England’s Perfect Adelaide Victory: Australian Woes Continue…
With their Tuesday morning victory in Adelaide, the England cricket team confirmed what we have all been suspecting – that the tourists are flying, whilst their hosts are on the ropes. SportingBlogs takes a look at the differences between the two sides, the factors surrounding this victory and what it might mean for the rest of the series…
Following the huge psychological blow Kevin Pietersen landed with his late dismissal of Michael Clarke the previous evening (Shane Watson called it ‘pretty shattering’ and ‘a kick in the guts’), there was a distinctly positive vibe surrounding the English camp going into the final day. But with a gloomy forecast threatening to wipe out the day’s play and the chance of victory, coupled with the Stuart Broad’s injury rendering the team a bowler short, the pessimists (heck, given England’s recent record in Oz, most normal English fans) might well have felt somewhat apprehensive of the tourists’ chances of taking the remaining six wickets to complete the much deserved win.
As such, early wickets were vital, and with the new ball taken they were duly delivered. The increasingly impressive Steven Finn brought about a rare lapse in judgment from the previously-obdurate Mike Hussey, Jimmy Anderson snared Brad Haddin with a peach, and with the lengthy Australian tail exposed, the completion of victory bordered dangerously on becoming a rare formality. Anderson bagged Harris first ball (for a golden pair), before Graeme Swann finished off those remaining to complete his 5-fer. Job done. 1-0 England.
Ex-England skipper Michael Vaughan purred about England’s ‘perfect performance’ on the TMS commentary, citing that it was hard to see where the tourist might find room for improvement. There was an abundance of runs from the batting department (620-5d), several well-taken catches and run outs in the field, and twenty Australian wickets taken for fewer runs than England managed for just five dismissals. For the Australian media this meant ‘a humiliating defeat by an innings and 71 runs,’ which for England captain Andrew Strauss constituted ‘a pretty comprehensive victory.’ Jonathan Agnew has since remarked that this triumph ‘certainly ranks among the greatest victories [by England] I have seen overseas,’ which is fair recognition for a remarkable achievement.
This was ‘England’s first innings victory over Australia since Melbourne 1986,’ and indeed only the second time in Australia’s history that they have lost by an innings at Adelaide (the last time being also against England but 118 years ago). What this staggeringly comprehensive and utterly ruthless victory serves to highlight is the extreme difference between the two great rivals. In the words of the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘England soared. Australia floundered. The gap between the sides has become a chasm.’ A brutal assessment, alas one that rings true. And here’s why…
To start with, England’s preparation has been far superior to their opponents, with this tour ‘months in the planning’ complementing a unit of ‘administrators, selectors, coaches, back-room staff and captains […] with a single goal, the search for excellence.’ Whilst England’s players performed impressively in their warm-up games, their Australian counterparts struggled through a winless Test and ODI tour of India before being comprehensively defeated at home in their ODI series with Sri Lanka.
In the personnel department, England have had the blessing of a settled first choice XI over the last few series’ that they have contested; the team virtually picks itself. Australia meanwhile changed half of their bowling attack following their second innings mauling at Brisbane, and several more ‘sweeping changes’ are being mooted (well, more like demanded) following the Adelaide defeat, with SMH’s Peter Roebuck stating, ‘putting it bluntly, Xavier Doherty, Doug Bollinger and Marcus North cannot hold their places.’ They also face replacing injured opener Simon Katich, meaning the hosts might well enter the third test next week having made an astonishing six changes to the make up of their side. Such reactive inconsistency in selection used to be a favoured penchant of the English.
England’s batting has been – bar the first innings (Ian Bell and Alastair Cook aside) in Brisbane – near exemplary, with two double centuries, three tons, and four players with ‘100-plus averages’ in the series so far. Consequently, Strauss has been able to highlight how England’s ‘batters are getting big scores which is crucial and that’s putting pressure on the opposition.’ The Australian batting unit by comparison, with the exception of Hussey (and keeper Haddin), fails to compete. Watson appears unable to concentrate long enough to convert starts into big centuries, Katich has averaged a meagre 24.25, Clarke has struggled to find form, and ‘North and [Ricky] Ponting are pale comparisons of their best form.’ Their struggles with the willow are perhaps exemplified by the fact that skipper Ponting has ‘dropped out of the top-20 [international batting rankings] for the first time since 2001.’
In the field, the hosts have not fared much better. Several catches have been shelled, whilst England have caught and run-out with aplomb. With the ball, Anderson – now ‘up to a career-high third place in the ICC’s Test bowling rankings’ – has swung the ball when many said he wouldn’t, has taken wickets and been generally regarded as the most threatening bowler in the series. The youthful Finn continues to surprise with an Ashes debut 6-fer to show for a promising combination of height, pace and controlled accuracy, whilst in Swann the tourist’s have a genuine match-winning spinner and the world’s #2 ranked bowler, ‘whose five-wicket haul in the second innings moved him closer to claiming the top spot from Dale Steyn before the end of the year.’
Their opponents by contrast have ‘a pace attack that cannot bowl to plans and a spinner who can’t take wickets.’ Doherty’s test career already looks over; not entirely surprising for a spinner ‘without the weapons of flight or turn [or] accuracy.’ Peter Siddle had one inspired spell on the first day at Brisbane but has offered little else since. The less said about Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus, and Mitchell Johnson, the better. Only Ryan Harris has looked half decent for Australia. Such seeming ineptitude with the ball is most worrying for the hosts, not least as they are now required to take twenty wickets in at least two games in order to have a chance of regaining the Ashes this winter. Damningly, several Australian correspondents see even this as being a tad far-fetched, Jamie Pandaram aptly summarising widely-held views when writing, ‘there is no evidence to suggest Australian bowlers can take 20 wickets once, let alone twice.’
It is no wonder therefore that post-match, under-fire skipper Ponting offered the following: ‘they [England] out-batted us, they out-bowled and out-fielded us the entire game.’ As ex-Australian opener Justin Langer commented yesterday, ‘when you drop catches, miss run-out opportunities, do not capitalise on good starts with the bat and then take only five wickets in an innings you cannot expect to be the team drinking champagne afterwards.’ Well said, that man.
Finally in the personnel department: the match-winners. England currently ‘fields two palpably great cricketers’ in Pietersen and Swann; the former just bagged a double ton, and the latter is closing on the top spot in the ICC Test bowling rankings. Australia’s only match-winning bowler is Johnson, and he has been dropped. Ponting, their ‘remaining great player’ with the bat and genuine all-time great, in 2010 has just one century and a Test match average of 42.77 compared to his career average of 54.27. This is not the Ponting that England have come to know and fear, rather a great who ‘is in decline’. The tourist’s main men are firing on all cylinders, whilst their hosting counterparts have (as yet) failed to stand up and be counted.
When you look at team spirit too, it is clear that the England boys are buzzing; Swanny’s Ashes Diaries, Twitter ‘banter’ between players, and the rise of the sprinkler phenomenon contributes to and testifies to as much. After the Adelaide victory, man-of-the-match Pietersen confirmed this transformation: ‘Four years ago it was a very sad dressing room, not as united as we are at the moment, not as happy as we are at the moment.’ Telling words from KP there; united and happy. In contrast, Australian heads dropped and the field quietened when catches went down and English runs continued to stack up, and belief clearly ebbed away in a most un-Australian manner after Clarke’s late dismissal. Whilst the hosts might not fully believe they can regain the Ashes, the England team are certainly convinced that they can retain the Urn.
Which brought us to Tuesday morning and the almost inevitable completion of a comprehensive victory for the tourists. If this ‘clinical’ mauling of a victory represents a new zenith for England, it is certainly one of Australian cricket’s lowest points in recent memory. As the BBC’s Tom Fordyce stated, it has been ‘like stepping into some surreal parallel universe, a dream-like place where everything was the exact opposite of what you had come to expect.’ Bizarrely, it was the Australian’s hoping for the weather to save them, the Australian’s contemplating drastic personnel changes, the Australian’s with players out of form (and, in some cases, depth too), the Australian’s with a seething home press on their backs and baying for blood, and – most importantly of all – the Australian’s on the receiving end of an almighty thrashing. Strewth, how Don Bradman must be turning…
Whilst the hosts lick their wounds and limp towards Perth and the third test, the only issue for England is which bowler should replace the unfortunately injured Stuart Broad. With three decent and different alternative options in Ajmal Shahzad (pace and reverse swing), Chris Tremlett (height and bounce) and Tim Bresnan (batting and conventional swing enhanced by Perth’s ‘Freemantle Doctor’ breeze), England’s troubles pale into insignificance when compared with their opponent’s seeming state of disarray.
On the whole the tourists are, as Agnew describes, ‘a fantastically drilled, very fit outfit playing at the height of their abilities,’ and it would appear that their only real enemy appears to be their own complacency. Even that appears to have been dealt with, skipper Strauss stating, ‘there are three matches to go and we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves […] if we start getting a little bit complacent, thinking it is just going to happen, that’s going to allow Australia back in the series.’ Even coach Andy Flower quashed the potential of such a mentality transpiring amongst the tourists: ‘How can we be complacent? We’ve got a long way to go, and we’re only 1-0 up in a five-Test series. That would be a crazy way to think.’ Wise words indeed.
The irony of England achieving such a comprehensive victory is that it might well force Australian hands into selecting some decent cricketers and to rid the side of what is perceived to be an abundance of dead wood. However, for the next game at the Waca, England will arrive with form, confidence, momentum, and psychological blows at their side. Their hosts suffer from the opposite, with the added pressure of being at home to boot. The thought of losing to the Poms on Australian turf is unthinkable for most folk Down Under.
The tourists need just one win to retain the Ashes; Australia need two victories just to have a chance of regaining the Urn. Even then, that might not be enough. As it stands, it is a struggle to see the current Australian bowling attack taking the twenty wickets required to win a test on two occasions, especially against an on-form and confident English batting line-up. Furthermore, Justin Langer aptly deduces that ‘a team who take all of their catches, buzz around the field, turn fifties into big hundreds and put pressure on the opposition batsmen with the ball will usually win most of their contests,’ and that is where England are at the moment. It certainly looks good for the tourists, for as Strauss says: ‘There is a lot of confidence in the group and that’s a fantastic position to be in […] If we keep [our current] standards up we have a good chance of winning.’
However, as noted by Peter Roebuck in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘it’d be madness to assume it’s all over because Australia has fallen 1-0 behind,’ which is why Strauss cautions, ‘the game of cricket is an odd one and just when you think everything is going your way it can come back and bite you.’ So you’ll have to forgive us for not counting our chickens just yet – although on the evidence we have seen thus far, it does look mightily promising for the tourists this time around…