Lord’s day two, evening, 2009. The Oval, day two, afternoon, 2009. Lord’s, day two, afternoon, 2013. Durham, day four, evening, 2013. Edgbaston, day one, afternoon, 2015. Trent Bridge, day one, morning, 2015.
Just six sessions over 10 years, but together they have been enough to more or less hand England the Ashes on three consecutive tours. Each time Australia suffered a cataclysmic batting collapse of at least six wickets in a session that either set-up or sealed a match for England, generally when clouds and pitch provided assistance for the hosts.
To that catalogue it would have been so easy to add Lord’s day three, morning, 2019. Clouds overhead, rain in the air preparing to fall for the rest of the day, a pitch that had sweated under its overnight covers. These were conditions made to order for England, and it was a marked departure from the aforementioned litany that saw Australia lose only three wickets in the two hours of play that were possible prior to lunch.
Far from a strong session for Tim Paine’s team, but not disastrous. As their mentor Steve Waugh observed afterwards, the potential for a match-shaping session had been avoided through some doughty batting from Steven Smith and Matthew Wade in particular. “I thought we actually did pretty well,” Waugh said. “We talked before the start of the series that the key to doing well over here is to not have a disastrous session.
“You’re going to lose some sessions, but just lose them closely, not by big margins. That’s exactly what we’ve talked about and that’s what the guys did really well. If you lose a couple of quick wickets there, the potential is to lose five or six or seven and then really the Test matches you’re going to struggle to come back from that. We hung in there really well. I thought while Wade is 0 not out he’s faced 20-odd balls. Steve Smith again looked pretty self-assured. But that was a crucial partnership, if we lost a couple more wickets there, it could’ve been a tough session.
For Smith (13 from 40 balls) and Wade (0 from 23 balls) the instinct for survival took precedence over their natural desire to score. “It was difficult conditions,” Waugh said. “I was down on ground level and that was good quality bowling – England were very disciplined. There’s a bit in the pitch, it’s a bit two-paced and a bit off the seam so you have to work really hard. It’s the sort of pitch where you’ve seen everyone who’s scored runs in this Test match has scored at less than a run every second ball.
“So it’s not a pitch where you’re going to go out and dominate, you’ve got to work really hard and get through the tough periods and hopefully the ball gets soft or the sun comes out and conditions change. You’ve got to sum up the conditions and I guess from a bowling point of view try to seize the moment. From a batting point of view you’ve got to stem the blood less and hold steady.”
Part of the process of staunching the bleeding was not allowing any to be spilled in the first hour, Cameron Bancroft and Usman Khawaja did exceptionally well to see out the initial exchanges, rotating the strike and showing decent judgment of what to leave. Bancroft’s efforts to get his head over the ball were sometimes to exaggerated as to give the impression he might trip directly over it, while Khawaja nailed a pair of back foot drives off Chris Woakes that got the Friday Lord’s crowd purring.
However, Bancroft’s tendency also to fall across his crease meant England’s lbw search looked likely to be rewarded, as it was when Jofra Archer brought one back down the hill to hit him on the back pad. A review from Bancroft only confirmed that the ball was clipping the bails, and England had opened things up. They opened further when Khawaja, having left well earlier in his innings, dabbled at a Woakes delivery that, while well pitched, was fractionally wide enough to also shoulder arms.
Travis Head, so proactive at Edgbaston, immediately found himself cornered, beaten from over the wicket before Stuart Broad reverted to the line around the wicket that has so confounded the South Australian captain over the years. Crease bound in part due to Archer’s pace, he was the plumbest of lbws, even if Aleem Dar initially declined the appeal for the hint of a double noise. Wade was given out before the showers arrived, also lbw, but ball-tracking revealed that Stokes angle from wide of the crease had the ball pitching marginally outside leg stump.
All the while Smith left the ball as much as he could, offering his post-leave flourishes with even more spark than usual – as though giving himself little post-delivery rewards for denying a natural instinct to get bat on ball. England, in keeping with Joe Root’s assertion before this match that Smith’s outlandishness can have a tendency to “put off” bowlers and captains from orthodoxy in their plans, stuck more rigorously to the region just outside the off stump and if they didn’t dismiss Smith, made it far harder for him to score.
England, too, were left with hope from the session that, while the dam did not burst this day, it may yet do so at Leeds, Manchester or the Oval. “Yeah it will happen,” Broad said when asked whether he could see England scooping six or seven wickets in a session this series. “We know in England it’s not necessarily the pitch that plays a huge part in that, it’s the overhead conditions that you need a bit of luck when you’re batting or bowling. Here at Lord’s if the sun comes out you can quite easily go and get a wicketless session with the bat.
“But you know if it clouds over and the humidity rises you can get 10 wickets in a session. You need a bit of luck of when those conditions fall, and both bowling attacks I think have got a lot of confidence in taking wickets, and I think this series will be quite intriguing in periods in which batting unit can soak up the pressure and actually get through periods of good bowling, and which batting unit maybe tries to hit their way out and struggles.
“The weather’s played a part in this Test match and there’s still a chance of a result. I can’t see too many draws coming in the next three, I think they’ll be result Test matches.”
Nevertheless, this was the sort of session in which the teams of 2009, 2013 and 2015 may well have lost six wickets or more. To only lose three meant that the Australians entered the final two days of a rain blighted match with a chance to wriggle their way to a more advantageous position. For the first time in at least four Ashes tours, they ended a potential banana skin of a day without having fallen on their faces.
Der v Ess: Second semi-final match-ups
Derbyshire and Essex have never played one another in T20 cricket, meaning that any player-on-player match-ups that the captains devise with rely as much on the franchise circuit and player types as individual battles from seasons past. Here is where the game will be won and lost…
Ravi vs Ravi
Ravi Bopara has been a reluctant No. 6 for Essex, but has been outstandingly good in the death overs this season. Before the start of the 16th over, he has scored 15 off 20 balls against seamers and 30 off 31 against the spinners; after, he has a superhuman 148 runs off 70 balls against pace and a Liam Livingstone-boosted 35 off 13 balls against spin.
The positive news for Derbyshire is that in Ravi Rampaul, they have the competition’s best death bowler. Rampaul’s 126 balls at the death have yielded just 142 runs this season, giving him the best economy rate of anyone with more than four overs in that phase; throw in a tournament-best 14 wickets in the final five, and it is evident that he will hold the key for them.
The key for Derbyshire, then, is to get Bopara early – or ideally, after he has chewed up 12 or 15 balls, but before his conversion from middle-over nudger to death-over superstar; Rampaul should be well-equipped to deal with the rest, but in Bopara he may meet his match.
How do you bowl at Dan Lawrence?
Dan Lawrence has a reputation as a brilliant player of spin, and there are only a few clues from his record this season as to how to bowl to him.
His scoring rates against seam and spin in the middle overs are almost identical (9.36 and 9.34 runs per over respectively); though his five dismissals against slow bowlers at that stage suggest it is worth turning to legspinner Matt Critchley as an attacking option.
One spinner or two?
Adam Zampa’s return to Australia to play in the domestic 50-over competition leaves Essex with only Simon Harmer as a frontline spin option, with Aron Nijjar – a 24-year-old slow left-armer, with one career T20 to his name – the likely second-choice option outside of the part-timers.
But with Wayne Madsen the key man for Derbyshire, it is worth considering whether Nijjar is worth picking simply for the angle he offers. Madsen’s Blast record against both pace and spin is remarkable, as you would expect for a man striking at just short of 150 with an average of 49.66.
The key is to get him in early – he scores relatively slowly against pace in the powerplay – but with a relatively conservative scoring rate against left-arm spin (8.40 runs per over in the Blast since 2017) compared to right-arm spin (9.79), right-arm seam (9.40), or left-arm seam (9.37) in the middle overs, captain Harmer might be tempted to turn to Nijjar as a specialist Madsen-getter.
Harmer’s difficult hand
With his two overseas players – Zampa and Mohammad Amir – both missing, Harmer faces an almost-impossible situation in terms of working out who to bowl when.
Only Bopara has an economy rate for the tournament below nine out of the options available, and it may well be a case of damage-limitation with the ball.
The crucial consideration will be the need to attack. Only three teams (all of them eliminated) have scored more slowly at the death than Derbyshire in the competition, and their top four have scored an enormous 79 percent of their runs off the bat this season. It is trite to suggest early wickets will be key, but in this case it is also true.
Harmer might then consider bowling Matt Quinn in the powerplay. Quinn has been in and out of the side, and is expensive in the first six (economy rate 9.75) but has also taken five wickets in his eight powerplay overs. He represents a high-risk option, but as underdogs, Essex might feel the need to gamble.
Bopara has also been a banker in the first six – 24 balls, 24 runs conceded, three wickets – while Harmer himself has excelled at the death (economy rate 7.41). Shuffling his underwhelming pack is not an enviable task, but all three are options that the skipper should consider.
Not v Wor: First semi-final match-ups
Nottinghamshire go into Finals Day’s first semi-final as favourites with the bookmakers, but have struggled in recent games against Worcestershire. Player-on-player match-ups and tactical phases are a crucial part of modern T20’s vocabulary: here are the battles to watch out for…
How do Notts solve a problem like Moeen?
It may seem unlikely to those used to seeing him struggle against Nathan Lyon with a red ball and white clothing, but Moeen Ali is an excellent player of spin in T20 cricket, and his five Blast innings this season have brought him 312 runs with a strike-rate of 175.28. Clearly, he is the key man for Worcestershire on Saturday.
The pace-off option offered by Steven Mullaney may prove a good one for Notts – he has gone at under a run a ball against Moeen in the Blast – though after he missed the group stage due to injury, picking Mullaney would be a big call.
In the past three years, few teams have risked offspin against Moeen early on, but he has only scored 22 off 23 balls against it in the powerplay, so Notts should persevere with their tactic of using Matt Carter in the first six overs.
At the death, Moeen’s scoring rate is 14.52 runs per over since the start of 2017 – if he takes the game deep, Notts are in serious trouble.
Bowl left-armers to Whiteley
Ross Whiteley is yet to find his best form in the competition, but still has a strike-rate of 151.96. He destroys right-arm pace at the death, but struggles comparatively against fellow southpaws.
His scoring rate against left-arm spin in the middle overs is a conservative 7.30 runs per over, and against left-arm seamers at the death he is out every 7.9 balls he faces. It might make sense, then, to use Patel against him when he first comes in, before turning to Harry Gurney (though more on that below) and Luke Wood at the death.
Whiteley also takes the best part of ten balls to get set. His strike-rate five balls into his innings is just 82.55, but after a few sighters he can fly through the gears; Christian should start with an attacking field rather than letting him knock a single off his first few balls as is his wont.
Hatching a Hales plan
If Moeen is Worcestershire’s undisputed star, then Notts will expect similar heroics from Alex Hales, who has an immense wealth of experience playing worldwide.
The good news for Moeen is that there is a clear chink in Hales’ armoury with regards his relatively poor record against left-arm spin in the Blast: in the past three years, he has faced 24 balls from left-arm spinners in the middle overs, scoring 29 runs for three dismissals. The bad news is that Worcestershire have no such bowler in their squad.
And that issue does not extend to all balls turning away from the bat: in the last three Blast seasons he scored at 11.14 runs per over against legspin in the middle overs, so Moeen should not be tempted to use Brett D’Oliveira unless he has a cunning masterplan.
The best player-on-player match-up available to Worcestershire against Hales is either Wayne Parnell, whose 17 balls against him in Blast cricket have yielded only 19 runs, and one wicket, or indeed Moeen himself. Moeen has bowled 22 balls at Hales in all T20, giving up 21 runs and dismissing him twice; though one of those came only thanks to a physics-defying AB de Villiers catch in the 2018 IPL.
Adapting to Gurney’s threat
Gurney is the most important bowler at the death for Nottinghamshire, and Worcestershire would be well advised to try to manufacture a match-up that works against him for the last five overs.
Since the start of 2017, Gurney’s figures at the end of an innings are brilliant, but there is a reasonable split between his efforts against right-handers (economy rate 8.62) and left-handers (10.50) in that phase.
It would be worth making sure that Parnell, Moeen, or Hamish Rutherford manufacture the strike in a right-hand/left-hand partnership at the death when Gurney is bowling, while the difference in his records adds a further layer of importance to how Notts deal with Whiteley’s threat.
Whiteley’s record against Gurney is very good, and he is the best death hitter out of Worcestershire’s lefties; he is the man most likely to take him down.
Waqar looks to reignite chemistry with Misbah
When Waqar Younis twice served as the Pakistan head coach in the past – 2010 to 2011 and 2014 to 2016 – Misbah-ul-Haq was the Test captain on both occasions. Three-and-a-half years since his last stint with the team, Waqar has returned to the support staff set-up as the bowling coach and Misbah is now the head coach.
Waqar will, as a result, work under Misbah after the PCB overhauled the support staff that was led by Mickey Arthur until the World Cup. Waqar and Misbah have shared a cordial relationship and the former fast bowler brings with him loads of coaching experience. This will be his fifth term in the Pakistan support staff, having served twice as the head coach, as the bowling coach in 2006-07, and the bowling and fielding coach briefly in 2009-10.
His two stints as head coach had not ended on a good note earlier as he resigned both times before the end of his tenure. In 2011 he stepped down amid differences with then limited-overs captain Shahid Afridi and in 2016 he quit after a dispute with the PCB’s management following that year’s T20 World Cup.
Will working under Misbah be a “demotion” of sorts for Waqar? He doesn’t think so.
“As far as thinking like it’s a demotion, it’s only a myth that you go up or down,” Waqar said. “Our goal is how to make Pakistan a better team. For me the exciting thing is to try and help some of the promising youngsters who are in the pipeline, and some more who will come in the near future too.
“You come directly under a head coach as it’s his domain and you work according to his mindset. The others are helping hands like the fielding coach and bowling coach. We will try to help Misbah as much as possible and move forward.
“In three years lots of things have changed,” Waqar said when asked what made him come back. “The format has changed in domestic cricket, new people have come, there are new coaches, new thinking has come. I am not here to make controversies, I will try to make the Pakistan bowling attack a good one.”
Waqar clarified that he wasn’t “mentally ready” to apply for the post of head coach again and he knew that Misbah was the main contender for the job. Waqar applied for the bowling coach position and he was the main candidate after another shortlisted applicant, Mohammad Akram, withdrew at the last minute.
“I decided that I wasn’t mentally ready to get back into the set-up [as head coach] so I applied for bowling coach,” Waqar said. “I think I have a very good chemistry with Misbah, I’ve got a very good understanding with him and it will help in the future. The PCB has given Misbah an opportunity and it’s our responsibility to support and back him because he’s a very honest man and passionate about the game.
“My role is very simple and well-defined. I had done both the roles as a head coach and a bowling coach so I have an idea. The best thing is that I know about Misbah’s mindset because whatever coaching I had done was with Misbah as the captain.”
Their first assignment together will be two limited-overs series against Sri Lanka starting September 27 in Karachi with three ODIs followed by as many T20Is in Lahore next month. Currently, Waqar and Misbah are holding a training camp at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore where Waqar is working with young fast bowlers.
“The emphasis of the camp is on training and fitness, we are always focusing on fitness with our bowlers,” Waqar said. “We have bowlers in the pipeline like Mohammad Hasnain and Nasim Shah and in the next few months they will come on the scene.
“The best thing is Sri Lanka is coming, it’s a plus for Pakistan, and other teams should also come. Our short-term goal is that we should win matches early on and build the confidence.”
Der v Ess: Second semi-final match-ups
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