Aussies in the pink as England face fight to revive fortunes

We played the game in good spirit – Smith (2:18)

Australia captain responds to comments made by England captain Joe Root and James Anderson about his side’s sledging during the first Ashes Test. (2:18)

Big Picture

A pink ball? Ashes cricket at night time, under lights? What would Ivo Bligh and Billy Murdoch think? The inaugural Ashes captains would probably be just as bewildered by this development as the idea of batsmen wearing helmets, or players reviewing umpiring decisions, or boundary ropes, or covered pitches. Or, dare we mention it, stump microphones. The game moves with the times. Still, this Adelaide Test does represent a milestone: it will be the 330th Ashes Test and the first played as a day-night affair. The first, you suspect, of many.

Australia enter this match with a 1-0 series lead after their 10-wicket win in Brisbane, and the teams have carried to Adelaide a degree of acrimony that arose from that Gabba Test. The England camp in particular seems to have retained some bitterness from the Jonny Bairstow head-butt saga. James Anderson has likened the Australians to bullies for the way in which they sledged Bairstow about the incident, and captain Joe Root was unhappy with the manner in which his counterpart Steven Smith laughed throughout a press conference about the issue. Smith, in reply, said his laughter was at his team-mate Cameron Bancroft, not at England’s expense, and suggested that Anderson himself was “one of the biggest sledgers in the game”. And yet this is all distraction from the task at hand.

It is technically possible for England to lose in Adelaide and still retain the Ashes, but it would take a monumental turnaround to achieve that from 0-2 down. In terms of pink-ball experience, England have a disadvantage, having played their first day-night Test in August this year against West Indies – albeit for an innings victory. This will be Australia’s third consecutive day-night Test at Adelaide Oval, and they have played one in Brisbane as well. Australia have won them all.

The swinging pink ball will be a challenge for both sides, but perhaps England’s biggest task is to find a way to negate the impact of Smith with the bat. His dogged century at the Gabba was the defining contribution of the match, and he showed remarkable patience to not become frustrated by the defensive fields set for him from early in his innings. “Take Steve Smith’s innings out of it and they were 160 all out in the first innings,” Root observed. Of course, remove any team’s highest scorer and their total will look significantly inferior, but Root’s point – that few other Australian batsmen contributed anything of substance – is a valid one. If England get Smith cheaply, they will go a long way towards turning their fortunes around.

Form guide

Australia WWLLD (last five matches, most recent first)

England LWLWW

In the spotlight

Last year’s Adelaide Test was a watershed moment for Australia, after their Hobart thrashing at the hands of South Africa led to a major selection overhaul. Three debutants were included for the Adelaide Test, plus two recalled players. Of those five, Peter Handscomb is the only one still holding on to his place in the Test side a year later. Handscomb has outlasted Nic Maddinson, Matt Renshaw, Matthew Wade and Jackson Bird, and still finds himself averaging more than 50 in Test cricket. He also holds the distinction of having played more first-class games with a pink ball under lights than anyone in the world, averaging 54.64 from his 10 games. Handscomb will be keen to celebrate a year in the Test side with a contribution in Adelaide, after he was trapped lbw for 14 playing deep in his crease at the Gabba.

Who else but Jonny Bairstow? After the Brisbane Test, which ended with Bairstow addressing the media about his was-it-a-headbutt-or-wasn’t-it, there can be no escaping the fact that Bairstow will be under the microscope in Adelaide. The Australians felt that their sledging of him worked at the Gabba, where he fell to an ill-judged shot at a key time, but at his best Bairstow has the potential to be a dominant force in the series. Worldwide, only Joe Root scored more Test runs than Bairstow in 2016, and England will be hoping their wicketkeeper can overcome the mental hurdle created by this saga.

Team news

Australia have confirmed an unchanged XI, with Chadd Sayers missing out on a home Test debut.

Australia: 1 Cameron Bancroft, 2 David Warner, 3 Usman Khawaja, 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Peter Handscomb, 6 Shaun Marsh, 7 Tim Paine (wk), 8 Mitchell Starc, 9 Pat Cummins, 10 Josh Hazlewood, 11 Nathan Lyon.

An unchanged line-up is also probable for England, despite concerns over Moeen Ali’s spinning finger. It appears likely that Moeen will play, even if his bowling load is reduced, with Root also able to contribute some of his part-time offspin.

England (probable): 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Mark Stoneman, 3 James Vince, 4 Joe Root (capt), 5 Dawid Malan, 6 Moeen Ali, 7 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Jake Ball, 10 Stuart Broad 11 James Anderson

Pitch and conditions

A similar pitch to that which was used against South Africa last year was the intention for Adelaide Oval curator Damian Hough, but extreme weather in the lead-up has added to the challenge. He is hopeful of a surface that will offer a good mix of pace, bounce and spin. There could be some rain around on the first day, but the forecast for the remainder of the Test is good, with temperatures in the low 20s.

Stats and trivia

  • The two leading wicket-takers in pink-ball first-class cricket are both playing in this match: Mitchell Starc tops the list with 42 victims at 17.90 and Josh Hazlewood has 33 at 18.30

  • Alastair Cook has played just one pink-ball Test innings but it was a big one – 243 against West Indies in Birmingham. It remains his only Test hundred this year

  • On the ICC’s system of historical batting rankings only four men – Don Bradman, Len Hutton, Jack Hobbs and Ricky Ponting – have ever had a higher batting rating than Steven Smith’s current figure of 961


“It looks like a bit harder than we’ve probably seen it for a while for a pink-ball game. It looks like there is slightly less grass. I’d say it’s somewhere between an old Adelaide wicket and the newer wicket we’ve seen over the last couple of years.”
Steven Smith on the Adelaide Oval pitch

“We just need to make sure we perform like we did in the first three days of the first Test match for the whole game. If we do that and recognise the key moments of the game then we give ourselves the best chance of winning.”
Joe Root

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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