After three days of play in the First Test between England and Australia at Cardiff, the hosts lead by 411 runs with the tourists beginning their second innings on Saturday needing to bat for at least a day and a half to complete a victory. It has been alleged that the Australian batsmen will be incapable of achieving the required total on a pitch which appears less inclined to offer encouragement for the batting team, but it could also be argued that England could have set their opponents a much greater target with more control in their final innings.
Having produced a decent bowling performance to dismiss the Aussies for 308 in their first innings, England had assumed a lead of 122 runs with two full days and two sessions still to play. Yet with the final ball of the day on Friday, James Anderson was bowled by Nathan Lyon for a solitary run when attempting a sweep shot, which ensured that the England innings closed at 289.
Several English batsmen were dismissed when attacking the Australian bowlers with audacious shots and there was the suggestion that with slightly more restraint, a more healthy England second innings total could have been achieved offering the tourists even less hope of victory. With at least an hour’s further play on the Saturday morning, the lower order batsmen could have established a lead in excess of 450 runs which would have rendered an Australian win even more unlikely but the more adventurous nature of the England performance did provide a degree of entertainment for the watching Cardiff spectators.
Durham’s Mark Wood could not be faulted for his unbeaten 32 when arriving at the crease as second last batsmen with several of his shots worthy of the term unorthodox, but Joss Buttler will have been disappointed at only scoring only 7 to add to his 27 from the first innings. Perhaps a more restrained display by Buttler may have offered the chance to accumulate more runs as his innings progressed but it may just be the case that batsmen are now less inclined to play more patient innings since the advent of T20 and one day games determined that batting should be a more entertaining spectacle.
Nobody can deny that Joe Root (134 and 60) and Ben Stokes (52 and 42), plus the first innings performance of Moeen Ali (77), have earned plaudits with creditable batting displays but poor and arguably reckless shots have contributed to the relative failures of the other English batsman when there was no real requirement to score quick runs. Two mediocre innings’ by Alastair Cook were classic examples of a batsman failing to capitalise on an encouraging beginning.
It may be the case that Australia will be unable to accumulate the required runs to secure victory but they have been offered a glimmer of hope by the English batsmen who could have set a target beyond the reach of the tourists with a slightly more disciplined yet less ambitious approach.