The 2nd Ashes Test was an appropriate follow up to an intriguing 1st Test at the Gabba at least from an English perspective. By the end of the first over, the usual the swagger and bravado of an Australian team going about their business had disappeared. The normal vocabulary of the Australian commentators such as “intimidation” and “momentum” were crossed out for a few very un-Australian words like survive, defend and regroup. So very unlike the Australian commentators who would usually talk of “counter-attacks” and “fight backs” no matter how dire the situation the team was in. Could it be that even they have understood that this Australian team is incapable of the valiant fight backs of the past? Could it be that they too do not rate the mental strength of this Australian team highly?
It was the most disastrous start in 60 years of Australian cricket. Within the space of three overs the Australian batting had been reduced to 3 wickets for 2 runs with their captain and vice-captain back in the dressing room. Jimmy Anderson bowled one of the most devastating opening spells of his career to take 2 for 1 by the second over to put Australia under siege for the rest of the game. There was a sense of inevitability in this English win from very the first over itself. Australia did not have the batting to recover from 3 for 2 nor did they have the bowling strength to restrict England to a similar total and give themselves the opportunity to counter attack in the second innings. Sadly, they have no one to blame but the Australian selectors who had again shoved a few batsmen who were struggling to regain form into the midst of this fire fight. Marcus North’s form has been so bad of late that he should not have been even allowed to enter the Adelaide oval let alone play in the game. Clarke should have had similar treatment as he duly demonstrated in his first innings failure, but fortunately, for himself and for the selectors, Clarke fought back with a skillful 80 to give his career some sort of longevity.
If they only had a few questions to ask from themselves following the Gabba Test, now they would have a whole examination paper to answer after the shambles in Adelaide. It’s back to the drawing board for Hilditch, Nielson & Ponting who will have to get through the longest two weeks of their careers. There will be questions asked with regards to the failure of the batting, bowling and fielding efforts of the Australians. It’s difficult to recall any Australian cricket team hitting such a low in all areas of a game during the last 2 decades. Common sense states that there should be a few intelligent changes in the Australian camp to stop the English charge for the urn. No doubt the English will steel themselves for the final push at the WACA to regain the Ashes. A failure to understand this from the Australian selectors will surely vacate some high profile positions at Cricket Australia.
THE AUSTRALIAN PERFORMANCE
Most of the Australian batsmen did not look convincing right through out the game with the exception of Watson and Hussey as well as Clarke in the second innings. Katich was unlucky in the first outing and defensive in the second, which was reasonable as he was hampered with a sore ankle. Ponting was at his worst prodding, lunging, jabbing and jumping around as if the pitch was made out of hot coal. Clarke’s first innings outing was sabotaged by a magnificent ball from Anderson. North looked as good as he ever will be in his short-lived and disappointing Test career. The desire of the Australian selectors to want to persist with this losing combination is an enigma to most. It almost seems as if they are trying to lull England into a false sense of victory before the selectors spring their master plan into action; whatever that may be.
Bollinger was all passion and heart at the start of the innings but ran out of steam as the game progressed. To be fair to him, Bollinger got the early wicket of Strauss and he beat both Cook and Trott a number of times early in the innings. Sadly, he was also let down by some sloppy fielding which cost him the wicket of Trott. Siddle was a disappointment as his performance was a total contrast to his earlier outing in the first game. He bowled well at times but his bowling was mostly dull and workmanlike as opposed the fiery first innings performance at the Gabba. The contest between Doherty and Pietersen was much awaited due to Pietersen’s weakness against left arm spinners. Doherty did the job he was sent out to do; get Pietersen out, but he didn’t live up to the expectations as Pietersen’s wicket came 227 runs too late. He ended up with the worst figures of all the bowlers and gave away 158 runs in 29 overs with only 1 wicket averaging at 5.85 per over and was treated particularly harshly by KP.
How many times will Hussey have to bail out the Australian batting in this series? So far he has sparked an Australian recovery from 143/5 to a match saving total of 458/7 at the Gabba. He came in at 3/2 in Adelaide and scored an invaluable 93 in the first innings and scored 52 in the second innings when they were 134/3 to try to salvage a draw from this disaster. There were calls for his axing from all around, but he's silenced all doubts with regards to his value in the team by averaging 113 in 3 innings thus far. Hussey has been the mainstay of the Australian batting and may turn out to be the single batsman to stand England’s way to an Ashes victory.
Watson contributed with his customary half century in each innings yet again. He plays the perfect part of a solid opening batsman, at times as imposing as Hayden and at times as resilient as Langer. However, his conversion rate of fifties into hundreds has to improve if Australia is to put any kind of pressure on the England bowlers. He has passed fifty 14 times as an opener in Tests but converted only two of those into hundreds. However, he is one of the few shining lights in this shaky batting line up and Australia should encourage Watson to deliver a big hundred soon.
Harris was easily the best bowler of the bunch. He bowled in good areas at a lively pace and threatened to take wickets regularly but the England batsmen negotiated him well to negate his efforts. Harris managed to get the crucial wickets of Trott and Cook to break two big England partnerships. These two wickets was a meager return for a bowler that invested so much effort to rally the weak Aussie bowlers. It is time for Australia to think outside the box with their bowling attack for the remainder of the series. However, it may not make a difference as this English team looks to be competent enough to smother anything Australia can throw at them.
THE ENGLISH PERFORMANCE
It must be by choice that Andrew Strauss did not take advantage of this bland Australian bowling attack. If not, why would he donate his wicket twice while on a duck? His badly judged cut shot ended up in the hands of Hussey at gully in the 1st Test, and his atrocious leave on the second day of the 2nd Test got him adjudged leg before. He almost put England’s cause in dire straights on two occasions; therefore, should show more responsibility as the captain of the team. He would have had three ducks in as many outings if technology hadn’t saved him in the 2nd innings at the Gabba as Hawkeye judged him not out on that occasion. His embarrassment may have been tenfold if Cook had not dug in and scored well on both occasions.
Delivered wickets at crucial times in both games, but none more important than his opening spell which knocked the wind out of Australia from the onset. His opening overs saw one of the most skillful spells by an English bowler in Australia in recent times. He was unlucky not to end up with the wicket of Hussey when he dropped a tough return chance in the 6th over. He was unlucky not to get a 5 wicket haul in the first innings as his bowling was well deserved of that statistic. His bowling has improved leaps and bounds in the last 4 years. He has already taken 8 wickets in this series, 3 wickets more than his total haul in the 2006 series. Furthermore, his average of 82.60 per wicket in 2006 has improved 32.12 in 2010, a staggering 50 runs under his previous best in Australia.
The Top Order
The English top order looks rock solid barring a couple of indifferent innings from Strauss. Alistair Cook brought his amazing powers of concentration into play once more to score another brilliant innings. His solidity and fluency at the top calmed the nerves of England’s early setback of losing Strauss again. There have been some comments from certain parties saying that both of Cook’s innings are due to flat pitches against a weak bowling attack. To say this about Cook who has played with Bradman like powers of concentration is not only an insult to Cook, but to all of the double and triple centurions in cricketing history. It took Australia 697 balls in 17.5 hours to get the wicket of Cook, which alone demonstrates his mental strength and willpower to stay at the wicket. 450 runs at a strike rate of 55 in Australia is no walk in the park for any batsman of any standard by far. Instead of trying to find fault, his batting should be applauded for its determination alone.
If Cook was solid and fluent then Pietersen was magnificent and sublime. Since his first knock of 44 in the first day of the series, he has had to wait patiently for 11 hours till Cook and Trott finished their business for him to have another bat. His first few overs at the crease was filled with nervous energy which would have been built up by hours of padded up anticipation. However, once he settled down he was like a runaway train; unstoppable. His century drought had lasted 21 months and he was not going to stop at a hundred. It seems that KP saves his best for the Australians as he went on to get his highest ever score in Test cricket of 227, 1 run more than his previous best of 226 against the West Indies. KP’s overall average against Australia is 57.75 in 14 matches while his average in Australia is 69.09 in 7 matches.
Trott, Collingwood and Bell offered ample support to the two centurions to ensure that Australia had little opportunity to snatch the advantage at any point of the game.
Was touted to come good at the Adelaide oval and come good he did. He pulled off a performance similar to Shane Warne’s outing at Adelaide in 2006 to deliver the win for England on the morning session of the fifth day. He went on to get his first 5 wicket haul against Australia and it came at a crucial time in the series to put England ahead. He was by far the best bowler in the 2nd innings, bowling superbly to both right and left handers. His tireless fingers sent down 41 overs at an average of 2.25 with 12 maidens that kept most of the Aussie batsmen tied down for a good part of the inning. He may not have got the man of the match award but he was definitely the man of the 2nd innings.
To conclude, this Ashes series is similar to the sinking of the Titanic for the Australians; at first there was talks of greatness and indestructibility with a rip roaring launch from Peter Siddle. Then there was the first encounter with the iceberg which claimed two casualties from this Australian Titanic; Johnson and Hilfenhaus. The second encounter with the iceberg in the combined form of Anderson, Pietersen and Swann sank the Titanic. Anderson breached the hull, Pietersen ripped the ship apart and Swann dragged it under water. The casualties of the second encounter are expected to be much higher and will be washed ashore in two weeks at the start of the 3rd Test in Perth. What Australia can salvage from this shipwreck to stay afloat in the series will depend on how stubborn or how intelligent their selectors turn out to be in the duration of the next two weeks. Amongst all this carnage, one thing is definite; England has walked the talk. Can Australia match their stride?
*Statistics courtesy of cricinfo.com