Here are five things we learnt from the opening Test between England and Australia, according to Tom Sizeland.
1. Root beat Smith in the reputation game
Many comparisons were drawn between Joe Root and Steve Smith leading up to the opener in Cardiff. Two of the world’s rising batting stars were about to face off, and backing up their sparkling reputations was going to play a key part throughout the series. So far, it’s Root who has been able to do it better. His brilliant, counter-attacking century in the first innings was backed up by a 60 in the second innings, and the man of the match even played his part with the ball on day four. It was largely a match to forget for the world’s No 1 batter Smith, who gave away his wicket on both occasions for a pair of 33’s. The beauty of a five-match series of course, means there is plenty of time to make amends.
2. Australia never got going
A huge factor in Australia’s first-innings woes was that, uniquely, England managed to dismiss the better batsman at the crease every time. Chris Rogers was the only one up for the challenge. There were four fifty-run partnerships in their first innings, but just as the likes of Smith, Clarke, Voges and Watson started to get going, they would lose their wicket in the 30s. The pressure that England caused and some astute captaincy from Cook allowed England to stay on top, and eventually have a 122-run first innings lead.
3. Johnson and English pitches don’t go well together
Mitchell Johnson’s first-innings figures read 0-111. You could be forgiven for forgetting that this is the man who terrorised the English in the previous series Down Under, on his way to being named the 2014 ICC Cricketer of the Year. The pitch offered very little for pace, but Anderson, Wood and eventually Starc got the new and old ball to swing, which yielded results. Johnson failed to utilise his short ball effectively or enough, despite Gary Ballance showing obvious discomfort with them in the first innings. His knock of 77 in the second innings can’t hide the fact that England no longer feel threatened by him. It may be different in Australia, but he has to find a way to make it work when times get tough.
4. Depth in the tail is valuable
Before the match, I questioned Moeen Ali’s selection. I felt that Rashid was the better spinner, and at No 8, that was a bigger factor than Moeen’s capabilities with the bat. What a fantastic match Moeen turned out to have though. I’m still not convinced he is the long-term option as the front-line spinner, but his 88-ball 77 in the first innings was crucial, and it takes a lot of mental strength to come in at 8 when you bat at 3 for your county, and perform. He took five wickets in the match too. Can he do that consistently though? The jury is still out.
5. Watson has to go
Could this be the end of Shane Watson? If you believe what the media are saying, then probably. His selection was far from guaranteed, and Mitchell Marsh’s back-to-back centuries in the warm-up games put more pressure on Watson to perform. With the unexpected retirement of Ryan Harris, his bowling contributions were going to be under the spotlight too. He bowled 13 wicketless overs and did little with the bat. The Aussies should cut their losses now, and give rising talent Marsh the opportunity his form deserves.