Room-mates get England off to positive start on tour
Stoneman and Vince quick to punish lowly opposition But Root and Cook depart cheaply in opening match
Pairing Mark Stoneman and James Vince in a two-bedroom apartment for the first stage of this Ashes tour was a fine idea by England’s management. The pair were not familiar with each other, coming from opposite ends of England, but they shared a partnership of 153 in the opening two-day match as the basis of an encouraging total of 349 for six.
Two factors, however, are not apparent in the scorecard. One is that the average age of the Western Australia XI is 22, and that with a captain aged 30, Nathan Coulter-Nile. The age is so low because Western Australia’s first XI are playing this weekend against New South Wales in Sydney, although not at the Test ground where the turf is being relaid. So, England’s first opponents are second XI players, one as young as 18. For an opening two-day tour match such opposition is adequate. England had enough on their plate adjusting to the extra bounce inherent in Australia’s harder pitches, and to the sunshine – not so much the heat, which pushed 86F (30C) – but the burning nature of the sun, so that Jonny Bairstow left no skin uncovered apart from his face.
However, the opposition lined up to play England in their last two warm-up games – fringe first-class players, or reserves, while the six states play each other in the Sheffield Shield – will not be of sufficiently demanding standard.
The second factor invisible in the scorecard is that WA’s cadets dropped five catches after Joe Root had decided to bat, leaving the second day for bowling. Vince was dropped three times in scoring 82, Stoneman once in making 85 and Gary Ballance once in his half century. Most chances flew to slip or gully, and when England bowl today they need their slip-fielders to set the right trend quickly. England have often taken a month or more on past Ashes tours to adjust to the ball flying faster, but this time they have only 10 days’ play before the first Test.
Stoneman’s innings was more safe and solid than that of Vince, who specialised in putting the bad balls away with an almost majestic flourish, especially when he cover-drove or stood tall to cut. And while the cadets bowled plenty of good balls, they constantly served up bad ones, so no batsman was subjected to the sort of relentless pressure that will commence in Brisbane on Nov 23. “They faced a lot of bowling which they wouldn’t in Test cricket, but time in the middle is time in the middle,” said Coulter-Nile.
Stoneman said he went through his processes, trying to “get through the first 20 or 30 balls” until he found his rhythm. He favoured the cut, or “backcut” as they like to call it here, which was his strength when it came to picking up boundaries, and his weakness when he was dropped at gully.
“You’ve got to be aware when traps might be set,” said Stoneman, “but I’ll still back myself to try to find the gap and it’s a productive shot for myself so I’ve got to stick to my strengths as much as possible.” He was caught at second slip when he tried to coverdrive a widish ball slanted across him, while Vince clipped to forward squareleg. Both were frustrated not to go on and make the century that was there for the taking other than when CoulterNile was bowling.
If not too much should be read into the successes of Stoneman and Vince, the same applies to the failures of Root and Alastair Cook. Root was given out, caught behind, off a delivery which seemed to brush nothing more than his thigh pad.
Cook pushed at the second ball of his fourth tour of Australia, angled across him by Coulter-Nile, and was caught behind; he could have left it on the basis of its line or its length, and probably would have but for jet lag. “Played it when he probably shouldn’t have and nicked it,” as Coulter-Nile summarised.
Coming together at the hint of a wobble, Ballance and Dawid Malan made half-centuries before they had to retire – out, not hurt – to give Bairstow and Chris Woakes a go.
Malan was distinctly the more assured of the two left-handers, getting his hands higher to deal with the short ball and using his feet to the spinners more. But Ballance, like the tortoise catching up the hare, also reached 50 after a sticky start, when he fended a bouncer from Coulter-Nile away from his face with his gloves and edged a half-forward push to second slip.
In the three simultaneous Sheffield Shield matches Australia’s opening batsmen, David Warner and Matt Renshaw, both failed, but their captain, Steve Smith, came good with 76 for New South Wales against Western Australia’s first XI. It would not have damaged the prospects of Hilton Cartwright, who seems likely to bat at No 6, that he dismissed Smith with his parttime medium-pace. Another significant innings was Peter Nevill’s unbeaten 32, also for New South Wales. Nevill, who kept wicket neatly for Australia until he was dropped for lack of runs, is predicted to regain his place at the expense of Matthew Wade, who has scored one 50 in his past 11 Tests.
The one remaining doubt is whether Renshaw will retain the opener’s spot if he continues his lean run; if so, the 34-year-old left-hander Shaun Marsh, said to have matured after the birth of his first child and to be batting better than ever before, would regain his place. Like the other Western Australians, Marsh was away in Sydney.
A cut above: Mark Stoneman works the ball to the leg side on his way to making 85 against a youthful Western Australia XI at the Waca