Australia's method offers promise, if not results

James Pattinson can't believe his bad luck Getty Images

Every now and then, it can be hard to quantify a day's cricket. Nine years ago at the Gabba, Brad Haddin and Michael Hussey batted through three full sessions to add 307 together against England, their edges and pads being threatened throughout even as the scorecard continued to chronicle an ostensibly dominant partnership.

On the third morning alone, armed with the second new ball, James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn and Graeme Swann drew, according to CricViz, a false shot percentage of 18% without taking a single wicket. Briefly frustrated, Anderson and company were eventually exultant, having persisted with their plans and methods to secure an ultimately yawning 3-1 series margin.

Back in the here and now, a ledger reading England 257 for 4, Rory Burns 125 not out, does not exactly suggest day two of this Ashes series was a good one for Australia's bowlers. Certainly it must be said that there were certain overs and spells from Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon that were not all they could have been, with runs being allowed to leak in places and at times when more pressure might have brought more wickets.

But the question that will be asked by many, at the end of the day on which the hosts crept to within 17 runs of a total Australia were gifted by the singular genius of Steven Smith, is whether or not the scoreboard merits a reconsideration of approach or merely a few tweaks at the edges of things. By the same measure as Brisbane 2010, England's false shot percentage on day two was 22%, enough usually to claim comfortably more than four wickets - certainly there was no panic emanating from the team's mentor, Steve Waugh.

"[It was] just one of those days, wasn't it?" Waugh said. "I thought they tried really hard, a lot of plays and misses, but it's not an easy wicket to bat on either, so you've got to give the England batsmen credit. They played really well, they took their opportunities, made it hard for us to take wickets, but it just wasn't our day. [We] beat the bat on a lot of occasions, a couple of half-chances, a run out, maybe a referral we could have got better, so one of those tough days of Test match cricket. The first session tomorrow is what really counts for us.

"I thought our boys really toiled well all day and it wasn't easy. There were moments when we bowled really well and not much seemed to happen, then we played well in the afternoon. I thought Ben Stokes played well at the end of the day, took a bit of the initiative away from us. I really can't fault our bowlers today or the effort in the field, early in the day Pattinson hitting the stumps, maybe the referral we got wrong, we could have has them three or four down at lunch and it might've been a totally different day.

"I think our bowlers' efforts were really good. If they can do the same thing tomorrow, get a couple edges first up, it could be totally different."

There were undoubtedly a few moments in the first session that the Australians will ponder. The first edge of the day, coaxed out of Jason Roy by James Pattinson, flew through fourth slip, a position that was to be taken up after the moment had passed. Nathan Lyon's early lbw appeal against Burns, found to be pitching in line, hitting in line and squarely striking the stumps according to ball-tracking, was a mistake by both the umpire Joel Wilson and the Australian fielders not deigning to review.

An early wicket there might well have brought a rush of them for Lyon, after the fashion of his dominant series in Australia in 2017-18. Instead he spent the rest of the day either dropping a fraction too short - a possible hangover from the 'bowl ugly' mantra he uses in limited-overs cricket, content at times to fire down flat deliveries that only draw a single to the boundary sweeper - or spinning his off breaks past the groping bats of Burns and later Ben Stokes.

Similarly, the bizarre spectacle of Pattinson striking the outside of Joe Root's off stump, creating a noise that brought a caught behind decision then overturned, left plenty of Australians to ruefully ponder the weight of the bails and the depth of their grooves, among other things. Root's stand with Burns was never fluent, but sapped precious time and energy from the tourists up to the point where a wonderfully sharp return catch from Siddle sent England's captain back to the dressing room, punching his glove against the guard rail as he did so.

Siddle's day looked decent on paper, conceding just two an over while conceding a mere four boundaries. But he will have been frustrated not to be more impactful on a surface that offered plenty of grass for him to work with the seam of the Dukes ball. And in common with Cummins, he spent long tracts of time operating from around the wicket against Burns and Stokes, seemingly without generating the sorts of chances that Australia's team analysis has suggested will be the reward for accurate seam bowling from that angle to left-handers.

One passage of play, after a ball change had provided additional life and accounted for Joe Denly and Jos Buttler in quick succession, underlined the somewhat questionable nature of this approach. Cummins, steaming in from the pavilion end, beat Burns four times in a single over from over the wicket, as the opener was marooned in the 90s. Next over he defeated Buttler from the same line, but when Stokes came in revered to around the wicket for Burns.

The change in angle brought a loose ball Burns was able to glance for four to go from 94 to 98, and provided a discernible relaxation in the pressure previously applied. These moments, allied to the fact that Chris Woakes won lbw verdicts against Travis Head and Matthew Wade from over the wicket on day one, should be cause for some pondering about future lines of attack.

Later, as Tim Paine cast around for options to bowl the last few overs before the second new ball, Wade and Head shared three amiable overs for 14 runs. The inclusion of Mitchell Marsh in the squad as a potential fourth seam bowling option will have its own issues in terms of his limitations as a batsman, but on flatter pitches in other venues, the Australians will need to think about their balance. Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, of course, will not wish to be running drinks all series either.

"It's always useful when you don't take too many wickets you're looking around seeing who can bowl a few overs," Waugh said. "We had the luxury of four great bowlers and didn't often need a fifth bowler, but those sort of days where you're not taking a lot of wickets you can probably do with five or 10 overs from someone. Having said that the bowlers handled the workload pretty well ... but ideally it's nice to have another bowler."

Ultimately, the best measure of this day will arrive in mid-September, when the outcome of this series is known. It may well be that the Australians see it the same way as England did in 2010, or perhaps as the 1989 team of which Waugh was a part saw an England first innings of 430 at Headingley before not topping 400 again for the series - a day when the exception proved the rule. But they have a lot of work ahead of them to do so.