Morning after looms as cure for collapse

15 December 2017
Our voices

Despite an old cricket truism, it was the rarely invoked second hour in which the third Test took a momentous turn on Friday

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

Despite the myriad innovations that have come to adorn Test cricket, ranging from glow-in-the-day bails to a heavily lacquered pink ball that can be deployed under floodlights, fans invariably find comfort in those traditions that stand stubbornly resolute against time’s march.

Among the most enduring is the observation, once reserved for the game’s insightful commentators but lately appropriated by players compelled to undertake end-of-day media duties, that the decisive phase of any match awaits on the other side of sleep.

"The first hour tomorrow will be crucial," has replaced ‘cricket’s a funny game’ as the cover-all catch cry for those looking to predict the course of a Test while tacitly admitting they have about as much clue as they hold control.

Regardless of what has gone before and irrespective of what learned opinion suggests, the moments on which the match will turn apparently lurk within "the first hour tomorrow".

Following a rain-interrupted opening day of the Magellan Ashes Series, which England finished 4-196, Australia fast bowler Pat Cummins declared that the initial 60 minutes of day two would do much to decide the game’s subsequent course.

Emotional Bairstow salutes ton with headbutt

The fact that the tourists negotiated that hour without loss for the addition of 28 runs gave no hint of the batting collapses (6-56 and then 5-40) that subsequently ensued as England tumbled to a 10-wicket defeat.

After a day’s play in the third Test at the WACA Ground, the first stanza of the series that England had managed to edge their Ashes rivals by turning a precarious 4-131 into 4-305 come stumps on Thursday evening, the tourists’ first century maker of the campaign made a sage prediction.

"If we give them any sniff in that first hour with the second new ball (tomorrow) we will give the momentum right back to them," Dawid Malan said last night, setting the scene for Friday morning’s resumption.

As a consequence, when England warily saw off Australia’s initial attack with said new newish ball and then counter-punched to lift their score to 4-356 after that pivotal hour’s play today, then it followed that the Test could be judged firmly in their favour.

But as was the case so decisively in Brisbane, it was the rarely invoked second hour in which the game took a momentous turn.

Between the day’s first drinks break and the marginally belated lunch interval, England surrendered 6-47 against a ball 25 overs old when the witching hour began and – in doing so – forewent the hope of posting a tally around 500 that had seemed likely when that first hour had been navigated.

England collapse on second WACA morning

The procession was begun by Nathan Lyon’s removal of Malan for a classy 140, but it snowballed once Pat Cummins immediately knocked over Moeen Ali, Josh Hazlewood chimed in with the scalps of Chris Woakes and Craig Overton.

And Mitchell Starc mopped up Jonny Bairstow shortly after he celebrated his maiden Ashes century, and then last man Stuart Broad for an entertainingly unorthodox dozen off 10 balls.

If England’s rapid demise came with a sense of inevitability among those who have witnessed hauntingly similar over recent weeks, it was not so within the Australia camp on the field according to Usman Khawaja.

"It wasn’t that England have a history of collapsing, we just knew that if we got a breakthrough then the new batsman was going to find it tough," Khawaja said at the end of day two with his team 3-203 and an even 200 adrift of England’s first innings.

"The WACA is always a tough wicket to start up on, just with its pace and its bounce.

"And we knew of we got one wicket there would be a chance (of more)."

Smith rules supreme to roll to WACA fifty

Taking a contrasting view was England’s day two hero Bairstow who noted that while the loss of six wickets in barely an hour could be construed as a wasted opportunity to push on towards 500, the fact that they scored as many as they did after being 4-131 yesterday was, in itself, an achievement of note.

Bairstow also pointed out that the ferocity and accuracy of Australia’s fast bowling complement ensured that any less-than-elite batter will always struggle to get going and that should be taken into account when assessments of their latterly lower-order contributions are made.

"When it comes to the tail, they’ve made it very clear with their plans," Bairstow said of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins’ willingness to target their fellow bowling specialists with short-pitched deliveries aimed at their persons.

"They are very fortunate to have three guys who are bowling upwards of 140km/h consistently and that’s a game plan they’re able to use and they’ve used it very well."

But it’s less than a fortnight since England’s seamers did a similar job on Australia’s top, middle and lower orders albeit with a pink ball under the Adelaide floodlights, when they lost 4-53 followed by another clatter of 6-67 under thick cloud the next afternoon.

So as Bairstow was quick to highlight, there’s an old cricket truism that suggests England’s chance to re-take the initiative in the third Ashes Test is not far away.

"When we bowl in the morning it’s a huge session for us," he said tonight.

In other well-worn words, the first hour tomorrow will be crucial.


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