Australia vs England: Should England Have Bowled First?

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ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 2: James Anderson of England catches the ball during the first day of the second Ashes cricket test match between Australia and England at the Adelaide Oval on December 2, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Philip Brown/Getty Images)

Australia are currently 209-4 at stumps on the first day of the Second Ashes Test at Adelaide. This Test has made Ashes history in being the first day-night Test to be played between the two sides. Craig Overton was handed his Test debut and he put in a determined performance which culminated with him bowling the ever-threatening Steve Smith. While the game is evenly poised at the moment, a lot of fans were left puzzled by England’s decision to bowl first. Australian captain Steve Smith was certainly more than happy to be batting first. This article looks at whether England should have bowled first at Adelaide.

The History

The Adelaide Oval was the venue for the first ever day-night Test and has hosted two such matches prior to this current encounter. Australia have won both previous games, beating New Zealand by three wickets and beating South Africa by a seven wicket margin. Interestingly, the visitors won the toss in both games and elected to bat. New Zealand only managed 202 in the first innings, while South Africa actually declared on 259-9. With Australia neatly poised to surpass these scores, it remains to be seen how England cope in the second innings. Therefore, the historical precedent of winning the toss and batting first at the Adelaide Oval in day-night Tests is not a favourable one. Perhaps this was going through Joe Root’s mind as he looked upon the crisp and fresh Adelaide wicket.
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However, aside from day-night cricket, the Adelaide Oval is usually considered to be a batting-friendly ground. Kevin Pietersen certainly enjoyed batting there, averaging close to 90 in the five innings he played at the venue, while Ian Bell averaged close to 80 in the same number of outings.

Weather Conditions

Another factor that may have encouraged Root to bowl first could have been the overcast conditions at the beginning of the afternoon. The cloudy conditions would have encouraged more lateral movement early on, and the steady breeze would have aided this process. However, as soon as the England players took to the field, the skies seemed to lighten and the majority of the cloud cover dispersed. One way or another, the weather conditions did not have too great an impact. There was little lateral movement early on, perhaps a hint of away swing for Anderson, but nothing especially troubling for the steady pair of David Warner and Cameron Bancroft.

When the first spell of rain came in the 12th over, Australia were sitting comfortably on 24-0 and England would no doubt be having doubts in the back of their mind about their decision. It could have been an arduous first session for England, but a disastrous mix-up between Warner and Bancroft gave them a much-needed break through. If it weren’t for the run-out, it would have been hard to imagine England’s new ball attack forcing a break through.

Expose Steve Smith

A large part of England’s tactics ahead of this Test would have been to figure out how to dismiss Australian captain Steve Smith. In the First Test, Smith hit a magnificent unbeaten hundred which stole the momentum away from England and set up Australia’s ten wicket victory. It may have therefore been part of England’s thinking to try and bowl to Steve Smith with the new ball at 80 overs under the lights. If they day’s play had not been interrupted, England would have had a ten over spell at the end of the day under the lights with the new ball. This is perhaps the most threatening time to be bowling in the whole of the Test. Prior to the Test, England’s best chance of dismissing Smith cheaply would be to bowl to him under these testing conditions. However, as it turned out, a rare misjudgment on his behalf handed Craig Overton his maiden Test wicket.
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Should England have bowled first?

At this early stage, it seems that England’s decision to bowl first was not the right one. The weather conditions early on did not really make much of a difference to the lateral movement generated by the new ball and the history of the ground may have thrown Root off. Indeed, he became the first ever captain to bowl first after winning the toss in a day-night Test. However, this judgement may be reversed by the end of the Test. We are only a fraction of the way through the Test and in a few days time, we could be reflecting on how Root made the right call. It all depends on how effectively England’s bowlers can skittle through Australia’s lower order and how their batsmen cope to the conditions.

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