OPINION: If you add one and then subtract one in arithmetic, the status quo is retained. In a cricket match when you add Jofra Archer and subtract Steve Smith the scales tilt wildly in England’s favour.
The Archer effect was openly visible on the fifth morning at Lord’s. Normally the aggressors, Australia were conservative with their field placings, mindful of the missing runs with Smith’s withdrawal from the game. This cost them a chance to dismiss Ben Stokes early. He not only went on to score a century and provide England with an outside chance of victory but he’s now in good form for the remainder of the series.
Stokes in form and confident is as dangerous an opponent as the extremely rapid Archer.
What Archer did with his lethal spell on the fourth day was something England hadn’t achieved in six-and-a-half tests [five in Australia and one-and-a half in England]; he changed Smith’s thought process.
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That was the whole reason for Bodyline in 1932-33; to upset Don Bradman’s very settled and successful thought process. It worked a treat as England won that series 4-1.
Whether Archer can repeat the series-long success of Harold Larwood in 1932-33 or have a similar intimidatory effect to that achieved by both England’s Frank Tyson in 1954-55 and Australia’s Jeff Thomson twenty years later, is yet to be seen. Nevertheless Archer – with his languid action but lethal pace – has revitalised an England side that was clueless when bowling to Smith and was headed for a likely drubbing in the series.
Anyone who thought Archer was heartless in not immediately checking on Smith after he felled him should think again.
The first time Dennis Lillee hit a batsman under my captaincy, I told him; “Go back to your mark, we’ll check on his health.” Lillee was livid but later understood when I explained it could have an adverse effect on his bowling if he saw an injured batsman close up. I then added; “But I’ll be really disappointed if you don’t check on the opposition batsman’s health after play.”
Test cricket is a tough game and every player understands the rule; if you don’t want to get hurt then don’t walk through the gate.
Smith’s withdrawal from the game via the new concussion rules was not a total loss for Australia. His replacement, Marnus Labuschagne, showed with his gritty knock to help save the match that he’s a viable test batsman. He’ll come into calculations for Headingley even if Smith is available.
Australia, like England, have some soul searching to do with a batting line-up that is misfiring on a few cylinders. The biggest headaches for Australia are at the top of the order.
Cameron Bancroft is in trouble but David Warner should hold his place by virtue of his previous outstanding record. Warner is down on confidence but only needs to do two things to quickly turn that around.
Firstly, he’s a stroke-maker so before he bats he needs to make a conscious decision to play his shots at every opportunity. Secondly and most importantly, he has to tell himself: “Once you’re in the middle, forget everything else but watching the ball out of the bowler’s hand.”
Looking at an area rather than the ball itself is the most common cause of batting slumps but it’s also the quickest fix if you rectify the problem.
Australia’s bowling was again top-class with the fast men excelling on an uneven surface. The one worry was the way Stokes and Jos Buttler blunted Nathan Lyon’s off-spin on the final day. In the on-going battle between bat and ball, Lyon now has to adjust to batsmen who prefer to play him off the back foot.
With back-to-back tests a feature of this series, Australia have cover as ready made pace replacement Mitchell Starc is yet to take part in the series. England are not so fortunate as they’ve lost potential pace replacements for Archer in injured fast bowlers Mark Wood and Olly Stone.
In the meantime, the two teams need to quickly re-gather themselves for another testing battle with only three day’s rest.
The difference this time is Australia have just as much soul-searching to do as their opponents. Smith isn’t the only one who had his thought process altered in what was a torrid but enthralling test.