Saturday, 25 November 2006

Damage limitations

Though they find themselves in deep trouble in the first Test, England should still have hopes of drawing the match. It will take a monumental batting effort to do so, but is not impossible on a pitch which is still giving little assistance to the bowlers. Aiming for a draw must be the first priority, but there are other important targets for England.

With the Adelaide Test starting just a few days after this one ends the more overs England can make Australia bowl the better. Even if they are all out twice and lose this Test England must try to tire the Australian attack as much as possible. Glenn McGrath, in particular, will not want too heavy a workload with the second Test coming up so fast. If England can dig in and make Australia work hard for every wicket they may well reap the benefits at Adelaide.

England must also attack Shane Warne, a policy which worked very well in the last Ashes series. Though the veteran leg-spinner collected 40 wickets, his economy rate was higher than usual and his herculean effort did not prevent England from making good first innings totals. Ian Bell and Geraint Jones have been very positive against Warne in the first session of day three, an approach which must be replicated throughout the rest of the innings and England's second innings.

Shot selection is key against accurate bowling and England must temper their desire to dominate and score quickly with judicous choices of strokes. Andrew Strauss started the rot yesterday when he played an ill-advised pull shot. At the time he and Alastair Cook were in control against McGrath and Brett Lee. Strauss' wicket gave McGrath confidence and he produced a great delivery straight afterwards to get rid of Cook. Paul Collingwood soon followed and the die was cast on England's first innings. England were better this morning, though Kevin Pietersen was dropped playing a similar mistimed pull shot. Bell and Jones have both showed excellent judgement so far and they must continue to do so after lunch.

If they can come out of this match with some positives and make Australia work for a win England will at least carry forward some momentum to Adelaide. Of course, if they can force a draw they will feel like they've won the match and should gain a huge amount of confidence. The alternative is to capitulate and allow Australia to gain a serious psychological advantage for the next match. It is to be hoped, from England's point of view, that they fight hard and show that this Ashes series is well and truly alive.

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