England's madness gets a middling total

Day one from the Oval.

England made 283 on day one at the Oval. That kind of score doesn't do their level of hilarious carnage justice. 283 is a beige sweater on an otherwise naked man building a snowman in Hyde Park. It was also a low first innings for this ground over the last decade. Just comparing it to Australia's score here this year, it's nowhere near it.

They were seven runs per wicket under the overall record for the last decade. Now they did have overhead conditions all the way,  and maybe more crucially, it was slightly humid. On top of that, it was dark enough for the lights to be on. It's not really when you watch to be batting here.

And even though the average is high, the wicket has been playing differently recently. Even the Australian game had some assistance for the Indians before they were destroyed by Travis Head.

The Test before that was delayed twice, once by rain and the next by the Queen dying. But South Africa were blown out of the series when they finally got on the field.

And also, India struggled here in 2021. We also know in modern times, Surrey has abandoned a frontline spinner as the seamers have been taking more wickets. It's not a traditional Oval wicket; it's more fun for the quicks. Wickets fall early here now on day one.

So let's go back to the previous two matches. South Africa batted normally in the situation, and they found themselves as sitting ducks against a good attack. Australia counter-attacked through Head, knocking India off their line and length. It wasn't Bazball, but it was at least Travball.

Today England ended up with a middling total, but they did it in the least middling way possible. You could argue with what they do, but not their commitment to their bit.

It started with Duckett, who not only would play risky shots when Australia dared bring up their deep point but also just started running down the wicket. The plays and misses certainly played a part. Still, it looked like someone who had decided that conventional batting would not work.

Crawley tried to attack any balls that weren't quite perfect. Which, again, is a modern English thing; why wait for the bad ball which may not come? Force yourself onto a few of the marginally in-your-area deliveries and pick up fours. But he also came down the wicket.

The only difference here was he didn't look like he was doing it put Australia off their length. But was more reacting to playing and missing so many times.

Harry Cherrington Brook struggled at times and then decided to just whack. This is the most remarkable one; as Starc comes in, he is in a completely normal position. But the minute it was short, he somehow got inside the line and heaved the ball over his shoulder for six. He probably could have pulled it normally, but he took the more dangerous option for the extra runs.

They even made an interesting decision on Moeen Ali. When he had his groin injury, the obvious choice was for him to come off, get treatment and England to not lose a wicket. Instead, he started slogging wildly. Here he started in the normal position before moving out of the way and just destroying this ball.

The hitting stopped when he missed this standard delivery from Todd Murphy by a considerable amount. Moeen had already made more than what was expected from him at number three. Plus, he did it with enough boundaries to annoy the Aussies and back up Brook.

They kept going for it, including this dirty drag-on from Jonny Bairstow that no one wants to see again. But it also meant that England lost 4/28 from Moeen's wicket.

But then Mark Wood came out with his chaos batting again, and Chris Woakes lined up well. Both players attacked, but it certainly wasn't Wood's normal kind of swinging; he actually looked to play to the field a little, and Woakes took smart attacking options.

The partnership ultimately just got them closer to 300 than they should have been while annoying the Aussies for a while.

So did the attacking of the three main partnerships take England from a 170 score to 100 more than that? Or did they stop themselves from really batting on?

They also had a huge amount of luck. Five dropped catches in one innings is a lot. Australia usually catch at around 80-85%. They took five and dropped five today. That is a crap return. And so there are two ways of looking at that. Either England went so hard at them that Australia were rattled - doubtful, but why not. Or England was creating so many extra chances that on a normal day would have had them dismissed earlier. Australia certainly wasn't as on the spot as they would have been if England had defended them.

Also, I just want to relitigate the Wood/Woakes partnership. Because there is no doubt at this point, it was finally easier to bat. The Crawley/Duckett partnership and the Brook/Moeen were from a position of weakness. That wasn't the case with Wood and Woakes. The ball wasn't doing much at this point, and they batted well.

Remember that when Australia came in, they also found the conditions easier than England.

If England had batters by later in the day, they would have found it easier. But would They have had any if they didn't swing like 70s suburban couples?

The unanswerable question is that if they had played normally, what would they have got?

Would they have been picked off by Cummins and Hazlewood, and their tail wouldn't have felt as comfortable coming in and swinging? Or would they have weathered the new ball and built a solid 350-plus score?

Based on their pre-Bazball batting, they would have been dismissed for 125. So we're not comparing them to that era. But really trying to work out if England were better to attack and get as many as possible while getting a fumble assist from Australia. Or if they hit themselves out of a low score and, in doing so, didn't have enough batters to cash in on their early good work.

Despite what Richard Thompson said about England single-handily saving Test Cricket, a claim as bizarre as some of the worst parts of Bazball machismo. The truth is, this is a cricket strategy that sometimes works and sometimes fails spectacularly. That is part of the entertainment. And also makes it as watchable as their coach was when batting.

Today we saw the best and worst. And somehow, for everything, England ended up with a basic middling score while pouring petrol on themselves and running through a brush fire.