the end there is also black. It could be a stain, it could be mould. Instead of being soft and absorbent, it looks almost smooth and shiny in parts. And, you can smell it. Or at least you can feel you can.
It is Chris Rogers’ arm guard. It is Chris Rogers’ career.
Not the colour you want, it’s been lived in, it’s failed, it’s won, it’s got the odour of victory, and defeat, it should be replaced, it shouldn’t work anymore, it shouldn’t have ever worked.
Ian Chappell believes that the best Test players are picked young and then play for a generation. It’s a lovely idea. But if that was the case, then Australia’s recent and brief run to No. 1 in the world would not have happened. It needed the aged and ignored knees of Ryan Harris. It needed the punchy mouth of Brad Haddin. And it needed the dirty, stinky armguard of Chris Rogers.
Rogers’ career, much like that of Adam Voges after him and Ed Cowan before him, came from knowing his game, scoring runs at the right time, and the lack of generational batsmen. Rogers learnt his game at the crease, while no one watched. First-class seasons, piled one top of the other, were his wife. Big scores were his school yard. Every year, a new, often overlooked, big daddy score was his reward: 194, 209, 319, 279, 248*, 222, 200, 173, 214 and 241*, just to name a few.
That’s how you earn a brown armguard, that’s how you finally crack Test cricket in your mid-thirties.
Does Rogers play any pretty shots? No. At best, he is neat. And if someone asks you if your kids are pretty, and you reply, no, they’re neat, they’re clearly not pretty. Rogers plays effective shots. Sound shots. Checked shots. Squirts, pushes, dabs and turns. The ball is not dispatched to the boundary, it is ushered between fielders. There is no awe-inspiring crack on the bat, but a polite understated knock.
The armguard points back at the bowler like a battered shield. The backlift barely gets above the waist, and it’s hidden behind the crouch. The front foot moves quickly, but not far, just a small, toe-first semi step. The back foot moves over with it. The front foot inches further forward and the bat comes through straight, it meets the ball, and the ball heads off. The bat then goes into a weird checked move, like it feels it shouldn’t have played such a rash attacking shot. The blade is clutched by Rogers as he runs as fast as he can to get the greatest reward for his safe nudge.
It’s a three, not a four. It’s a transaction, not a painting. Rogers’ team-mates say he has a pillow on his bat, but it’s a safety blanket. Even his six here – his first in Tests – was an accident or, at best, chance.
Before this Test, and with only a mere, non-world record six straight Test fifties, some questioned whether he would come straight back into this team. Rogers even believed it himself, while sitting around with his concussion, he wondered if that was how it ended. With a net bowler hitting him on the head, one fifty short of the world record, and then never to play again.
He was to be replaced eventually, so why not now?
Today Rogers batted with multimillionaires, stars, potential legends. Australia’s cheeky bad boy franchise star, Australia’s new odd batting prodigy, and Australia’s Ashes and World Cup-winning captain. And when he went out, he had scored more than David Warner, Steve Smith and Michael Clarke combined. No one had really noticed. They weren’t really supposed to. It was just supposed to happen, and so it did. Much like almost every other moment of his career.
With an Australia batting line-up that has repeatedly struggled in the first innings, Rogers has made eight scores of 50 and above from 21 innings. Australia need more hundreds, Rogers wants more hundreds, but his fifties are so important.
Rogers put on an opening partnership of 50, then two more partnerships over 50. He, for the seventh, and world record, time in a row made 50. Australia Invincible and opening batsman Bill Brown said his job was to get to lunch. Australia’s fallen hero Phillip Hughes was known to say dig in and get to tea. Chris Rogers just makes fifties.
Perhaps he doesn’t smell of roses, isn’t shiny and new, won’t play for a generation, and is at best neat. But he is those things while making a lot of fifties. And today, without his runs, Australia would have made something uglier than a Chris Rogers armguard.

Root’s result and process 

Root glad to cash in after good fortune”Check the scorebook.” That’s what they say. Grizzled old cricket watchers who see the game through life’s bitter disappointment. They’ve heard every story, every excuse, every couldabeen tale. It doesn’t matter. The scorebook matters.
Modern cricketers and coaches tell us it is about the process. We shouldn’t judge on results. We shouldn’t focus on what happened at the end, but how they went about it.
In that sacred scorebook, Joe Root made 134. But his processes were all over the place.
First ball he found the smallest amount of bat to stop a ball that was hooping back in at him better than any David Warner punch. Second ball he was dropped from an outside edge that Brad Haddin simply didn’t understand. And even third ball he was close enough that there was a stifled appeal, but Root made it through that over.
But then, part of his process was also attacking Australia. He used flawless off-drives, sensuous cover-drives and forced off the backfoot whenever there was a chance. Sometimes, he cut hard, sometimes up and over, sometimes it was a guide, sometimes it was a crack. When he reached his 40s, his balls faced had still not caught his runs.
They were the glorious processes. It was counterattack, it was new England, it dragged England away from a bad day.
The sort of innings Kevin Pietersen would have played. Hope like hell you end up the day on the back of papers for the right reasons. Cover yourself in glory if you do well. Or cover yourself in something far worse if you fail.
Root’s innings was a constant battle between his best and worst. Every great shot would be followed by luck or confusion. Inside edges went between midwicket to the finest of fine legs. Pull shots off balls that advised him via their length not to pull them. Play and misses from balls too close to him, too far, coming in, going out. And so many half and three quarter shouts.
Even his 50 was part of this. The result was two runs, he raised his bat, the crowd said his name. But the process was a leading edge through cover that floated past the field, rather than to it.
After another inside edge near-calamity, Root moved across to sweep Lyon, Lyon was sure he was out LBW. The first replays of the review seemed to agree with him. But hawkeye and its mystical digital eye believed the ball pitched outside legstump. Lyon stopped believing in science as it remained not out.
At one stage Root was almost caught/run out/stumped (Ian Bell probably would have found a way to be out all three ways), when he flicked off his pad, and it ricocheted off short leg’s shin pads. That was soon followed by another huge shout, followed by huge disappointment for Lyon when he thought he had an inside edge, that he thought Steve Smith should catch, that turned out to be neither hit nor caught.
Yet, Root still had the ability, calm, and timing to stroke a ball through covers. To cut, guide and flick. At one stage he steered a ball through point so perfectly it was like he’d pre-mapped it with a protractor.
When Mitchell Starc finally took Root’s wicket, he didn’t do a jig, or even put his finger to his lips, he just exhaled a very deep breath.
Root was in control for three-quarters of the balls he faced, the tenth-lowest control in a Test hundred since 2009. Twenty different times Australia thought they had him, or a chance of him, or they hope that he would soon be gone. He kept his wicket by millimetres. But does that make it better, or worse? Was he lucky or brave? Was this an epic rearguard or a failure to fail. Was it a victory for positive intent, or just one of those days?
Root’s day in gif form would look like this: Australia throw their hands up, cover turns to pick up the ball from the boundary, the crowd yelling “ROOOOOOOT”, bowlers shaking their heads, the ball scooting through Australia’s haunted vacant point region, Australia dropping their heads, Root slapping another boundary and ultimately Root celebrating a hard earned, well received, incredibly important very lucky hundred while Warner didn’t clap him.
Root played new England cricket. Root played and missed. Root made a hundred. England survived the day. Today, the result beat the process.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 25,774 other followers