Ashes to ashes for Aussies

2010-12-11 00:00

ENGLAND’S performance in Adelaide was its best for decades. Australia were not so much beaten as overwhelmed. The masters of destruction were themselves taken apart by an intense and efficient opponent. Afterwards senior Australians admitted they’d never seen the Poms play so well for so long. The hosts were in a state of shock. Ricky Ponting and company know that they are facing a formidable opponent. His dreams of recapturing the Ashes sit on the brink of ruin

Previously England have risen occasionally with murderous intent only to fall back after passion had ebbed way. For a while everyone might sing Land of Hope and Glory and parade on bus tops, but the mood passed and the malaise remained. Now they are cold executioners. The cucumber sandwiches and pints of lager were put aside in favour of steel knives.

Andrew Strauss’s team hardly put a foot wrong. Of course panache has its part to play in these endeavours but ruthless annihilation is the essential aim of all sporting activity. In his own way Glenn McGrath was a beautiful bowler.

From the chaotic run out of an opener in the first over of the match to the superbly conceived off-break that ended the match, the visitors were magnificent. Along the way all sorts of records were broken and reputations enhanced. Alastair Cook is scoring hundreds at a faster rate even than Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman. Of course he is too modest and sensible to compare himself with these giants, but the fact remains that he scores a lot of runs. As far as the Aussies are concerned he’s harder to remove than a wisdom tooth

Jonathan Trott has been almost as effective and now averages 60 in Test cricket. Before the series these blokes were supposed to be the weak links. Ian Bell was regarded as too soft to make the grade down under. At present he looks about as soft as a slab of concrete, and a great deal more attractive. England’s flaws have tuned out to be their assets.

Kevin Pietersen was richly rewarded for recognising his mistakes, returning to Pietermaritzburg and going back to the basics. Greatness is a journey not a destiny. It cannot be held in a hand. So long as he keeps working and avoids the traps of self-celebration, Pietersen will retain the excellence that lies within. Greatness can always walk away and seek a more accommodating host.

Of the Australians only Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin could be confident of securing a place in the opposing side. Shane Watson might be considered, the rest can be brushed aside. None of them would be contenders for a World X1. Its hardly surprising. Australia are the fifth ranked Test team and their only great player is past his peak.

But the hosts did not help themselves. Australia were not merely outplayed, they were also out-thought. Ponting’s field placements were bizarre. After years devoted to orthodoxy, he suddenly started setting strange fields, with seven on one side of the field and often with three men close together at gulley or cover or on the boundary. That does not work in Adelaide with its short square boundaries. Everyone knows that on this ground its better to aim straight, or everyone except the local think-tank.

Australia’s selections were also odd. Whereas England identified their strongest team months ago and have also taken considerable care over their bench, the Australians are thrashing about like a drowning man. Presumably they had watched Xavier Doherty carefully before picking him, in which case their judgment is open to question.

Not that spinners are thick on the ground. Half the country wants Shane Warne to return — and all England is terrified that he might. But it’s a fantasy born of desperation; he would not last a session and knows it. Poker is his game these days. Warne himself has suggested Michael Beer, a 26-year-old left-arm spinner who has just moved from Victoria to Perth. He is handy but inexperienced.

Nor is the pace bowling strong. Australia do have a fistful of promising speedsters. Unfortunately most of them are injured. All sorts of restrictions are placed on young bowlers but still the flingers break down at the rate hitherto reserved for the taxis that grace our city.

One bowler recently complained that now he had turned professional he was bowling less than in his salad days! Australia used to make ’em or break ’em. Now they make “em” and wrap them in cotton wool. Inevitably they fall apart at the first sight of hard work.

Now Australia have a few days to lick their wounds. The team for the third Test is to be announced this weekend. The names will not matter. Only two things can save Australia. A hundred from Ricky Ponting and the sort of searing spell from Mitchell Johnson that SA experienced last year. Otherwise the game is up.

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