Cow Corner

The view from Down Under: England’s butter fingers let Australia off hook

After the animosity of Brisbane, the calm of Adelaide. An opening day to the second Ashes Test that saw both Australian and England squander chances to gain the upper hand has resulted in a far more measured media reaction, compared to the fireworks that followed the first match in Brisbane.

The general view is that it was honours even after a topsy-turvy day at the Adelaide Oval, during which Australia first threatened to run away with a huge score on what was an ideal batting wicket before then England fought back with afternoon wickets.

Indeed the tourists could have ended the day on top had they not dropped some big chances in the latter part of the day. Chris Barrett in the Sydney Morning Herald highlights that point, (gleefully?) labelling the English fielders 'butter fingers'.

On an unseasonably chilly summer's day in Adelaide, England couldn't catch a cold and Australia could thank their lucky stars.

Michael Clarke's side were let off the hook after the visitors dropped three key chances - including a sitter in the dying stages of a delicately balanced first day - that would have left the hosts in deep trouble in the second Test.

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Greg Baum, also in the Sydney Morning Herald, points out that sections of the Adalaide Oval crowd did boo Stuart Broad - although the jeers, which weren't audible in during the England bowler's opening overs, were largely reserved for his spell later in the day - and even they did not detract from that was an entirely less combustible day of cricket.

After the fire and brimstone of Brisbane, the quality of the first day at the Adelaide Oval was more akin to a meeting of two household pets, half-butting, half-nuzzling, with intent, not affection, but nor the incivility of the Gabba. The effect was completed by an initially showery and always breezy day, cooling all ardours, and the generally gentler polity of the Adelaide crowd, sections of which booed Stuart Broad but remembered itself enough to applaud team milestones. The ground is much changed, but its soul is intact. The balming agent was the pitch: drop-in, yes, but also a catalyst for dropping off, a featherbed to Brisbane's hotbed.

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Talking of the pitch, the Adelaide Advertiser's Scott Walsh wrote of the "batting paradise" that is the Adelaide Oval, not that Australia's first-day total would suggest as much.

She's had a facelift and more than a just sneaky nip and tuck, but the grand old dame sure is a creature of habit. For the 33,943 spectators who streamed through the gates on Thursday morning, she was unrecognisable from last summer, but as a cricket stage Adelaide Oval declined to toss up many surprises in her international debut on the opening day of the second Ashes Test.

When Aussie skipper Michael Clarke won the toss, there was more chance he would point to the Cathedral End and say "we'll kick with the wind" than elect to field. No, Adelaide's first drop-in Test wicket is a batsman's deck. Much like, well, every other Adelaide deck prepared in living history.

There's new drop-ins, new outfield turf, and new grandstands. But on the measure that really counts, Adelaide Oval is basically the same old batting paradise. Par for this first dig was 450, maybe 500, the experts nodded. So it was a shame that poor strokeplay led Australia's same old shaky top order to suffer yet another collapse, this time of 3/19 in the half-hour before tea, and left the responsibility of a big first-innings tally to Clarke and the middle-lower men.

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And, given such a fine wicket for batting, respected cricket writer Malcolm Knox highlighted the sense of underachievement in the Australian top order.

For batsmen, there is the fear of getting out on a bad wicket, but a greater fear of getting out on a good one. Difficult conditions offer excuses. Superior bowlers can take the credit. But benign conditions and workmanlike bowling offer no culprit, when his wicket falls, other than the batsman himself.

Australia batted against themselves on Adelaide's drop-in wicket, each man knowing only he could get himself out. Times past, winning the toss on such an easy-paced surface would have meant the lower order could pack away their gear for the day and find a nice place for a snooze. But most of the current batsmen are playing for their futures every game, not to mention the Ashes, and this was a day thick with pressure.

Still, no pressure, no diamonds, as they say, and an opportunity was there for each of those batsmen to sign his name to the series. Though their scores ranged from 6 to 72 and three made half-centuries, each of the dismissed Australians would have lain awake last night feeling they had fallen short.

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He may have scored a half-century, but still Shane Watson was singled out as having failed with the bat. There is an increasing sense of frustration in the Australian press about Watson's consistent inability to turn a decent score (he ended with 51) into a good one (namely, a ton) and his latest innings, in such ideal circumstances, has merely served to reinforce that view.

Robert Craddock in the Daily Telegraph wrote:

Watson, who had barely a moment of major discomfort during his 119 ball 51, walked off the Adelaide Oval with the slow, rueful gait of a man who felt his job had been half done ... again.

Thursday's innings in some ways summed up Watson's career in that he promised so much and delivered something - but tantalisingly short of what he or we were craving.

To an emerging player an innings of 51 in an Ashes Test is something more than a pass mark but no-one had to tell Watson that while he did not fail he fell short of the dambuster Australia were hoping would set up the match on the first day.

His peace of mind would not have been increased by the departures of Chris Rogers and Steve Smith soon after his. It was Watson's 21st 50 from his 88th Test innings which represents a consistency of sorts. But the jarring number is that he has made just three centuries.

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With most of the Aussie papers focusing on their own side's inability to capitalise - and to some extent England's too - it was left to the Courier-Mail (of Stuart Broad ban fame) to stoke the fires after such a genteel day's play.

Ben Dorries and Robyn Ironside reacted to some veiled English threats to boycott future Gabba Tests over the behaviour of Brisbane fans, which is fair enough, given the newsworthy legitimacy of the topic. But the needless pop at England as a nation in the opening paragraph does suggest a festering acrimony still felt after the explosive Brisbane Test.

In a nation renowned for its whining, this is its No.1 whinger. England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke is moaning that the world-famous Gabba crowd crippled his team with their chants and barracking for the triumphant Aussies, and now wants the iconic ground dropped from future Ashes. But a trio of Queensland cricket legends say the "precious'' Poms need to harden up and Brisbane should get top marks for making the old enemy feel unwelcome.

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And finally, Shane Warne took to Twitter to deliver his prediction for day two, which actually sounds like quite a plausible outcome.

My prediction for Day 2 is - Aust will make 385+ & have England 4 down by stumps... #ashes ! Agree ???

— Shane Warne (@warne888) December 5, 2013

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