Was it English complacency that allowed Australia to break the match wide open in a dramatic middle session?
Sure, to a degree. Throw in Mitchell Johnson finally contributing to an Ashes test match, Nathan Lyon actually top-spinning his deliveries and Alastair Cook’s incomprehensibly poor captaincy … and you have Australia in pole position!
In the lead up to the Brisbane Test, lively debate was made about Cook and Michael Clarke’s different captaincy styles. Clarke’s captaincy tends to be proactive, aggressive and daring, while Cook enjoys boring the paying-crowd and relying on his team’s superior talent to win matches. England got away with playing ‘safe’ cricket at home, but on Australian pitches where a few English batsmen struggle with the bounce, cautious cricket won’t cut it Down Under.
Cook’s plan to occupy time at the crease and bore Australia into submission was blatantly dumb (screw it, schoolboy captaincy deserves a juvenile description). Test cricket has changed. Slow run rates and mundane batting only saves matches… and loses matches. Clarke is cricket’s premier strategic mind and England played right into his hands. Michael Carberry’s tidy 40 (I really want to say ‘put-a-fork-to-your-eye’ innings) placed more pressure on England than it did on the Aussies. His inability to rotate the strike allowed Clarke to dictate the inning’s tempo and pace.
Australia’s success today was more about Clarke’s captaincy than it was about Johnson’s return to relevancy. If you don’t think captains can win you test matches, think again. Watching Clarke control proceedings from the slip-cordon was like playing with that wise potbellied I-Used-To-Play-District-Cricket-So-Do-What-I-Fucking-Say old guy. Seriously, I love this post-Bingle Clarke.
And you know what, I’m also beginning to love this post-Simone I’m-banging-England’s-hottest-MILF Shane Warne (facelift aside). Warney’s match analysis is as amusing as James Brayshaw’s attempt to use a word other than ‘unbelievable’ in his commentary. Warne’s assessment of Joe Root’s batting must go into 2013’s Top 10 Most Underrated Sports Television Moments: “Be interesting to see what Root we get today. Will it be a sedate root, aggressive root or a nice patient root?” I’ve been screaming out for a longtime for Australian TV to have its own Charles Barkley (NBA TNT Analyst and basketball hall of famer) who is hilariously improper, but possesses incredible basketball IQ. If I was given the reins to select Channel Nine’s cricket commentary team, I would ask myself one simple question: Who would I want to listen to making a best man’s speech? Simple. It’s Shane Warne.
Unless an embarrassing meltdown occurs (always in the realms of possibility when Shane Watson is your vice captain), Australia hold all the cards and shouldn’t lose the test from here.
I can’t quite decide on what was today’s more pleasant surprise. Mitch Johnson turning into a total “F-You Mode” to the Barmy Army and his critics (that would be the entire Australian nation… but apparently not Tendulkar) or the Aussies finishing the day in such an overwhelming position that there is a strong possibility that day three could become known as the day when Davey Warner sodomised England. Now there’s some imagery!
England have too greater talent to lose this series, but Cook’s men do face glaring concerns. Perhaps, for the first time in Johnson’s career, he matches up well against England’s batting lineup. Carberry’s conservatism, Root’s vulnerability to Australia’s bouncy wickets and Jonathan Trott’s frailty to the short-ball (which is as sad as watching Phil Hughes’ attempt to play spin bowling), gives Johnson the surprising advantage. Johnson’s ability to throttle the opposition with a barrage of bouncers (his only strength?) suddenly makes him a game changer.
For England to regain ascendency in this Ashes series, Trott must compose himself and find a way to combat the short ball without blatantly exposing his leg stump. Not only would an in-form Trott make England a more intimidating opponent, but it could also render Johnson ineffective for the rest of the summer.
Australia defied the naysayers, at least for now, and reminded everyone why The Ashes is sport’s greatest contest.