Sunday, 26 November 2006

Necessary risks

I've read a lot of reports about England's fightback at the Gabba yesterday, suggesting it was good, but should have been much better. That three of the wickets were given away and they should be walking out today, just three down rather than five down. I beg to differ.

Fighting back in a Test where you are 648 runs behind with nearly two days to go is tough, to say the least. England could have tried to grind out the time, playing defensively and taking no risks - just the approach the Australians hope for, as they put men around the bat and pressure batsmen out. Fortunately, England decided to play their natural game, to take on the bowlers and, in Kevin Pietersen's case, to dominate them. This approach is to be applauded, though it necessarily entails taking risks.

Playing aggressively means playing shots, but does not mean being reckless. However, it is a fine line between the two and Pietersen walks it every time he strides to the crease. For every one of his glorious attacking strokes there is the potential for him to mistime and end up back in the pavilion. Yesterday, he survived some scares, especially a mistimed hit to leg which went straight up in the air, but fortunately landed safely. It was a similar shot to that which saw the end of Andrew Flintoff, but went unremarked in the press.

Granted Flintoff's dismissal was a poor one, but it came as England were trying to stay on top of the Australian bowlers. If he had timed his shot better it may well have flown to the boundary and the applause would have rung out as loud as the criticism. Likewise, Andrew Strauss has been vilified for getting caught playing the pull shot for the second time in the match. Yet, how many runs has he scored with that shot in his Test career? Perhaps, this time it was the wrong shot to play, but maybe he just executed it poorly this time, something which can happen to any batsman.

Of the three 'giveaway' wickets, Paul Collingwood's was the most unfortunate. On 96 he charged down the wicket and was stumped. It looked bad and he would have been mortified, but everyone ought to remember how many similar shots he had played to get to 96. It was by playing aggressively, especially to Warne, that he reached that score. That he failed to make the three figure milestone is a shame, but it does not detract from a wonderful innings.

England know that they were over cautious in their first innings and died in the hole. They were determined not to make the same mistake again. Facing such a huge deficit they decided to throw off the shackles and try to strike some psychological blows of their own. If they lose the match, which seems likely, it will not be because of some over-aggressive shots in the second innings, it will be because of the nervous, defensive mindset they showed in the first, as well as the similarly negative selection policy and bowling displays.

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