There was plenty of talk on air and on Twitter about the declaration that never came. England were light years ahead of Australia towards the end of third day’s play at Lord’s and the talk was about England declaring and “having a crack” at the fragile Australian batsmen.
There was that word again, “ruthlessness” thrown around to indicate that somehow inserting Australia in and perhaps taking a wicket or two before close of play would be ruthless on England’s part and it would show the world, and the Australian team if they hadn’t been paying attention, that they mean business. Quite laughable, really.
Michael Holding, when his colleague brought up the idea of ruthlessness, pointed out that if England had asked Australia to follow on rather than pile on the agony, it would have been more ruthless. There were some that strongly felt England should have asked Australia to follow on, as well.
But that is missing the picture. This is only the 2nd Test of the 10 Ashes Tests this season. There are several reasons, as ruthless as any you can imagine, that Andy Flower and Co. would have considered before deciding not to enforce the follow on.
1) It was only the second day of the Test match at Lord’s. The pitch was quite good for batting, notwithstanding the Australian ineptitude that was witnessed on Day 2.
2) England’s main fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson, had bowled nearly 56 overs at Trent Bridge only a few days earlier, including a marathon spell of 13 overs in the 2nd innings. He even had to leave the field on the final day of the 1st Test to get some treatment for his leg cramps. Alastair Cook and Flower probably didn’t want Anderson to run in, after having bowled 14 overs in the Australian first innings at Lords, and toil away under the hot sun. He is far too valuable for England in the long run, than to prove any point about machismo of enforcing the follow on.
3) Australia’s best chance of nicking a Test – stay competitive even – rests on the ceramic anatomy of their fast bowlers. The problems of Ryan Harris, the star for Australia with the ball in the first innings, are all well known. England will be better served in the course of the 5-Test series if Australia’s weapons are blunted. What better way to accomplish it than having them bowl on a flat wicket, just 53 overs (3 hours of rest) after the 1st innings? As things stand now, Harris bowled only 16 of the 110 overs, but Siddle and Pattinson have each bowled 21 and 20 overs, respectively.
4) England’s methods under Flower have been simple. It is that they are going to grind the opposition in to dust. It is that approach that took them to No. 1 position in the Test world. There is only one other team in the world that can match England in this facet: South Africa. In fact, South Africa can out-England England in this aspect and that message was brought home last summer.
5) It is only the second Test of a long Ashes year. England had more to gain from extinguishing any hope of an Australian resurrection, as unlikely as it is, than to let them bat again. Thus, they have batted on, and on and on, to a lead of 566 runs with promise of more on 4th morning. This is as emphatic a display as any, to drive home the point that when the England batting machine rolls on, the Australian bowlers don’t hold much of a chance.
6) Joe Root made his 2nd Test hundred, and more importantly, his first as an opener. This at least will quiet the voices that clamored at the purported injustice of dropping Nick Compton. Root didn’t make many contributions in his first 3 innings as an opener, and if Brad Haddin hadn’t developed a sudden case of Alligator-Arm-itis, the discussion could have been very different today. But that’s how cricket goes. Now, England has a settled batting order for the foreseeable future (barring injuries).
7) This batathon has allowed the Lord’s pitch to bake under the uncommonly hot London sun and deteriorate further. There were some instances of ball holding on the pitch, and rising suddenly off good length. The footmarks have gotten worse and all that point towards one thing – Graeme Swann should look forward to his third 5-wicket Test haul at Lord’s and won’t have to resort to full tosses and circumspect batsmen gun shy of DRS.
One last thing – Michael Clarke has been celebrated as an innovative and intuitive captain, and always looking for ways to win. Days like these would severely test his patience and acuity when he and his team are faced with utter hopelessness. Australia were bailed out by fluke innings at Trent Bridge but this Test is a better indicator of what’s to come in the next 8 Tests between these two nations. Many more days like this, it is almost impossible that Clarke would be able to retain his “always looking to win” attitude. The 2nd new ball was available but Clarke has deferred it so far (30 overs and counting). It remains to be seen how attacking a captain Clarke remains, after this draining Ashes Tests are over.
This is as ruthless as it gets. I’m sure Steve Waugh would definitely agree that England has mastered the methods of “mental disintegration” without even resorting to sledging.