Test cricket is alive and well. Today’s thrilling first Investec Ashes test saw England hold their nerve and defeat Australia by just 14 runs at Trent Bridge, but both sides will have little time for recovery before the second test gets under way at Lords on Thursday. England will have little time to celebrate, while the Aussies will need to pick themselves up off the deck if they are to bounce back at the home of cricket. I’ll spare you the obvious analysis of the past five days, such as Ashton Agar’s brilliant debut and Stuart Broads decision not to walk when he hit the cover off the ball on the third evening. But I will delve deeper into some of the wider implications of perhaps the finest test match of the DRS ‘era’.
One area of concern for the hosts is Jimmy Anderson’s fitness going forward in the five match series (ten, ifyou consider the teams will meet again this winter for five matches in Australia). Anderson is no spring chicken, he turns 31 in 16 days, and he was visibly struggling before the lunch interval today with cramp. It goes without saying that Anderson is crucial to England’s Ashes hopes, so it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up on Thursday after his 13-over marathon spell today.
As far as the rest of the England bowling attack is concerned, while Broad and Graeme Swann are shoe-ins for Lords Steven Finn will be sweating over his place. He only just got the nod over Tim Bresnan for the first test and his performance, especially today, was sadly lacking in quality and composure. Finn struggled to bowl economically to even Australia’s lower order batsmen, and his dropped catch in the deep this morning was nearly so very costly. After England’s last four wickets combined for just 21 runs in the match Bresnan’s batting will also be appealing to Andy Flower and his backroom staff, so don’t be surprised to see the barrel chested Yorkshirman deputise for Finn in the second test. As far as the batsmen are concerned although Jonny Bairstow didn’t score many runs he’s almost certain to be retained at number six, although another poor performance from him could see Nick Compton given a second chance of a test career at Old Trafford in the third test.
Brad Haddin was the Aussies best batsman as he nearly guided them to a famous victory, but it’s important to remember just how close he was to missing out entirely on this Ashes tour. Matthew Wade had been the man in possession of the gloves recently for the visitors and while he did nothing particularly wrong Haddin was mainly included for his experience and to take on the role of vice-captain in the side. Haddin has traditionally performed well against England, scoring two centuries in the 2009 and 2010/11 series, so recently departed coach Mickey Arthur looks to have been justified in giving Haddin the opportunity to resume his test career. Not that he’s likely to receive much credit for his decision.
Whether or not Arthur’s replacement Darren Lehmann makes any changes to the team for Lords remains to be seen. Although the Australians came close to winning the first test a couple of players, especially Ed Cowan, were disappointing and the likes of David Warner and Usman Khawaja will be in the frame to fill the number three spot in the order should Lehmann decide Cowan’s performance merits receiving the axe.
My final point iconcerns DRS and the way it was utilised by both skippers. Michael Clarke paid dearly for wasting his reviews throughout the game, acknowledging so in his post match interview. Alistair Cook takes a lot of stick for being conservative and passive as a captain, which may or may not be justified. However these characteristics transfer to his use of the review system, and it’s undeniably served him well so far in his short spell at the helm. DRS was set up to eliminate the howler, and Cook uses the system for exactly that purpose. While Clarke used the system speculatively on numerous occasions Cook was happy to keep his reviews stashed away for when he needed them most. And boy, did he need one at hand when Haddin got the faintest of nicks through to Matt Prior.
So after a thrilling and exhausting test match the series moves quickly on to Lords, and while England will be hoping to emulate their victory there in 2009 the Australians will know that a win for them will turn the tide in their favour. Will the second test be as close as the first? No one can say for certain, but you get the feeling that this series could ebb and flow in a way eerily similar to the colossal battle of 2005.