Sunday, 11 August 2013

England regain intent with a new method

In the first innings, Alastair Cook played with grit, determination, and stodgy boringness. It was the right innings for the time, and it was his method, but after he got a ball from Jackson Bird with his name on it, he may have thought about missed opportunities, chances to score more than 51 off the 164 balls he played.

In the second innings, Alastair Cook stopped pushing back half-volleys. In 37 balls, he drove through extra cover, straight, flicked with confidence down to fine leg. He scored three fours, a few couples and a couple of fews. Then he slashed at one, length outside off stump and walked off, possibly thinking about the perils of positivity.

In the first innings he got out leaving one he should have played, and in the second playing one he should have left. No happy medium. It’s an obvious point, but the happy medium was leaving well outside off, then driving full and straight balls, flicking off his legs and making the bowlers bowl at him. The regular Cook method.

Joe Root got two good balls, the second innings jaffa from Harris better than good. Jonathan Trott seemed to have abandoned his method. In both innings combined, he scored at a strike-rate of 81, quicker than he tends to score in ODIs. Perhaps the relentless criticism of his slow batting in ODIs has had the effect, just to his Test batting. The old Trott waited for the bad ball and was perfectly content to play boring innings.

The new Trott is like a mini KP, constantly trying to move across his crease, trying to flick into the leg-side. In both innings, he got out mistiming flicks, one off Nathan Lyon to short leg, and one off Ryan Harris fending down the leg side. Maybe he’s not in his bubble any more? He’s certainly changed his method.

Pietersen though, got out in both innings to Nathan Lyon, not even through overly attacking, or ego driven shots. His miscues are normally powerful enough to evade fielders, but when he pushed at the ball tentatively he edged behind, then leading edged to cover. Both of those shots were not Pietersen’s method. He blocks or bashes, and that works for him.

If you could pick two players from this England team to bat together in long partnership, purely for brilliance of play, it would be Pietersen and Bell. Pietersen’s batting is all ego, a desire to dominate. Bell’s is pure aesthetic pleasure. He’s also a player who seems to have tried to change his method over the years.

At times, he’s got out through the false desire to dominate - such as in the first Test in India last year, and the first innings here - but that’s not his method. His method is to leave well, and bat beautifully when its in his hitting zones. He scores at a reasonable strike rate whenever he does that, and he corrected in the second innings, dabbing through the slips, cutting, driving off front and back foot with orgasmic beauty. Little went in the air, and it didn’t need to when he played so smoothly along the floor on his way to a third hundred of the series.

Alongside him for part of the evening session was Jonny Bairstow. In the first innings he played a knock totally alien to him, 14 off 77 balls, in an innings that did precisely nothing. It didn't build a partnership with a more free scoring partner, it didn’t take valuable time out of the game like such an innings might in a third or fourth innings.

In the second innings, Bairstow attacked intelligently, hitting Nathan Lyon over his head for four twice, and even though he went back into his shell for a while after, he was still alive enough to the attacking options to back foot drive then hook Harris for two consecutive fours, progressing to 28 off 65 balls before edging a sharply bouncing Lyon ball behind. The same number of balls in the first innings had netted him just 12.

The difference between the first and second England innings was intent. The first innings had none, and was based on the idea that batting would get significantly easier later. But Siddle, Harris, Bird and Lyon are nothing if not workhorses. They were never going to bowl lots of easily hittable stuff after England battled their way in.

So, second time out England resolved to take every opportunity for runs, and take calculated risks. That may have been out of the method of some of their batsmen but it worked perfectly for Bell and Pietersen. England were rewarded with what looks to be moving to a par third innings total, and a potentially match winning lead. They got the method right.

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