A big part of baseball when fielding or batting is not letting the game drift aimlessly, and Taylor loves that edge. He cites Usman Khawaja’s dismissal in the second inning when Ben Stokes went around the stumps and slipped a three-fingered slow ball that was played on the stumps.
Khawaja’s dismissal in the second inning was a classic example of Stokes’ captaincy. Behind the wicket, a slightly different pitch, a batsman who was in place and getting the hang of it, bowling what we in Australia call a naked nut, a blanched ball that Khawaja chopped on his stump. It’s not always about a great pitch, it’s about trying to find a way to cause doubt and uncertainty or change the batsman’s train of thought, Taylor said.
Stokes announced that England’s innings was closed late on the opening day with 393 points on the scoreboard; in retrospect, this has been criticized. Taylor, however, disagreed with that criticism.
Ninety-nine percent of captains would take 400 in the first inning, so now Stokes thinks: I can put Warner and Khawaja under pressure for 25 minutes. That doesn’t make sense to me. I think that was a brilliant statement.
They didn’t take a single wicket in that last 25 minutes, but did you see Warner and Khawaja running between the wickets that night? Panic. They’ve been playing cricket together since they were 14, but they ran like they’d never batted together before. A pair of 36-year-olds, one with over 100 Tests under his belt, the other with almost 70, and they run like they’ve never played before. And it’s all thanks to this statement.
Taylor’s only comment was about their approach to batting on the fourth day in the second inning.
You don’t have to put your opponent back in the game; there’s nothing wrong with knocking Australia out of the game. People may say it’s conservative, but I don’t think so. Just play adequately. Joe [Ruth] didn’t look to get out of the game; he played a rash shot, and you have to take responsibility for that. England got a little carried away at that point, Taylor said.
Taylor also admired Pat Cummins’ approach as Australia captain. Australia preferred to operate on a rope-to-rope basis, playing catch-up after England struck first on all days.
Watching the first game, I felt Pat no longer played a dominant role, so to speak, and it didn’t bother him. He looked quite comfortable. That bothered me more,Than. I wondered if they had gone too far into defensive mode, as if they were saying: We’re going to go the other way and be more conservative than usual. I was fine with the deep point from the start, but I was surprised by the deep square foot, especially since we didn’t play dodgeball for an hour and a half. So I thought it was an overreaction.
But what I like about Pat is that he doesn’t have a big ego. He’s certainly confident, and he’s no violet, as we saw at the end of the game, but he’s not the type to let his ego get in the way. It was a great test for him to win, just to confirm that the method works. You can imagine if they hadn’t won, all the questions about whether Australia should raise the stakes, so I think it was a huge relief.
I always thought it was easier to work as a batsman because the important moments happen on the field, and especially if you’re a fast bowler who has to think about everything else, it’s not easy. I think Pat did the smart thing by using Steve Smith. My buddy and mentor Ian Chappell hates it because he thinks only the captain should make decisions, but I think as captain of fast bowlers, it’s wise to almost hand him the responsibility when bowling.
That is what made this test and will make the series even more interesting. That extra dimension: what will Stokes do now? What will Cummins do in response? People like you and me live for this, Taylor told Atherton.