David Gower is a former England captain and one of the most stylish left-handers to play the game. He scored 8,231 runs in 117 Tests and has since forged a career as a broadcast commentator
Lies, damn lies and assumptions! Forgive me amending that well-known aphorism and let me not forget the simple statistics too of the second Test, namely that by getting more out of the match with both bat and ball Australia have taken what they will see as a pretty much decisive position in the series.
The basic assumption was that Adelaide and a day-night Test match might well suit England better than Brisbane, especially in terms of offering James Anderson and the England seamers conditions that could give them movement in the air and off the pitch with which to cause the sort of problems that one associates with them in the greener, fresher climes of home.
For one session, at the start of Australia’s second innings, that was indeed what happened but one session does not a Test match win make and again there were too many other problems of England’s own making that they were already too far down the road to defeat when the fightback came.
Joe Root said afterwards that he did not regret the decision to ask Australia to bat first and that his bowlers passed the bat often enough that with more luck they might actually have gained the desired advantage on day one. Ah, the ifs and buts that make this a game of, well, ifs and buts!
The truth is that a minor adjustment of the lengths bowled on that first day might have brought better results. With the plethora of data available to those that analyse the game it was shown that in the second innings those lengths were just that bit fuller and, even if the conditions and the particular ball in use then were probably more up Anderson’s street, that little adjustment made all the difference.
My thoughts went back to the Adelaide Test of 2010-11 when the opening half hour of the match set a tone and England had Australia 3-2. (2-3 if you’re reading this in England!) Katich’s run out was not the ideal start but then Anderson produced two of his best ever outswingers (with the length suitably full) to remove Ponting for 0 and Clarke for 2. The length was crucial then as it was the other way this time round.
More recently, at Trent Bridge last July, Anderson and Broad made the same mistake in just not having the wherewithal or confidence to bowl that ever so slightly fuller length and South Africa came through the start of that Test less damaged than they should or could have been. Small margins maybe but crucial ones.
Going back to those assumptions, I could not help feeling before a ball had been bowled, that if conditions were going to improve the England bowlers’ lot then it was a given that Starc & Co might also fancy it. This is an impressive home attack with an important added dimension. Their spinner is better than ours.
Nathan Lyon is having a great year, any previous doubts now long forgotten, and he does have a lot of left handers to bowl at. Was that something that the England selectors might have countered? I am not entirely sure how. Cook is England’s leading run scorer of all time, Stoneman looks good at the top but needs a big score to prove it, likewise Malan who deserved his chance after showing promise in the summer, and Moeen Ali is perfectly capable of smacking spinners of any description round the park.
If Stokes hadn’t used his right hand to such damning effect at the wrong time and in the wrong place, there would have been another left-hander in the mix too. There aren’t many options either in as much as the spare batsman on tour, Ballance, is, yes, a left-hander.
All one can do as a selector is pick the best men for the job and if they happen to be left-handers so be it. If heading for India for instance then picking men who are known to play spin well has merit but for an Ashes tour it is normally those with the courage and skill to cope with pace and bounce who do the best.
So it’s on to the WACA for its last Ashes Test match. It is a ground I was very fond of and one at which I made more than a few runs, sometimes on the hard, fast, cracked pitches of legend, sometimes on something more easy paced.
It’s a worry that England have not won there since my first Ashes tour in 1978-9. Historians, especially those born Down Under, will point to the fact that the home team was in effect a second team, as the best Australian cricketers of that age were otherwise engaged with Mr Packer. I will concede that point while at the same time saying that my hundred at the WACA that tour was a proud moment, my first in the Ashes, and that Rodney Hogg for one was mighty quick and subsequently earned his place alongside the greats after Kerry had made his point and Australian cricket had settled back down.
The chances of Australia playing a second team in the next Test are nil so if England are to stay in this series they will have to do what they failed to do with the chase in Adelaide and make some history!
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21