Cricket

Ashes 2017: Redemption for Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad as England boss Day Two, but job's not done yet

Redemption is the most captivating of sporting stories. The machismo that is at the heart of professional sport is at its most fervent when someone is being proved wrong. Before this Test, there were two hugely experienced England players who had been questioned. Both Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad were under pressure, both went some way to silencing their detractors as England put themselves in a strong position on Day Two in Melbourne.

England's Alastair Cook celebrates scoring his century against Australia on the second day. AFP

England's Alastair Cook celebrates scoring his century against Australia on the second day. AFP

On several occasions in this series, England have gone into a day’s play with the match in the balance and with the chance to put themselves in front of the hosts. Each and every time, they have failed to do that. On Day Two in Melbourne, they finally backed up a decent couple of sessions with a very good full day. The frequency with which England have squandered these positions means there is still lingering doubts about them pushing on to a win or a draw from here, but 0-5 isn’t yet certain.

Australia resumed on 244 for three and had made it to 260 without further loss before a dramatic collapse saw them lose their last seven wickets for 67 runs. That flurry of wickets began with Smith, who didn’t convert a first innings fifty into a century, a real rarity. That Smith getting out for 76 can be viewed as a relative failure shows how otherworldly his efforts have been.

Smith was the first of three batsmen to drag the ball onto their stumps as the sluggish nature of this pitch made expansive shots as likely to take an inside edge as an outside edge. It was Tom Curran that got Smith, and it came as a huge relief for the young man on debut after a no ball had robbed him of a maiden wicket on Day One. Then, it was Warner that he should have had dismissed, Smith is something of an upgrade for your first Test wicket.

The real story during Australia’s innings was Broad, who added three more wickets to the one he claimed on the first day to finish with figures of 4-51, his best effort of the series thus far. The difference for Broad wasn’t that he bowled quicker, he just bowled better. This is something that those who have been screaming for England to pick imaginary quicks to beat Australia should bear in mind. The problem hasn’t been about the pace with which England have bowled, it has been the line and length. While an extra yard can help, it does little for you if you bowl badly.

Here Broad was pitching the ball up more, he was on average some 70cm closer to the stumps compared to Perth according to data analysis firm, CricViz. That he claimed four wickets here and none in there should not come as a surprise.

There were many authoritative voices that were calling for Broad’s omission from this side, and based on the form, he had shown on this tour that it was not unreasonable to suggest it. The issue with the idea of leaving him out is twofold. First, with Craig Overton injured, England were always going to have to pick another inexperienced bowler, leaving out Broad would have meant two newbies.

The second, and perhaps just as important, is that Broad is closing in on 400 wickets and seems to be at his best when he is under the most intense scrutiny. The first of the remarkable match-winning spells that have littered his career came against Australia in 2009 when there were calls for him to be dropped. It is understandable that the England management want to give Broad enough time to come good, he almost always does. The best indicator of future success is past performance, Broad will always have that going for him.

With Australia all out for 327, the focus turned to England’s batting and the other senior player under serious pressure – Cook. He had been awful on this tour so far, and the absence of a solid foundation that has been built on his runs been a big part of England’s struggles.

When Cook first arrived at the crease, he had the similar issue to the opening three Tests. His head has been falling over to the off side causing him to lose his balance and his feet not to move. That didn’t last long as he finally began to look like the world class batsman he undoubtedly still is.

Cook passed fifty for the first time in the series, and the first time in 11 Test innings, as he remained unbeaten on 104. But he lost his opening partner early as Nathan Lyon continues his absolute domination of England’s left-handers in this series. He has dismissed a left-hander 13 times and a right-hander just twice. Mark Stoneman mistimed a drive and Lyon took the latest of the excellent caught and bowled dismissals that Australia have pulled off in the series.

While Cook was working his way back into form, James Vince was doing what he does – flipping between looking brilliant and inept with alarming frequency. Here, he was dismissed lbw by Josh Hazlewood for 17. He has made two very good-looking fifties on this tour, but his career average in his 11th Test is just 22.83 and his series average is an unimpressive 28.42. That isn’t good enough. If he is going to survive in this team, he needs to start making bigger scores with more consistency. And soon.

For England to back up their excellent bowling performance, they needed runs from Joe Root as well as Cook. England’s captain has been almost as ineffective as Cook in this series. A big stand between the two men was what was required. They have something approaching that now, the two added 112 by the close. But more is needed. The England tail has been so weak this stand needs to be massive to get England into a really strong position.

Australia look to be struggling with the ball. With Pat Cummins suffering with sickness, Mitchell Starc out of the team with injury and neither Jackson Bird or Mitchell Marsh looking all that threatening, the key on Thursday will be Nathan Lyon’s off spin.

This has been a fantastic day for England, so much better than any that have come before, but the job isn’t even half done yet.

Updated Date: December 27, 2017 14:42:31 IST

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