Magellan Ashes 2017-18
Smith's follow-on logic in cold light of day
Australia's captain and strike bowler comfortable with decision with big lead and potentially two night sessions still looming for England's batsmen
Andrew Ramsey at Adelaide Oval
4 December 2017, 11:51 PM AEST
Under the modern conventions of Test cricket, Steve Smith's decision not to send England back to the batting crease after they fell marginally outside of the mandated follow-on target would scarcely have raised an eyebrow, let alone a pulse.
But pink ball Test matches buck conventions in much the same way as they defy nightfall, and as a consequence Smith finds himself under scrutiny from a bevy of former greats who claim his decision not to make his foes bat again was unfathomable and verging on untenable.
Even though Australia enters day four with a lead that history shows already extends beyond what most teams have been able to successfully chase down when batting last at Adelaide Oval, regardless of pitch characteristics or ball hue.
"Why would Steve (Smith) not have wanted to bowl in these conditions?" ex-England captain Bob Willis opined on Optus Sport's ‘Stumps' program tonight.
"I'd have definitely enforced the follow-on."
Willis, who prior to Joe Root opting to bowl first last Saturday's was the most recent England captain to send Australia into bat in an Ashes Test at the Adelaide Oval (with England losing that Test in 1982-83 by eight wickets), also claimed Root blundered at the coin toss.
But he was not the only expert to query the wisdom of the follow-on decision that Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc revealed at day's end, with his team holding an overall lead of 268 runs with six second wickets in hand, had been made unilaterally by Smith.
Former England spinner Graeme Swann suggested in broadcast commentary stints that Smith had effectively allowed England back into a match that Australia had summarily dominated from day one after Root's men had made little impact with the ball and even less with the bat.
Ex-Australia skipper Michael Clarke claimed during Channel Nine's telecast that Smith had missed the chance to make a statement and keep England under the pump given the fallibility England showed against Australia's quicks and spinner Nathan Lyon.
And current national selector Mark Waugh stated on Triple-M radio that he would have enforced the follow-on given the circumstances that Smith faced, but conceded that if the Test was being played in daylight hours with the traditional red ball he would have opted to bat if the choice was his.
Which explains the cause of the kerfuffle in a nutshell.
Under traditional thinking, the prospect of subjecting a four-person bowling attack to another hefty workload early in a five-Test campaign compacted into barely seven weeks when holding a first innings advantage of not much more than 200, and with more than two days of forecast fine weather remaining, would seem a no-brainer.
Why risk breaking a bowler or two in the hunt for a quick kill when you can keep the opposition's ageing seam attack out in the field for a few more sessions, build a lead that is unattainable and then unleash your fresh firepower at a rival physically fatigued and mentally flattened?
Particularly when, once the hour or two challenge of tonight's session was negotiated, there looms the prospect of resuming in daylight conditions with a ball starting to go soft, on a pitch not offering much and where movement through the air is only discernible while the lacquered leather's sheen remains.
The answer seems predicated on the belief that Smith missed the opportunity to apply further pressure to an already besieged opponent in a session under floodlights when batting is toughest, even though a quick check of the local almanac indicates Adelaide still hosts a night at the end of every day.
Which means, as Starc was quick to point out, the Australians have an opportunity to unleash at England in night conditions tomorrow (with a lead they hope will have been extended beyond 350) and again on Wednesday night, if needed.
It's for those reasons that Starc seemed largely unfazed by the captain's call to methodically bat England out of the game rather than rush to put them out of their misery, even if the loss of four top-order wickets in a testing 26 overs under lights tonight was not part of Smith's optimal planning.
"It was purely up to Smithy, that's why he's the captain," Starc explained at the end of the evening's play.
"There are pros and cons for both decisions I'm sure, but we'll look to build on our lead.
"The bowlers have a little bit of time to freshen up and come out firing for that second innings, and hopefully knock them over.
"We know that the night sessions are the toughest time to bat and England have only had to do it for 10 overs so far (in this Test).
"If they're going to try and win this Test match they are probably going to have to go through two night sessions, so it's great signs for us with the ball if you look at that session we just faced there.
"With a lead of 260 going into a day session we're still very much in the driver's seat.
"There's no reason why we can't build a really big lead and have England on the ropes in the night session going forward."
Even England allrounder Chris Woakes resisted the chance to drop ‘we couldn't believe that Australia went for the safe option by batting again' into his post-match comments, in what was perhaps the most telling assessment of the evening's tactics.
"Thankfully it's not a decision for me to make, enforcing the follow-on," Woakes said. "It can't be an easy decision as a captain, especially in a pink ball Test match when you're going into an evening session. It must be a tricky decision."
And one that needs only to stand up to full forensic examination once the Test's outcome is known.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird, Chadd Sayers.
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 Adelaide Oval, December 2-6 (Day-Night). Tickets
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