34th over: Australia 181-5 (Green 27, Stoinis 1) Plenty of chat on the telly about Stoinis struggling against spin and how the sweep is his only out shot. Cue the sweep, straight to the man on the 45, followed by a nervous prod at an unpicked googly. Lovely bowling. Rashid has been England’s trump card today.
“Regarding the supposed Steve Smith conundrum from a few overs ago,” emails Geoff Wignall, “mightn’t it be simply that as you say, ‘with such an idiosyncratic approach to begin with, it relies so much on timing and hand-eye coordination – more like a golf swing. Consequently, the margin for error is smaller’ – and that supreme hand/eye co-ordination doesn’t survive beyond the early thirties Incidentally a point Bishen Bedi made the first time he watched Kevin Pietersen.” I agree Geoff, and I was in the process of adding that to my earlier response, but the cricket was getting away from me and I had to rein myself in while I searched for Smith’s birthday. He’s 34, by the way.
33rd over: Australia 178-5 (Green 26, Stoinis 0) Three wides, two boundaries and a wicket in a potpourri of an over from Mark Wood that also featured Green miscuing a pull off the splice.
“The highest score by England in this WC while chasing is 215,” emails Krishnanmoorthy, “so we can officially end the misery in another six overs, right?” I would streak at the MCG if Australia declared.
Fast and full from over the wicket, angling in, beating the batter for pace and crashing into the pads. Marais Erasmus liked the appeal on the ground, and his decision was backed up by DRS. The review was not without merit considering Wood’s angle and the height on the pad that the ball struck the batter, but Labuschagne has to go.
Labuschagne is given out on-field LBW to Mark Wood.
Meanwhile, over in the other match, New Zealand remain on top of Pakistan.
32nd over: Australia 166-4 (Labuschagne 67 Green 21) Labuschagne gets off strike early which allows Rashid to settle into his rhythm against Green, pinning down the big allrounder. Eventually the strike is rotated again, whereupon Labuschagne is unfortunate to only earn a couple for a very handsome extra-cover drive.
Time for a drink.
31st over: Australia 162-4 (Labuschagne 64 Green 20) Buttler’s faith in Livingstone comes to an end, with the spinner replaced by the speed of Wood. England will just be testing the water in search of some reverse swing. And there’s a hint of tail into the right-handers but that merely allows the ball to arc into the middle of Green’s blade, sending the ball racing square of the wicket for four. The Australian allrounder is no match for the follow-up though, that same tail rushing past his outside edge at serious speed. Then… a bouncer… a pull… the bat flies out of Green’s hands and towards square leg… the ball lobs in the air almost vertically…. four fielders converge… none make it in time to gather the catch! Massive let off. Green then flashes a wide one behind square for four more to rub salt into the wound. Mark Wood has not enjoyed the rub of the green this tournament.
30th over: Australia 153-4 (Labuschagne 63 Green 12) Lovely battle between Rashid and Labuschagne this over. The bowler shows all his class, landing variations with subtle changes of flight and speed. The batter is alert at the crease, looking for gaps with delicate glances and nimble footwork. It ends with Australia increasing their total by just one run. Excellent cricket.
29th over: Australia 152-4 (Labuschagne 62 Green 12) Buttler is playing with fire keeping Livingstone in the attack as Australia look to accelerate. Forcing strokes are aimed at four of his six deliveries, for which England will be delighted go for only six runs.
28th over: Australia 146-4 (Labuschagne 59 Green 9) Boundaries in consecutive overs for Australia wtrh Labuschagne looking increasingly assured at the crease. He cuts Rashid behind point for a handsome four as the momentum starts to shift Australia’s way for the first time in an age.
27th over: Australia 138-4 (Labuschagne 52 Green 8) Livingstone replaces Moeen and it immediately looks a bad call form Buttler. Both batters seize the opportunity to look for runs, and that includes the becalmed Green, who opens his boundary account by whipping a full toss through midwicket for four.
“Steve Smith is a bit of a puzzle these days isn’t he?” asks Peter Salmon rhetorically. “Never really seems to get going in any form of cricket. I remember being told once that the odd thing about Formula 1 cars is you can’t really drive them slowly, they are made to go fast and basically fall to pieces if they don’t. It feels to me like Smith started driving under brakes a couple of years ago and the same thing is happening. Definitely past time to reinstate Ricky Ponting as Australia’s second best ever.”
Plenty to unpack there. Surely Smith > Ponting on stats alone for a long while yet. As for why, I’d suggest he is such a technique tweaker that he can end up being too clever by half and breaking something that doesn’t need fixing. Plus, with such an idiosyncratic approach to begin with, it relies so much on timing and hand-eye coordination – more like a golf swing. Consequently, the margin for error is smaller.
26th over: Australia 129-4 (Labuschagne 50 Green 1) Accepting responsibility for run-scoring, Labuschagne plays Rashid away for two twos and a single, in the process bringing up his half-century. Green meanwhile is just one from nine.
25th over: Australia 124-4 (Labuschagne 45 Green 1) And for the second time today that man Labuschagne is fortunate to see an outside edge run away for four after being beaten by Moeen. After the strike’s rotated Moeen then ties Green down with line and length.
Returning to the subject of fielding, Matt Davies enquires: “I wonder if the advent of T20 hitting has meant fielders are practicing their boundary riding skills more as well to counter the six hitting – means less time spent on fielding drills thrown at a single stump?” Perhaps, but that suggests it’s a zero-sum game. Surely all fielding drills improve the skillset and the greater exposure increases opportunity? Considering the array of shots batters have perfected, and the myriad slower balls, it feels like direct hits have lagged way behind.
24th over: Australia 119-4 (Labuschagne 40 Green 1) Rashid now was 2/8 from three overs and is threatening to turn the game very much England’s way. Australia need to regroup again, which puts a lot of pressure on Labuschagne, the ‘in’ batter, to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
They’ve done it again! Rashid the bowler, Moeen the fielder at backward point, and this time it’s Inglis who perishes, slapping a firm reverse sweep straight to the man. Not a smart piece of thinking at the crease. Australia must hope this is not another middle-order collapse.
23rd over: Australia 117-3 (Labuschagne 39 Inglis 3) Three singles from a very speedy Moeen over. He is getting through his work with Jadeja-like efficiency.
22nd over: Australia 114-3 (Labuschagne 37 Inglis 1) Josh Inglis comes out at No 5 for Australia, which feels a place or two too high for the wicket-keeper at this stage in his career. Still, he’s off the mark straight away.
“Isn’t it mad how a we now see a missed direct hit run-out as a fielding error?” emails Mark Hooper, to which I answer: no. “It used to be the preserve of Flintoff or Rhodes style heroics, now every player is capable of it.” Sure, they’re capable of it, but how often do we actually see it? And we’re 20-30 years on from those fielding pioneers. Considering the volume of white ball cricket, the value of direct hits, the professionalisation of all aspects of the game etc etc I am staggered there aren’t more direct hits. Surely it’s a Dave Brailsford marginal gains opportunity.
Steve Smith’s luck runs out! He has to go for 44 off 52. Full and wide from Rashid, but also deviously slow – and a wrong’un. Smith goes for the forceful shot but only loops a top edge to Moeen at a deepish gully.
21st over: Australia 111-2 (Smith 43, Labuschagne 37) Smith has ridden his luck a few times this innings and he gets away with one again, driving Moeen just to the right of the diving Woakes at mid-off. Australia are trying to up the tempo a fraction, and with Rashid at one end, Moeen is the obvious target to push the score along.
20th over: Australia 101-2 (Smith 35, Labuschagne 35) Finally Buttler turns to Rashid, and England’s premier spinner begins brightly, working through his variations with Smith in particular struggling to pick them.
19th over: Australia 98-2 (Smith 34, Labuschagne 33) Moeen Ali replaces Mark Wood and he’s unfortunate to see Labuschagne squirt an outside edge for four after failing to read the length. There’s no fortune involved when Smith plays the same shot very deliberately a few balls later to achieve the same outcome. In between England fail with their second run-out opportunity of the afternoon – Livingstone this time failing to hit the target with Smith struggling to make his ground.
18th over: Australia 88-2 (Smith 29, Labuschagne 28) Every delivery of Livingstone’s over is worked away easily for a single. We are in the middle overs ladies and gentlemen.
17th over: Australia 82-2 (Smith 26, Labuschagne 25) After five overs without a boundary Labuschagne finds the fence with an excellent drive to extra cover as Wood overpitches. The follow-up is superb with Wood sending Labuschagne almost to the turf with an inswinging yorker. That looked very close to LBW live, but umpire Erasmus isn’t interested. After an age ENGLAND REVIEW but ball tracking upholds the umpire’s superb judgement with the crucial factor Wood’s starting line from wide on the crease.
16th over: Australia 76-2 (Smith 25, Labuschagne 21) Livingstone continues after drinks. Both teams seem happy enough with a boundaryless over worth six runs.
15th over: Australia 70-2 (Smith 23, Labuschagne 17) Wood continues to bend his back, pushing 150kph every delivery and slipping in the odd tasty bumper. Australia are happy to play watchfully, soak up the pressure and deal largely in singles, apart from one appallingly communicated three that almost led to a run-out chance. This partnership is now 32 from 56 deliveries.
14th over: Australia 64-2 (Smith 21, Labuschagne 13) Interesting bowling change from England with Liam Livingstone invited into the attack ahead of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali. The allrounder lands his leggies reasonably, and there’s some slow turn on offer, but Australia will be disappointed to have only knocked him away for three singles.
The commentary crew on TV cannot understand why Rashid hasn’t been brought on yet, and pull up some flattering stats to prove their point. England’s premium spinner has a very good record against Steve Smith. That crew, incidentally, is now Howwy (Mark Howard), Watto (Shane Watson) and Daddy (Eoin Morgan).
13th over: Australia 61-2 (Smith 19, Labuschagne 12) *Very Crocodile Dundee voice*: Now that’s a bouncer. Fast and short and menacing from Wood, forcing Labuschagne to sway inside the line. The batter stays alert to rotate the strike next delivery, but Wood is landing his stock ball on a good length, restricting the partnership’s ability to push on.
12th over: Australia 58-2 (Smith 17, Labuschagne 11) Woakes continues into his sixth over, and it begins tidily, but for reasons best known to himself he drops in a short ball that Labuschagne is onto in a flash, smiting a boundary with relish. Woakes responds well by inducing an outside edge from the same blade that bounces just wide of the slipper Root.
11th over: Australia 51-2 (Smith 14, Labuschagne 6) As the fielding restrictions change so does England’s attack with Wood replacing Willey. The speedster hurries up both batters without threatening to take a wicket. England continue to keep things tight. Australia are understandably playing within themselves.
“I’m considerably more than cautiously optimistic that the planets will align causing Pakistan to easily chase down 402 whilst England simultaneously bowl Oz out for less than 200 and knock them off in ten overs to stay in the tournament with a much improved NRR,” lies Kim Thonger.
10th over: Australia 48-2 (Smith 13, Labuschagne 5) Woakes goes for just one in an over that includes Labuschagne swinging and missing with all his might at a delivery that just shapes away in the air and goes further off the seam. Very good powerplay for England.
9th over: Australia 47-2 (Smith 12, Labuschagne 5) Much better from Labuschagne. Willey is a fraction full and Labuschagne keeps the maker’s name pointing towards the non-striker as the ball rockets off the bat and away for four. After the strike is rotated Smith takes an injudicious run that Bairstow should do much better with at cover and Australia escape. Is it just me, or did the future of fielding 20-25 years ago promise nailed-on direct hits to all ring fielders? Back during the Ponting/Rhodes/Collingwood emergence? Considering all the specialisation it still amazes me how few direct hits we see.
Meanwhile, over in the other match, New Zealand have tonked up 401 against Pakistan.
8th over: Australia 41-2 (Smith 11, Labuschagne 1) Australia have not to grips with this surface yet, continuing to play angled bat shots without getting anywhere near the middle of the stick. Smith is the latest to invite a play-on as Woakes gets one to just tail in a hair. Only two from the over as Australia dig in after those early setbacks.
7th over: Australia 39-2 (Smith 9, Labuschagne 1) Blimey! Labuschagne is inches from playing on, trying to guide Willey down to third. The bowler, left-arm over, slanting the ball across the right-handed batter, continues on the same line-and-length, keeping Australia’s No 4 honest at the crease and earning a maiden.
Kim Thonger has logged on. “My friend Charlie Palmer has messaged me from his macchiato and biscotti perch in Rome. ‘England think they are a chasing team! Which they are at the moment if the total is sub 120’. Before England give up entirely, if indeed we are in a simulation, what has occurred in this World Cup so far could be dismissed as a mere glitch in the matrix. Or perhaps the simulation creator is an Afghanistan supporter and this was all planned.” We need Eoin Morpheus back and Ianeo Bell to deal with Agent Smith. Good grief that was tortured. Sorry about that.
6th over: Australia 39-2 (Smith 9, Labuschagne 1) That was a good slower cutter from Woakes that deceived Warner who was through his shot too early. This is Australia’s first major test with the bat since they began their resurgence. With this pair at the crease expect a long phase of accumulation with few fireworks.