Root wastes golden op­por­tu­nity to de­liver de­ci­sive Ashes blow

Cap­tain did not un­leash Archer against Smith Eng­land fail to make the most of early su­pe­ri­or­ity

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Fourth Specsavers Ashes Test - Scyld Berry CRICKET JOUR­NAL­IST OF THE YEAR at Old Traf­ford

A five-test se­ries is a test of skills in all con­di­tions, and those in Manch­ester for the open­ing day of the fourth Test were ex­treme. Cricket was played in squalls of rain and the wind tugged at play­ers’ clothes like an im­plor­ing in­fant.

Aus­tralia coped bet­ter with these con­di­tions than Eng­land did, reach­ing 170 for three on an easy-paced pitch in the half-day of the play, but then bats­men usu­ally cope with a stri­dent wind bet­ter than bowlers do. Earth, fire, wa­ter – no el­e­ment dis­rupts the bowler more than the air which blows him off course.

Even so, on a day which might have driven a March hare mad, Eng­land lacked the ur­gency which their sup­port­ers might have rea­son­ably ex­pected af­ter the epic one-wicket win at Head­in­g­ley.

Joe Root is not a con­fronta­tional per­son, and he did not con­front Steve Smith on his re­turn from concussion with the bowl­ing that was most likely to re­ac­ti­vate his ap­pre­hen­sions – not im­me­di­ately at any rate, not un­til the spec­tre had re­turned to haunt Eng­land again.

Specif­i­cally, af­ter mak­ing al­lowances for the hor­ri­ble con­di­tions, Root did not max­imise Archer. It should be borne in mind that Archer is like an old-fash­ioned fast bowler – Fred True­man or Brian Statham – in that he does not waste en­ergy warming-up: two or three loosen­ers on the out­field then straight into his work, so all his bowl­ing is done in the mid­dle.

Archer’s first three overs were there­fore ten­ta­tive, his speed in the early 80s mph, while Stu­art Broad struck twice. Broad dis­missed David Warner sec­ond ball, for the fifth time this se­ries, when Warner was try­ing to with­draw his bat; and one of Broad’s more im­pas­sioned, hand-wav­ing ap­peals wrung a guilty ver­dict out of Ku­mar Dhar­masena when Mar­cus Har­ris could as easily have been re­prieved.

So when Smith re­turned to the Ashes stage, af­ter reach­ing No1 in the world Test bat­ting rank­ings dur­ing his one-test ab­sence, Archer was warming up. In his fourth over he cranked up to 87mph, and in his fifth over to 89mph – not his Lord’s pace, but that which suf­ficed for his sixwicket haul at Head­in­g­ley.

And that was it. It was the duel that wasn’t.

Archer came off af­ter bowl­ing seven balls at Smith – and Root did not call on his new strike bowler for the rest of the morn­ing, when rain was re­li­ably forecast for soon af­ter lunch. It was the time to work his two strike bowlers hard, know­ing that a breather would soon come, and that on Sept 16 Archer and Broad can put up their feet un­til Eng­land leave for South Africa shortly be­fore Christ­mas.

With the se­ries bal­anced at oneall, Aus­tralia tot­ter­ing again at 28 for two (only once has an Aus­tralian opener reached 20 this se­ries), and Smith untested by short balls in the mid­dle since be­ing bom­barded by Archer at Lord’s, the mo­ment was there to be seized. Never mind an­a­lysts, coaches, game plans and con

sider­a­tion in spread­ing the load, it was time for preda­tory an­i­mal in­stinct and go­ing for the jugu­lar of Aus­tralia’s cham­pion, be­fore he had re­gained his poise.

Ben Stokes, in his first pub­lic role since his Head­in­g­ley hero­ism, suc­ceeded Archer at the James An­der­son End – though it is to be hoped end is not the op­er­a­tive word – and tried to rat­tle Smith, but Stokes was left kick­ing the turf. The bounc­ers were too short, while a cou­ple of short balls did not get high enough and were pulled by Smith for four.

Soon the mo­men­tum which Eng­land had brought across the Pen­nines was blown away on the wind, like the bails in the fi­nal ses­sion. Mar­nus Labuschagn­e con­tin­ued to ben­e­fit from all he had learned dur­ing his 10 cham­pi­onship matches for Glam­or­gan, and scored as speed­ily as Smith.

It was for­giv­able, given the gale, that Eng­land’s bowlers were picked off on both sides of the wicket; but not the fail­ure to seize that mo­ment, which will never present it­self again, not in this se­ries.

Of the 26 overs be­fore lunch, Broad bowled seven, Jack Leach six and Archer five: in no sense did that add up. If Archer did not want more than five in his open­ing spell, the time to strike was straight af­ter the drinks break, by bring­ing him back at the other end.

In­stead of noon, it was 4pm when Root brought him back, af­ter the loss of the af­ter­noon to rain. Smith by then was re-em­bed­ded, as quirky and quick into po­si­tion as ever, mak­ing Eng­land’s finest look mil­i­tary medium. He can­not yet be rated the finest bats­man ever to play cricket – he has bet­tered Don Brad­man in scor­ing eight con­sec­u­tive Ashes half-cen­turies if not oth­er­wise – but he is the finest bats­man ever to play French cricket: che­ston, Smith even straight-drove a four, and threw him­self off his feet for the wack­i­est cover-drive, by ex­tend­ing his rub­bery limbs.

Craig Over­ton grew up run­ning up­hill and into At­lantic gales at West Buck­land School in north Devon, while his twin Jamie en­joyed the op­po­site end, so he at least was in his el­e­ment.

Over­ton’s in­swinger de­feated Labuschagn­e, clip­ping off stump, but it was an all too rare ex­am­ple of Eng­land find­ing the right line and length, and if they do not rally quickly on the sec­ond morn­ing, the Ashes will be ir­re­triev­able.

Missed chance: Joe Root went easy on Aus­tralia cap­tain Steve Smith

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