Catch the Ashes! (Image via Wikipedia)
Two Tests into the Ashes and England are up 1-0. It could very well have been 1-1 but for a stirring fight-back by Strauss, Cook and Trott in the first Test at the Gabba. At least, that’s how the optimists in the Australian camp would like to look at it.
That’s not how the realists see it. The selectors pressed the panic button in the run-up to the series when they announced a squad of 17 for the first Test. They compounded their folly by dropping Mitchell Johnson after the initial Test performance. What if the selectors had dropped Hussey from the squad? Not quite a vote of confidence in the players who have served you well in the past three years.
The selectors’ fright brought back memories of the 5-0 whitewash or what was termed a “Blackwash” of England by a rampaging West Indian side in 1984. England went through a record 21 cricketers in that summer.This was followed by another "blackwash” in the West Indies and a 4-0 series loss at home in 1988. The latter series was known as the “Summer of Four Captains”. Mike Gatting,John Emburey, Chris Cowdrey and Graham Gooch all donned the mantle. The first Test was drawn due to rain.
Australia’s circumstances are not as bad. Maybe, they do not have to do much except persist and hope that their bowlers can fire and dislodge this England batting line-up that looks solid.
Two double centurions in Pietersen and Cook, an in-form Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott and it’s the Kangaroos who are decidedly vulnerable at home. Ian Bell and Collingwood have shown signs of being in good nick. The English have benefited from the three first-class games they played before the series began. The tour preparation has been first-class. I just wish the BCCI would take a leaf from the ECB’s book and do the same for our Indian side when they tour, but I digress. (India played just two warm-up games the last time they toured Australia of which the first one was mostly washed out.)
The lack of a quality spinner was the difference in the second Test. Swann is a master of his craft. Australia must wish that they could draft Warney back into the side. The art of spinning is about confidence.Captains have to accept that spinners will be go for runs sometimes. Ponting will do well to remember that.
Australia will seek to take some positives from the two Tests. The batting of Hussey, Haddin and Watson is cause for comfort. Mr. Cricket is back to his prolific best, Haddin shows signs of being an adequate replacement for Adam Gilchrist and Watson continues to astonish in his second coming. Clarke has hit form with a fluent 80 and will be ruing his luck that he could not hang around longer and prove a much bigger thorn to the Poms.
Clarke’s not walking when he well knew he was out might be glossed over by the Australian press. But Indian cricket fans are not amused. They still remember the controversial catch claimed by the vice-captain the last time India toured down under. There’s a pattern here that is difficult to swallow. The only redeeming grace was his apology on Twitter. Have Australians learnt to be nice with the wins drying up?
Ponting will be under pressure in the third Test. A solitary 50 in four innings is not leading from the front as he promised. Marcus North is a mere passenger in the side. He will have to pull up his socks or find himself out of the side sooner rather than later. Katich is not in contention for the third Test at Perth following his injury. He has done just enough to justify his place in the side but someone other than Hussey will have to put up his hand and pile up those huge scores to keep Australia in the hunt.
It is the bowling department that has the Punter in a funk. Except for a sterling effort by Peter Siddle in the first Test—when he consumed six English wickets in the first inning—,the Aussie pacers have been mere fodder feed to the English batters. Two 500+ scores by their rivals in successive innings hardly augurs well for the rest of the series. England need to just win one of the remaining three to retain the Ashes—a momentous occasion. Australia will have to secure at least two and draw one.
If the Australians were in denial that the period of transition from world-beaters to being also-rans is accompanied by a trough, this series has been a rude awakening.
The last time Australia encountered a similar crisis, they turned to a phlegmatic Allan Border to succour them after a teary Kim Hughes bailed out from the top job.
Can Ricky Ponting turn the ship around before it runs aground? Three Tests will tell.
Quote of the day:
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. – Albert Einstein