At the home of cricket, home truths will be told and series-telling trends will be established.
The first test was filled with bizarre abnormalities and controversial momentum killers. Australia’s number 11 batsmen (Ashton Agar in the first innings & James Pattinson in the second) combined for more runs than any other position and Agar’s 98 is the most scored by a number 11 in test match history. Staring down the barrel at 9 for 117 in their first innings, Michael Clarke’s men looked destined for another humiliating tour, yet, somehow Australia nearly pinched victory on day five and made England’s bowling attack look awfully one-dimensional. Throw in England’s Ian Bell playing his greatest test innings and Clarke succumbing to what was likely the best delivery we will see for the series, Trent Bridge’s stunning twists made George Martin’s plots seem linear.
So far, only four minor pre-series predictions have come to fruition- Jimmy Anderson is the premier fast bowler in this series, Australia’s top six form an able State batting lineup but struggle mightily on cricket’s biggest stage, Australia’s bowling runs deeper than their opponent’s, and England would be eventual victors. Unfortunately for the Aussies, this edges them in the negative.
Can Australia score enough runs to win a test match? If Clarke fires, sure. But with Agar preparing to face a more intense examination at Lords and the law of averages surely coming into affect for Australia’s lower order, the battle for the Urn is about to get far more difficult.
Out of form Ed Cowan will not find solace in facing a touring Pakistan team in party mode, like Mike Hussey did. Instead, Cowan and his mate, Shane Watson, must face Anderson’s winging masterclass to resurrect their careers.
Clarke will rightly sell to his team that they can compete with the old rival but to win back the Urn? England’s first test victory was more significant than just the stat-line 1-0. Australia must now claim three of the next four tests to win back the Ashes as a combination of Australia’s unpredictable batting and England’s elite talent will ensure the Poms win at least one more test.
England can bank on Kevin Pietersen rising to the critical moments and Jonathan Trott eventually gaining the umpire’s favour. Can Australia rely on Phil Hughes repeating his first innings deeds? Although Hughes showed patience and seemingly an improved cricketing IQ, Hughes was really just riding on Agar’s coattails. Steve Smith has surprised but his tendency to square-up in defence leaves him vulnerable on moving English decks. Maybe if the Ashes was a three test series, Australia could escape with carrying some journeyman batsmen and immature talent. Yet, as series stretch to five matches, England’s batting consistency will most likely triumph Australia’s more flash and crash approach.
While Australia’s batting has yet to join the fight, the Australian bowlers have already shown doggedness with the bat and zeal with ball. Victorians Peter Siddle and Pattinson set an aggro and toughness that is sorely missing in Australia’s batting top order. Both natural aggressors and in the traditional Victorian mold, Siddle and Pattinson are currently Australia’s most valuable players, aside from Clarke. Australia had no business stealing the first test but Siddle and Pattinson’s competitiveness nearly shone bright enough to burst England’s steely resolve.
If Australia is to claw their way back in the series it must begin at Lords, their home away from home, where Clarke’s men can dispel the myths and forge some new truths.