Kevin Garside on the Ashes: Australia feast on England's new boys as brutal Shane Watson flays Simon Kerrigan

 

The Kia Oval

There was no shortage of advice for the lad. Every punter in the gallery, even those in green and gold, would not have wished a repeat of the pre-lunch flogging administered to Simon Kerrigan. Pitch it up, son, bowl to your field and let fate take care of the rest.

Few would have known much about him before his selection. Whirling away in county cricket's second tier for Lancashire commands the attention of only a tiny priesthood. A quick browse of Google would have told the Oval audience of a young bowler of some potency, 47 first-class wickets. And from Preston, too. There is a precedent for talented tyros from that precinct making something of Test cricket given an opportunity.

That said, Andrew Flintoff stood 6ft 5in, bowled at 90mph and, when his eye was in, could make a mess of anybody's figures. Kerrigan is the anti-Freddie, short in stature and slow of arm, and on the evidence of his first day in Test cricket, somewhat short of the required standard.

Alastair Cook threw him the ball 90 minutes into the first session. His first over went for 10, his second for 18, Shane Watson carting him around the park as if he were bowling with a tennis ball.

He was perhaps not helped by what had gone before. Chris Woakes justified his selection as bowling batsman by sending down boundary balls that would contribute nicely to the big total he might later be asked to chase. Watson has had an indifferent summer, an indifferent three years even, spacing 48 innings between centuries. But of county bowling he is brutally intolerant and in that first spell at least Woakes looked anything but a first-change Test seamer.

Kerrigan looked anything but a cricketer, full stop. Test cricket is not an audition. England could not be blamed for giving him the nod. His elevation came via the county circuit and Lions representation. He was in the slot. You wonder after this if he will ever recover. He was not risked again until 10 minutes before tea. It cannot have been easy for him patrolling the boundary in embarrassed solitude, the confidence of the captain and his team-mates gone. It was certainly painful to witness.

Once the England hierarchy had seen in this pitch the potential for spin, Kerrigan's selection determined the compromise inclusion of Woakes, who in theory at least would balance the omission of Jonny Bairstow and support the seam attack. As it turned out England gained neither the second spinner for which they had hoped nor a third seamer of much potency. Perhaps Woakes will smack a daddy ton when he bats to make good the decision-making of his superiors.

The opening burst aside, in which Jimmy Anderson took the wicket of David Warner to move alongside Bob Willis on 325 Test wickets, second in the all-time England list, the first session was all Australia, or rather all Watson. While his team-mates struggled to time the ball, Watson demonstrated the layered nature of Test cricket, a game that evolves at different levels of competence depending on which actor is on the stage.

While Watson was giving a command performance, openers Chris Rogers and Warner and skipper Michael Clarke scratched and fiddled unconvincingly against the established members of England's attack.

Watson was seemingly feeding off the aggressive posture of coach Darren Lehmann, who filled the news bulletins before kick-off with a burst of poorly judged if fiery bluster aimed at demonising Stuart Broad.

Lehmann did not hold back in labelling Broad a cheat for his failure to walk at Nottingham, and urged Australians everywhere to give him hell when he sets foot Down Under in October. Funny how things work out. Half an hour into the afternoon session, with Watson eight balls short of his century, Broad crowned him with a snorter of a delivery behind the left ear.

As Watson recoiled on all fours, Lehmann's unthinking and inflammatory rhetoric acquired an unpleasant odour, for it allowed the link to be made between his words and Broad's actions, even if the bowler were not necessarily thinking of ramming them down Watson's throat.

After treatment, Watson resumed his feet and his composure to rattle off the big score his aggressive approach deserved. Sore ear aside, he will not have it easier. Apart from a sharp chance to Graeme Swann on 32 and an edge to Cook off Anderson on 104, he was untroubled.

The unfortunate Kerrigan was meat and drink, of course. His bowling map looked like the work of Jackson Pollock, a splodge of colour representing the erratic spray of balls sent down. One delivery, a slow, looping full-toss, was played around his ears by Steven Smith. His third spell 45 minutes after tea lasted a full four overs and included an appeal for lbw. Like him, poor kid, it was never on. His eight overs went for 53 runs. That is T20 cricket.

And so, through a radical selection policy England unwittingly provided Australia with the platform they required to post a much-needed win. It has been an odd series, England standing three Tests to the good yet in only one have they dominated. At Old Trafford Australia were denied by the English weather, not her cricketers. They were only 14 runs the wrong side of the result at Trent Bridge and until Broad triggered that magic spell at Durham, victory did not look beyond Australia.

England have prospered by engineering match-winning moments in key passages of play. It may be too early to claim that status for Kevin Pietersen's diving catch on the deep backward square boundary to dismiss Watson as the shadows spread across The Kia Oval, but it undeniably lifted spirits at the end of a long day. The ball came flat as a pancake and would have been a blur in the fading light. Pietersen could have read a book in the outfield so little was his involvement in the game; then, boom, out went his hand and Watson was on his way.

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