Australia’s victory in Perth completed a seismic shift in the cricket power battle against England. Cricket expert Ben Pullan analyses how a team that meekly surrendered the Ashes in the summer has been transformed into a formidable force in world cricket.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, what has looked like an inevitability for the past couple of weeks came into fruition, as Australia regained the Ashes. The moment itself seemed fitting; another hapless England tailender, James Anderson, poking another well-directed Johnson thunderbolt into the hands of the short leg fielder.
Cue scenes of utter jubilation from the Australian players at the Waca, who were all (aside from Clarke) tasting victory against England for the first time. As for our boys, serious questions now need to be asked, starting with how on earth the Ashes fortress – won in 2009 and then defended so stoutly for over four years – has been ceded in a matter of fourteen days on the field.
Much criticism has been given to those responsible for England’s limp performance, including the supposedly world-class players Cook, Pietersen, Prior, Swann and Anderson, but we now must for a minute forget England’s shortcomings and give due credit to one of the great turnarounds in cricket history. Four months ago, Australia were a distant second to England, now they are runaway winners here. How has this happened?
1. The bowling.
Mitchell Johnson. Two words that, prior to this series, formed the punch line to ninety-nine per cent of the Barmy Army’s jokes. A bowler who had been hyped up so much by the Australian media, yet never fulfilled his promise against England.
The more observant spectators would have taken note of his ominous performances in recent One Day series against England and India, but very few would have predicted quite what has happened here. Put simply, he has destroyed England’s batting with extreme pace delivered from his unique low-arm slingy action.
The stats reflect this. So far this series, he has taken 23 wickets at an absurd average of 15.47. If he continues to take wickets at this rate, he will finish the series around the 40 mark, which would put him in seriously exclusive company.
However, the demise of England’s celebrated batting line-up cannot be attributed to one man alone. Australia’s back up bowling has played a key role in Johnson’s success.
Last summer saw the emergence of Ryan Harris as an Ashes star and he has carried over that good form into this winter, with his right arm out swing contrasting with Johnson’s left arm pace to form a lethal new ball pairing.
And the pressure is not released once these two are done, as Clarke can turn to Peter Siddle, a vastly underrated, accurate, economical seamer who has the happy knack of picking up Pietersen’s wicket. In addition to these three, Australia’s off spinner, Nathan Lyon, has out-bowled Graeme Swann, and England find Shane Watson’s military medium pace almost impossible to score off.
So Australia have something of a dream attack at the moment – four back up bowlers at the top of their games, ensuring that the star man – Johnson – can be used in the short, sharp bursts that suit him.
2. The Batting.
Whilst Johnson has been the success story in the bowling department for Australia, another former laughing stock, David Warner, has come to the fore with the bat for them. Encouraged to play his natural game and restored to his preferred position at the top of the order for Australia, the ultra-aggressive batsman has come out in every Test Match and looked to take the game to England.
This Hayden-esque approach to opening the batting has meant that Australia have got off to several ‘fliers’ in this series, particularly in their second innings, where Warner has thrown caution completely to the wind, ensuring that England have not got a look in.
He has clearly thrived on the license to attack; in three Tests last summer he scored 138 runs at an average of 23, as opposed to the 457 at 91.4 he has scored so far this series. Warner has come a long way since swinging a left hook at Joe Root and thus being sent home from the Champions Trophy in June.
As with the bowling, however, it has been no one man show; five of Australia’s top seven have contributed to Australia’s tally of seven centuries (compared to England’s one). Clarke, once again, has led from the front brilliantly, scoring two centuries and comprehensively winning his battle against England’s spinner, Graeme Swann.
Haddin, the wicket-keeper, has had a superlative series with the bat (and gloves) so far. Coming in at number seven, he has been a constant thorn in England’s side, whether it be in leading a rescue act or scoring quick runs to set up a declaration, and has failed to pass fifty only once in the series so far.
Smith and Watson are the other two century makers, and Bailey, Johnson and Rogers have had their moments as well. So Australia have all bases covered with the bat – an extraordinary turnaround from the embarrassing collapses of last summer.
3. The Management.
Though it is down to the players on the field to win games of cricket, one cannot understate the contribution to Australia’s success that their coach, Darren Lehmann, has made. Australian cricket was in a shambolic state of affairs when he took over; on the field, they had been whitewashed in India and had not won a game in the Champions Trophy; off the field, there had been a series of embarrassing mishaps, including the famous ‘homework saga’.
The man he was replacing, Mickey Arthur, was the ultimate ‘technocrat’, placing emphasis on seemingly trivial off-field analysis, rather than getting the job done and winning games of cricket. What Lehmann has done so well, in partnership with the skipper Clarke, is cut the rubbish and go back to basics, letting his batsmen go out and hit the ball and encouraging his bowlers to intimidate England’s batsmen.
This ‘old school’ style has had a liberating effect on players like Warner and Johnson, and Australia have rediscovered the aggression that saw them dominate world cricket for the best part of two decades.
Under the influence of this back to basics approach, Australia’s players have been given a chance to express themselves, resulting in the thrilling brand of cricket that has seen them transformed from the whipping boys of four months ago to the force that they are now.bookmark me