The 1st Test at the Woolloongabba showed us that both Australia and England are contenders of equal ability in the fight for the urn. Australia lost the home advantage in a demoralizing draw while England snatched the psychological advantage with a morale boosting fight back. The second chapter of this saga enfolds at the Adelaide Oval on Friday the 3rd of December 2010. Both sides have a few issues to be ironed out before the start of the second game. While England only have to make a few minor adjustments, Australia have to rectify some major issues but are trying not to panic by projecting an image of calmness.
England’s main concerns lie with the bowling of Graeme Swann who managed to get only two wickets in his 43 overs. However, in his defense, Swann’s average was under 3.00 per over which is rather good considering that the Gabba is not a friendly venue for visiting spinners. Swann’s bowling figures of 2 for 128 is at 12th place in the list of touring spinners who have played at the Gabba since 1990. The Gabba has yielded 46 wickets in 20 matches to visiting spinners within a time span of 20 years from 1990 to present day averaging at 2 wickets per match. In contrast, the Adelaide Oval has been a little friendlier to visiting spinners and has given away 73 wickets in 21 Tests within the same time span. Adelaide averages at 3.5 wickets a game and a much better return for visiting slow bowlers. England should rest assured that Swann will come good at this venue.
Australia, on the other hand, has a lot more to worry about. Their main concern would be Mitchell Johnson who is a shadow of the bowler he was in the Australian tour of South Africa and the West Indies tour of Australia. The Australian coach Tim Nielsen has no choice but to say that he will back his fast man to come good in Adelaide as he would not want to further dent Johnson’s fragile state of mind. It’s true that the team must stand by him in his hour of need, but Johnson himself has to realize that he let the team down with his pathetic performance. Frankly, Australia has to take a good look at the bigger picture rather than tiptoe around Johnson’s fragile demeanor. I’m not sure if the Australian management has noticed that this isn’t grade school cricket, it’s the Ashes and its war out there. If Johnson can’t “man up” and handle the pressure then he’s not the right man to lead this attack. Let Bollinger, Siddle, or any other individual who has the heart to spearhead the Australian attack take the lead. Johnson may turn out to be the biggest chink in the Australian armor if he doesn’t overcome his problems as the series progresses. All in all, it is better for him to skip the Adelaide Test and focus on making a comeback at Perth where the pitch will assist his bowling as well as his confidence. As Ian Chappell stated in his post match interview of the 1st Test, Johnson should be sent back to play some state cricket to find his form and confidence before he takes on England again.
The other major concern that the Australians have is the batting of Marcus North who has scored 178 runs in his past nine innings at an average of 19.77. His unflattering average plummets further when the 128 he scored against India is subtracted from this total to end up with 50 runs from eight innings at an average of 6.25. It would be difficult for Ponting to have confidence in his No. 6 batsman to hold the fort in the event of a batting collapse when he analyzes North’s last few performances. Considering North's lack of form, he should be replaced by the impressive Usman Khawaja which would also bring some youth into an aging Australian batting line up. There’s also the option of playing Cameron White at No. 6. as White has shown that he has the penchant for long innings during his recent internationals, and when needed, he can attack the opposition with his natural game. His inclusion would also give Ponting a leg spinning option in the bowling department. The other alternative is to drop Watson down to the No. 6 spot and slot a regular opener such as Phillip Hughes or Phil Jaques at the top. Australian cricket is extremely blessed to have multiple options of talented players to solve any selection problems. Let’s hope that the selectors are brave enough to venture out of their customary risk-free selection process and let some of these new recruits earn their stripes.
PLAYERS TO WATCH AT ADELAIDE
The England top order scored heavily with the exception of Collingwood and Pieterson at the Gabba. All the batting accolades went to Cook, Strauss and Trott as well as Ian Bell for his first innings knock. Pieterson is not the kind of player to stay away from the limelight for a long period of time. He would want to stamp his authority on this series as soon as possible. His ego demands it. It would do the spectators a lot of good to invest in strong headgear as Pieterson is sure to take advantage of the short boundaries at the Adelaide Oval.
This man was not included in the 2010 ICC Test Team of the year for nothing. The two wickets he took in the 1st Test in Brisbane is a mere appetizer for Swann. England will look for a big haul from him at the Adelaide oval and Swann is sure to deliver.
Let me rephrase and age old saying to suit the occasion; “hell hath no fury than an Australian cricket captain scorned”. His captaincy has been questioned, his team has let him down on a number of occasions and he’s been booed, ridiculed, laughed at by his own countrymen. Ponting came to bat in the dying moments of the game in Brisbane and blasted a 43 ball half century mainly to send a message to the opposition that the worst is yet to come. It would be wise of Strauss to warn his men to prepare themselves to withstand the force of Ponting’s wrath in Adelaide.
Dropped from the 1st Test due to the lack of match fitness, Bollinger had to watch his replacement Siddle get the best figures in the game from the sidelines. If his past performances are anything to go by, the selection of Bollinger will cause more problems for the English batsman than all the Australian fast bowlers in the previous Test put together. The thought of watching Bollinger throwing the kitchen sink at Strauss and Co. and then some is a mouth watering prospect.
Had a quiet debut and didn’t do too much to impress. However, the nerves of playing his first game at such a big occasion didn’t daunt the young man as he averaged at 3.00 an over. His was a better average than those of Johnson, Siddle, and Watson who went for 4.04, 3.60 and 3.50 respectively. He looked confident and competent and would have gained a huge amount of experience from his first game. Watch out for Doherty to show his skill and guile which he aptly demonstrated against the Sri Lankans in the recent ODI series and grabbed figures of 4 for 46 in the first game.
* Statistics courtesy of cricinfo.com