Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points as Mitchell Johnson stars for Aussies
Ashes 2013-14: Joel Lamy takes a look at four talking points from day two of the first Test as Australia finish 224 runs ahead
Runs = Wickets for Johnson
The one cricketer on either side who guarantees interest is Mitchell Johnson. The left-arm quick has been ridiculed by the Barmy Army, but has come back into Australia’s side a rejuvenated cricketer, having lengthened his run-up and raised his action a touch at the crease. He suffered the last time England toured Down Under, apart from in the Third Test at Perth which has so far mirrored this match. On that occasion, Australia were 137-6 when he walked in, before striking 62 to lift them to 268. He then took 6-38 in England’s first innings. Here, he came in with Australia 132-6, hit a measured 64, then steamed in to take 4-61. In his recently released autobiography, Ricky Ponting said of Johnson: “For someone so talented, such a natural cricketer and so gifted an athlete, I found his lack of self-belief astonishing”. It appears that Johnson gains confidence when he scores runs with the bat, and having come back from a poor opening spell – including several easy leg-side scoring shots – to rough up the English batsmen, he could be a menace against them for the rest of the series unless they reassert their dominance over him.
Away day troubles for England
England’s record in opening Tests away from home is astonishingly bad for such a strong team. Other than in Bangladesh, they haven’t won an opening oversees Test since South Africa in 2004. Even worse, in their last five series openers abroad, they have not made 200 in their first innings, another remarkable statistic putting aside the difficulties with acclimatising to new conditions. Having made a confident start with the bat, reaching 55-1 on the stroke of lunch with batting looking fairly comfortable, they once more succumbed to a middle-order collapse and will have to produce an unlikely comeback to find any way to win.
Batsmen suffer once again
Bowlers win games, but there’s nothing they can do if their batsmen leave them in the mire time and time again. Losing six wickets for nine runs would look bad on a turning pitch against Shane Warne, but on a relatively benign Gabba wicket which is one of the best to bat on in Tests, it is hard to comprehend. There appear to be two issues; firstly, England are being out-played at their own game in drying up the runs – 24.5 overs in the afternoon session brought just 39 runs as Michael Carberry became bogged down and Kevin Pietersen could not find top gear. This is a re-occurring theme for England. In the fourth Test this summer at Durham, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow and Matt Prior made a combined 37 from 152 deliveries. And against New Zealand at Lord’s three months earlier, their run-rate in their opening innings of 232 was a pedestrian 2.06 an over. The second issue is technical. A change in conditions has brought about similar dismissals for many of the England batsmen, in particular Alastair Cook and Joe Root who both edged behind. Carberry also looked unconvincing against Johnson from around the wicket in the over he got out. But the most worrying batsman is Jonathan Trott, who moved so far across to counter Johnson’s short ball that he ended up showing his stumps to the bowler. It was no surprise that he was caught down the leg side in the last over before lunch. After a few months off, for these issues to be exploited again so quickly is worrying.
Don’t lose the faith
If England are anything, it is resilient. And they have shown numerous times before that they can pull off escapes in matches which seem all-but lost.
At the same ground three years ago, Cook, Trott and Andrew Strauss became the second England top-three to score centuries in the same innings as they hit 517-1 to save the match. Since Andy Flower took over for the West Indies series which began in February 2009, England have pulled off last wicket escapes at Cardiff, Centurion, Cape Town and Auckland. They have also reversed huge first-innings deficits to draw at Brisbane and Dunedin. And even defeat in the opening Test against India at Ahmedabad saw a spirited 406 scored in the second innings. So with the Brisbane forecast promising some rain, England should remain positive that they can still take a morale-boosting draw to Adelaide.