Ashes 2013/14: Big plan falls short for England against the WACA Chairman's XI as gentle giants lose their lengths
Local reserves go on the attack against strapping fast bowlers on first day of tour
What a jolly wheeze it must have seemed to the selectors. Choose some gigantic speed merchants, make sure they are as fit as fit can be, enter them into a little contest within a contest of their own and then let them loose on the Aussies with some venomous, intimidating throat bowling.
Simplicity itself. Before you know it, the opposition are running for cover and the Ashes are in the bag again. In the old days, before everything became so deadly serious, they might have had a couple of swift G & Ts to mark the occasion.
So far, so awful. The strategy, it must be reported after the first day of the opening match of the tour, is still in its prototype stages – if it has advanced that far. The trio of gentle giants charged with carrying it out were made mincemeat of by the WACA Chairman’s XI, who reached 369 for 4.
The status of the opposition merely compounded the felony. The posh name was granted only to save calling them Western Australia reserves, the first team being engaged on Sheffield Shield duties across the country.
If they felt slighted by the implication that they were stumblebums being pitched against one of the strongest teams on the planet, they had revenge aplenty. By the close of proceedings, Mitchell Marsh, one of the top four who all made half-centuries, was able to say with impunity: “I wouldn’t say we were intimidated. We were certainly very excited at the opportunity. It’s great to see us take that opportunity and take it up to the Poms.”
The trio of gentle giants charged with carrying out England’s plot – Chris Tremlett, Steve Finn and Boyd Rankin, all of them at least 6ft 7in tall – took 1 for 245 between them in 53 overs. There were redeeming factors but it was not the start that they desired or expected.
Tremlett, perhaps the gentlest of the lot, conceded that they all struggled with their length. They bowled too short. Or, he added, they bowled too full. It is a fatal combination.
“I don’t think we are concerned,” he said. “It was massive jump in workload for us and we knew it was going to be tough. If you’re bowling badly a few days away from the Test match that’s when you’r e going to be panicking a little bit.”
It is, as Tremlett suggested, far too early to panic but it was impossible to avoid comparisons with the first day of the triumphant tour led by Andrew Strauss three years ago. Then England, meticulously prepared and already well aware of the team they needed to play in the first Test, hit the ground running against opponents that were Western Australia first XI.
There are recent examples of not ditching plan A if it is not working, even if that is only because you do not have a plan B. England will consider it much too premature to be turning elsewhere.
It is far from a lost cause. Only one of Tremlett, Finn and Rankin can be expected to play in Brisbane on 21 November and Jimmy Anderson, who will lead the attack, was on the button immediately yesterday, conceding runs at fewer than two an over. Stuart Broad, his opening partner who is certain to play at The Gabba, is rested from this match.
The likelihood is that England will play their usual four bowlers, as has become their convention. That cannot ignore the fact, however, that they see in their tall men options which would otherwise not exist. There is little that is more disconcerting for a top-class batsman than to be confronted by steep bounce from a good length at high pace. It makes going forward a dangerous business and going back a perilous one.
England were dumbfounded yesterday by the lack of pace in the pitch – a travesty of the reputation which the WACA had garnished 10 years ago – and because their opponents came out slugging. There was intermittent carry but there was no bounce.
Short balls, of which there were plenty early on, were treated dismissively. Finn, who never found any rhythm, was pulled for three fours in consecutive balls.
By lunch, the WACA team had reached 102 without loss and the belligerence merely increased afterwards. The early damage was inflicted by the local pair of Luke Towers and Marcus Harrison but the highest and best of the innings was played by a guest batsman, Chris Lynn of Queensland.
Lynn has not played a first-class innings for 19 months but looked as if he had never been away. Few were spared from his positive approach and he was invariably busy and looking to drive when England at last started to pitch the ball up.
Rankin responded well after a worryingly apprehensive initial spell and managed the solitary wicket for the giants when Lynn cut a short ball to point. But Tremlett was down on pace and down on luck.
Three years ago, Tremlett performed an instrumental role in ensuring that the Ashes were retained Down Under and took the wicket which clinched the series. It would be delightful if he could recapture that glory but yesterday he looked a long way short of doing so.
England dropped two catches, one at slip, another at mid-on, and did not make the most of another. The Ashes were not won or lost in one day, far from it. But the days ahead grew in significance.
Only way is Essex for Monty as spinner signs two-year deal
England spinner Monty Panesar has signed a two-year contract at Essex after the county made him feel "loved" in a loan spell following a summer of controversy both on and off the field.
Panesar, 31, who is in Australia with the Ashes squad, agreed the deal after making a loan move to the county midway through last season.
He left former Sussex in August after he was fined for drunkenly urinating on a bouncer after being asked to leave a nightclub in Brighton.
Essex subsequently offered Panesar a loan deal, which helped him secure a place on England's Ashes tour, and the veteran of 48 Tests said that he was ready to repay the county for their faith following a "challenging time" in his life.
"I loved playing for Essex last season. In the short time I was there, I was made to feel very welcome, both in the team and around the club," Panesar said.
"I will always remember how the supporters and members gave me a heart-warming round of applause when I first came on to bowl at Colchester last August.
"It helped me to feel respected and loved as a cricketer after experiencing a challenging time in my life. I am determined to play my part in inspiring the team to be successful in all competitions."
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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