The Crotchet’s Corner

My perspective about all things inconsequential

Chestnuts in the fire

Australia have not lost an Ashes Test at Lord’s since 1934, but their chestnuts are really in the fire at the moment.

With the prospect of a follow-on looming large at the end of the second day’s play, the Aussies will need to pull off a Houdini act to survive.

All thoughts of a victory have evaporated on what the Aussies consider to be one of their favourite hunting grounds, and it will need loads of determination and character to hang on.

Only thrice in the past 115 years has a team won a match after following-on

England vs Australia, Sydney, 14 Dec 1894

England vs Australia, Leeds, 16 Jul 1981

India vs Australia, Kolkata, 11 Mar 2001

History is not about to repeat this time, for sure. It will take a lot to even fight back to draw this Test since England has time aplenty to prise out 12 wickets.

The first Test at Cardiff was a totally Aussie show, with the tourists dominating virtually every session, and when England managed to eke out a draw, thanks to a gutsy rear-guard from their last pair, it was, perhaps, much more than a mere match-saver.

Drawing a match is fine, and most teams will accept it in normal course. But, when it is a case of a nail-biting so-near-yet-so-far, it can crush a team and have a devastating effect on the spirit. England might have appeared a trifle sheepish after a miserable show in the first Test, but the impact on the Australians was surely greater. No amount of self-soothing words from the captain and team management can act as a soothing balm.

If there was just that slight opening in the door, the English have spotted and leveraged it to their advantage at Lord’s. Good for them, you might say.

Which is a rather ironic, because there is a lot that is not ok with this England team. If they have put up decent scores in the two Tests of the current series, it has been mainly because of the efforts of a few individuals, rather than a result of a collective will. These have a habit of unraveling quite rapidly when the chips are down, and England can expect a ferocious backlash in the third Test in Birmingham irrespective of whether they win at Lord’s or not.

A lot of questions have been asked about whether this touring Australian team is as balanced as it should be, and the absence of a top quality front line spinner is a factor that cannot be ignored. Much was expected of Mitchell Johnson who was to lead the pace battery, but, apart from a few decent spells, there has not been much to show from the Queenslander.

This Ashes tour has been an interesting one. Much was written about how the Aussies dominated the English bowling in Cardiff, but when the tables were turned at Lord’s and the vaunted batting line-up began to come apart, there was a sense that this was a match that demonstrated that Test cricket was an equal contest between bat and ball, rather than one where batsmen dominate. Operating beautifully in tandem, the English bowled with venom, ambushed the Aussies brilliantly, probed vulnerabilities and exploited chinks in the visitor’s armour.

However, one has to view matters with some caution.

The Aussies do not wear an awesome cricketing reputation on their sleeve merely for showing up at a Test match. And England will ignore this at their peril.

Rather than shaking their heads and wondering about how their reputations have been suddenly inflated, the English will do well to hunker down and plan and execute well.  

There is a lot left in this series, and it would be a brave man who will stick his neck out and predict the outcome.

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July 18, 2009 - Posted by | About this and that, Cricket | , , , ,

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