Australia's plan: curb England's boundary-hunting

The Ashes 2019 August 07, 2019

Australia's Ashes blueprint to starve England's boundary-hungry batsmen from scoring paid off handsomely at Edgbaston and may see Peter Siddle playing as expansive a role in the series as any of the touring pacemen.

In a plan that the national team coach Justin Langer has hinted was partly inspired by the way a 2004 touring team to India won Australia's only series victory in the country for the past 50 years, England's scoring - and boundary count - were drastically clamped down upon, after Siddle was chosen when the selectors resisted the urge to choose the faster Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazlewood on a Birmingham pitch that was drier than anticipated.

While Siddle did not have the sort of seam movement at his disposal that has characterised many of his spells for Essex over the past couple of seasons, his nagging lines and lengths, pressuring England into the sort of shots played by Jonny Bairstow in the first innings and Jason Roy in the second, helped the Australians suffocate an England team that is used to getting regular release from pressure by finding the short boundaries of their home grounds.

Over the course of the Test, England were restricted to 0.33 boundaries per over and 2.75 runs per over, a long way behind Australia's 0.47 boundaries per over and 3.99 runs per over. Across 39 overs for the match that cost 80 runs, Siddle's economy rate of 2.09, conceding just eight boundaries at 0.21 per over, made him the only bowler in the match to go under 2.5 runs per over. It was a performance that not only reaped wickets at the other end, but also prevented England from surging to high-scoring bursts that would also bring Edgbaston's crowd to life.

"We knew 10 of the [starting] XI two days before; we made a decision between Starcy and Peter Siddle quite late actually, on the morning of the game," Langer said. "We were going to have a last look at the wicket on the morning and when we got here it was a pretty strong gut feeling.

"For some reason, the way Sidds played in the practice game and the way he's been bowling and the style of cricket we need to beat England - it was a line-ball decision and it is easy to say in hindsight, but I thought Peter Siddle was almost the bowler of the game. He was brilliant. That was the best none-for I've ever seen.

"We've got a pretty clear view on how we think we can beat England in this series. I go back to 2004, India, when we finally beat India in India. We had a very, very clear [plan]. Adam Gilchrist drove that. Remember, he was the captain at the time; Punter [Ricky Ponting] was injured, so he drove that. We've got a really clear plan for how we can beat England. We'll stick to that."

Gilchrist has spoken about how the 2004 plans in India called for the denial of boundaries to India's batsmen, playing on patience and fitness by forcing them to run frequently between the wickets. "The main thing with the quicks was that we went really negative," Gilchrist had said in 2017. "We started with one slip, a deep point, a deep square leg and just played on the Indians' egos. That was probably the key tactical change we made in that series, and it worked nicely. It was a patience game, but it came through. That allowed us to get into the game without being blown away, and the deeper you take it the more chance you have."

Siddle echoed these words in assessing how he, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Nathan Lyon had complemented each other in Birmingham. "That's the good place that the team is in at the moment," Siddle told Macquarie Sports Radio.

"The bowling group is happy to get the job done and build the pressure. You're not always going to be the one to take the wickets and gets the rewards. But that's the strength of this bowling group, that's how to have success in England. The second innings was a perfect example, Nathan and Patty [Cummins] got the rewards but Patto [Pattinson] and myself were able to build pressure when we had the chance. To bowl them out so cheaply, it was a great start to the series."

Travis Head, a deputy to the captain Tim Paine alongside Cummins, said that the team was committed to ensuring that they would not chase wickets too aggressively at the risk of conceding rushes of boundaries. "The only time I remember them doing it was a couple of overs on day two where we chased it a little bit. I think we bowled two overs for 10," he said. "We spoke about that, and said we don't mind going for wickets but we have to consolidate and keep the scoreboard quiet.

"We know that if we can do that there will be enough balls in the right area and enough balls to create an opportunity and then we can keep them at a low total. I think that will be the same throughout the series. You can see how quickly we scored [on day four], that great day we had.

"On the flip side of that is minimising how much they can score, as defensive as it looks, making sure we have our catches, getting our wickets, we can protect at the same time and build pressure that way. A couple of ones to the boundary is better than a four. I thought we had a really good mix of trying to get boundaries [with the bat] and containing the scoreboard [with the ball]."