Ashes: England should expect more short-pitched Australia bowling

The second day of the first Ashes Test in Brisbane was fascinating, leaving the match perfectly set up.

No-one could have expected 10 wickets to have fallen by the first over after tea. As it turned out, there were no more, as Australia reached 165-4 in reply to England’s 302.

That England were bowled out for that total should be a lesson to Dawid Malan, who was the first to go in a morning-session collapse of six wickets for 56 runs.

Malan, on his Ashes debut, played a lovely innings for his 56, completing a trio of inexperienced members of England’s top order who have made runs in the first innings after James Vince scored 83 and Mark Stoneman 53.

From this, Malan should learn that in Test cricket you never, ever give the opposition a sniff.

When he and Moeen Ali were together, Australia were flagging. They resorted to what we expected to see on day one: an all-out assault of short-pitched bowling.

The plan was telegraphed – Mitchell Starc packed the leg side and had catchers back on the boundary. There was only way he was going to bowl.

Australia's Mitchell Starc celebrates removing England's Dawid Malan (right)
Dawid Malan was one of three victims for Mitchell Starc

From the batsman’s point of view, you have to know that if you consistently attempt the hook or pull, you are likely to get out. Yes, you might score 20 or 30 runs, but with fielders in place for any sort of mistake, the odds are stacked in the favour of the bowler.

And yet Malan still succumbed in a pretty disappointing manner, hooking the ball straight to deep square leg. In the context of the match, it was a major error.

His method should have been to leave alone as many bouncers as possible. Take it from me, an old fast bowler, that sending down bumper after bumper takes it out of you. When you see a batsman is getting out of the way, completely unruffled, you soon abandon the plan

Inevitably, it sparked a collapse, with three more England players getting out to the short ball.

Therefore, it is no surprise to hear Starc to say he is looking forward to bowling on faster pitches later in the series.

England have shown they are fallible to short-pitched bowling, so they can expect plenty more of it. In response, their top order must have the restraint not to do anything reckless and the lower order must show they are not intimidated.

Australia’s ‘soft underbelly’ gives England hope

Still, as we suspected before this match began, not all of the problems are England’s.

Australia’s batting looks to have a soft underbelly and, sure enough, the home side found themselves 76-4 after some pretty poor dismissals.

Cameron Bancroft was rooted to the spot in edging Stuart Broad behind, Usman Khawaja clearly cannot play off-spin for toffee, David Warner gifted his wicket with a poke to mid-wicket and Peter Handscomb was lbw to a gun-barrel straight ball.

Four mistakes, four wickets.

Australia captain Steve Smith pulls
Steve Smith has faced 148 balls and struck six fours in his unbeaten 64

Amidst it all, captain Steve Smith played beautifully for his 64 not out. He did not try anything silly and was content with batting throughout the rest of the day.

Rated as the number one batsman in the world, Smith must be incredibly infuriating to bowl to.

The way that he moves across his crease reminds me of former England players Derek Randall and Kim Barnett. They give you a full view of the stumps, then shuffle across.

Players like that sucker you into bowling too straight and, before you know it, you’re being hit into the leg side. A better plan is to pound away in the channel outside off stump and wider, trying to draw him in to playing at deliveries where there is a risk of an edge.

Smith is clever. He leaves well and almost never misses the straight balls, but your plans should not change too much from if you were bowling to a more orthodox batsman.

Smith was helped by Shaun Marsh, who played very well in reaching 44 not out. He was positive against Moeen, who was not as dangerous as fellow off-spinner Nathan Lyon.

Australia's Nathan Lyon celebrates the wicket of Chris Woakes
Nathan Lyon, who went wicketless on the opening day, finished with 2-78 from 36 overs

Speaking of Lyon, it was his first-innings performance that should give England most concern when looking at the overall state of this game.

I can imagine that he will cause real problems in the England second innings, especially with six left-handers to bowl at.

For that reason, I really think the tourists will need to get a first-innings lead.

In order to do that, they must bowl well on the third morning. If they can get a wicket or two early on, dismissing Smith in particular, they will be able to chip away at wicketkeeper Tim Paine and the bowlers.

They will have to be patient, which they are used to doing on these attritional, slow pitches.

If they can dry up the runs and not give Australia anything for free, the chances should come. England must make sure they take them.

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