Sorry England in dire need of mettle detector
Published: 25th November 2013 03:57 PM |
England lost the first Test in a hail of Mitchell Johnson bouncers, verbal slights and misbegotten shots. If Alastair Cook's side are to get back into the series the batsmen need to find added mettle to deal with the first two and extra discipline to minimise the third. If they do not, the urn will be changing hands sooner than even the most optimistic Australian thought.
England's defeat, by 381 runs after they were dismissed in their second innings for 179, was humiliation plain and simple. It only just avoided being England's worst loss, in terms of runs, on Australian soil, behind the 384-run shocker by Nasser Hussain's team in 2002, also at the Gabba, and the 382-run defeat at Adelaide in 1895.
Hussain's side were inferior to their opponents in almost all positions, whereas Cook's should have been bolstered by a 3-0 Ashes victory just three months ago. England now head to Alice Springs for a two-day match against Cricket Australia Chairman's XI - a trip which will, Cook says, be for regrouping and truth telling.
Cook may need to look at his captaincy. England dominated this match for most of the first day but thereafter it was all Australia after he allowed them to recover from 132 for six in their first innings to 295 all out. He did, as Shane Warne has long pointed out, let the game drift, a costly mistake when his team then lost both their way and their confidence after being roughed up and ruffled by Johnson's pace.
Fast bowlers are precious commodities and Johnson's nine wickets swayed the match. With the seeds of doubt sown in the first innings, he tore in with relish as Australia, hunted only their second win of the year.
Two storms threatened to take the match into the final day, but with Johnson's mouth working as fast as his arm, England's batsmen were dissuaded from hanging around.
The verbal exchanges between the sides appear to have gone up a notch from the summer, although that was denied by Michael Clarke, Australia's captain. As Australia pushed for the final wicket, Clarke was caught on the stump mic suggesting that James Anderson "get ready for a f------ broken thumb". Such utterances may sound boorish but they have been around since W?G Grace's day and are nothing new, even when teams do not have a fast bowler to back them up as Australia do now.
The same goes for David Warner's claim that Jonathan Trott had "scared eyes" when he faced Johnson and that the manner of his dismissals was "pretty poor and pretty weak". Twenty years ago, Michael Atherton said in a newspaper interview that Steve Waugh was so scared of fast bowling that you could "see it running down his leg". Waugh made England pay by making runs and helping Australia to win the Ashes.
Johnson has certainly been the -difference between the Australia England beat in the summer and the one that confronted them here with all the brash confidence of old. Extreme pace - and Johnson mustered plenty - changes mindsets. The belief that you can extricate yourself from the mire, which England mostly did at home last summer, suddenly diminishes when someone is firing missiles around your head at 90mph.
The other thing pace does is make established players change their method, as Jonathan Trott has. His dismissal by Johnson on Saturday, when he was caught trying to hit away to leg for the second time in the match, was unbecoming of player averaging 46 and with his experience. He can expect no respite either with Johnson confirming he would "keep doing it as it is working".
The on-side is Trott's strength but a leading batsman cannot shrug and say "that is the way I play", especially when Johnson has made it look so flawed. Good players find ways of coping with new challenges, as Cook showed. England's captain likes to pull and hook but he shelved those shots against Johnson. Instead he uppercut him to third man but changed again when Clarke set a fly slip, opting to sway out of the way.
Indeed, only Cook, Ian Bell and Joe Root showed the necessary grit and technique needed to cope with the pace and menace of Johnson. Given that he can bowl from only one end, and for only about 20 overs a day, some of Cook's team-mates should thank their good fortune they did not play 30 years earlier when the West Indies pace quartets dished it out from both ends all day. On this evidence some lofty careers would have been over long ago.
Johnson took nine wickets the last time Australia beat England, in Perth three years ago. The drop-in pitch at Adelaide, where the second Test will be played, should have less pace than that or even the Gabba. Yet, whether surfaces are quick or slow, Johnson has enjoyed tasting English lamb and is likely to be a handful from now on.