Andrew Flintoff's imminent retirement from Test cricket has highlighted the physical fallibility of a fast bowler, but the manner in which England and Australia have batted on this Oval pitch has underlined how fragile the mind of a batsman can be.
Yes, this pitch is not quite as true as the surfaces normally prepared in South London but it is far from being a terror track. Indeed, hardly any of the wickets to fall in this absorbing Test have been directly down to the ball misbehaving once it has made contact with earth.
Batsmen, in general, are spoilt by the quality of surfaces they play on. The vast majority of pitches are hard and true, and allow them to play their strokes with confidence and freedom. But when a pitch does not meet with their approval, too few members of the team's batting line-up seem prepared to battle it out and post a watchful hundred. If they cannot bat as they want, many do not appear interested.
It is said a spinner only has to turn one ball or a swing bowler swing just a single delivery to create doubt in a batsman's mind, and it seems that only the occasional ball has to misbehave when it hits the pitch to create the same anxiety. The nature of the dismissal of several of England's batsmen on Thursday highlighted this. When a batsman does not trust a pitch, his weight tends to be on the back foot when driving and this is why a couple of Englishmen were caught in the backward point/gully region.
A combination of the pitch and match situation would have increased the levels of anxiety among Australia's batsmen, especially after a couple of deliveries in James Anderson's opening over yesterday broke through the top. Stuart Broad bowled beautifully but the batting of Ricky Ponting's side was insipid because no deliveries reared sharply off a good length and flew at a batsman's throat. Yes, the odd ball stopped slightly but the change in pace was no greater than a well disguised slower ball. In Australia there will no doubt be accusations of pitch doctoring, which would be an unfair conclusion. Time would be better spent looking at why the tourists chose to omit a spinner on such a dry surface. Bill Gordon, the head groundsman, would have been encouraged to produce a pitch that heightened the chance of a result, and quite rightly so. If this Test had been played on a benign, batter-friendly pitch, a surface that allowed the game to drift to a bore draw, the series would have reached an unsatisfactory conclusion.
Even a one-eyed Australian fan would not have wanted that. In order for the home side to doctor a pitch effectively it would need to be stronger in a particular area, and this is not the case. England had the potential to play an extra spinner but they chose not to, which is an indication they did not believe the pitch would play as it has. The seam attacks of both sides are similar, so no advantage would be gained there.
The risks attached with producing a pitch where the toss is crucial are extremely high, because there is only a 50 per cent chance of success. Had the pitch been doctored and Australia won the toss, the tactic could have backfired horribly. In refunds and lost corporate hospitality, an early finish will cost the ECB a considerable sum of money, but it will be dwarfed by the future income generated by an Ashes-winning England side.
Broad must play McGrath role
It is to be hoped Stuart Broad's magnificent bowling display yesterday will convince him how he should bowl in Test cricket.
Young bowlers want to and believe they can bowl every ball in the book. Their ambition is admirable but it is unrealistic.
There have been days when it has looked like Broad has tried to fill the role of Stephen Harmison and be England's enforcer, others when he has attempted to pitch the ball up and swing it like James Anderson.
Broad is at his most effective when he looks to fulfil a role similar to that of Glenn McGrath. Showing patience and bowling a consistent line and length may not be as sexy as releasing 95mph away-swingers but it can be mighty effective, as Broad showed yesterday.Reuse content