The Ashes

Published on November 24th, 2017 | by Arunabha Sengupta


Surging English confidence comes up against the wall called Steve Smith

Stoneman and Malan score 50s. Vince goes further and impresses everyone with his 83.

The side would have been happier to get a few more than 302, but with Cook and Root falling early England is happy that the new men have stepped up.

And then the bowlers strike. Chris Broad gets Cameron Bancroft, Moeen Ali exults on trapping Usman Khawaja, Jake Ball picks up the prize scalp of David Warner, James Anderson catches Peter Handscomb on the crease with a clever delivery that cuts across.

All the bowlers other than Chris Woakes have tasted blood. How Moeen fares should have a huge bearing on the series, finger spin in Australia is always in the uncertain zone. And he could not have asked for a better start.

Australia 76 for 4. Under pressure. The tail is rather long, like those of the kangaroos sketched in the old Ashes cartoons.

However, with the Barmy Army raising the decibel level with every passing minute, now the English attack comes up against the best batsman of the world. Yes, there can be no earthly doubt that Steve Smith is indeed the top man with the willow at the current moment.

The backfoot may shuffle outside the off-stump as he braces to face the ball, the technique while he plays the short of good length delivery outside the off-stump may be less than convincing. But the quickness of the eye and the perfection of the balance, and the position that he gets into while essaying his strokes can never be questioned.

Perhaps no great batsman has ever looked less elegant while playing the straight drive or the one just past mid-on. But they are timed to perfection and do travel. Many did this afternoon.

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If one averages over 60 for nearly five and a half thousand runs, there can hardly be any doubt about the pedigree of the man. There can be numerous debates about the difference between how and how much. But runs are what count in cricket, and Smith gets them with unnerving regularity.

The England attack, with their tails up and confidence at the peak, gradually ran out of steam as Smith settled down. When he does that, a depressing shroud of depressing inevitability tends to descend on the opponents.

Shaun Marsh’s career has essentially been a start-stop one, with plenty of potential many like to go gaga about, but less than ideal results for a top order Australian batsman. However, with the captain at his rock solid best, he did show loads of his gifts of timing and temperament. Even rather innovative fields, with two short mid-offs, a short-cover and two short mid-ons crouching under his eye-line did not fluster him. He has held on till the end of the day, unbeaten on a fighting 44.

Marsh has taken his time, as has Smith. Runs have not been easy to come by. But the 89 runs these two have put on over 37 overs have restored balance in the game. 165 for 4 is not a very impressive score in absolute terms, but Test cricket, like chess, is often a story about seizing the initiative. The said currency has been pulled this way and that, and thanks to the resolute stand between Smith and Marsh, now rests with Australia.

The morrow can be a very different tale. An early wicket or two, especially that of Smith, captured in the crispness of a new morning, can tilt the match back in favour of England. But as of now the surge of English confidence has been checked by the broad bat that is surely the best in the world at this moment. Who has the upper hand is not particularly certain in this gripping Ashes opener, but with Smith at the crease the Australians can have hints of smile on their faces as they retire for the night.

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About the Author


Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets @senantix.

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