There is no other way to describe the beating that Australia took in the 3rd Test at Edgbaston last week. And the causes for this apparent reversal of fortune from the ‘triumph’ at Lord’s were gross errors of management and selection.
Here are some thoughts:
First, the mis-reading of events at Lord’s. The talk of featherbeds has seemed to get the better of everyone. The Lord’s wicket provided bounce and pace. They were ideal conditions for Australian bowlers against England batsmen, many of whose technique has not been tested in such conditions.
The difficulties with consistency of length and direction that Australian bowlers, especially by the two left armers, had at Cardiff were forgotten. The middle order batting weakness was obscured by the two big hundreds from Rogers and Smith. Nevill batting 7 arrived at the wicket with score at 450 and followed this enjoyable batting practice with some comfortable catching courtesy of Lyth et al. Anderson feigned disinterest.
Australia moved on to Derby but seemed to fail to notice the rain that was making pitch preparation at Edgbaston ‘complex’ with the covers remaining in operation throughout the process. Arriving at the ground, Clarke commented that he had seen nothing like the wicket – the seaming track that England yearned for – yet the Australian High Command chose to leave out the experienced and accurate Siddle, for whom conditions were ideal, drop their Vice Captain, mascot and counter-attacker , Brad Haddin, and, to compound it all, decided to ‘have a bat’ in conditions ideal for Anderson, Broad and Finn. It was as if Australia were totally ignorant of the England v India Test match played on the same ground, the year before. But isn’t that what management and analysers are for?
What then was going on? Or what IS going on? Has Rod Marsh arrived with ‘ideas’ and worse still favourites? Sure there are reasons to question Haddin’s form and Watson’s technique. But what they have in common is membership of the old family business, which is now under new management. If so, England could not have dared hope for these changes and this disruption in the wake of their own dismal performance just a week before.
The Australian batting was woeful. England bowled very well, but the visitors’ middle order, starting this time at No 3, folded and only Rogers coped with the conditions. On the basis that England would bat in similar conditions, 225 might have been a decent score in the circumstances . A bit of grit and, of course, a counter attacking innings from Haddin might have got them there. As it was, the score board froze at 136 just as Napoleon’s advance had frozen at the walls of Moscow.
England arrived at the wicket with an opener whose bat doesn’t come down straight, a number 3 on notice that failure would see the end of his international career and great bowling conditions.
By Starc’s second over, with the ball being sprayed around like a garden hose in the hands of an infant on a very hot day, the bowling coach was dispatched to the fine leg to ‘support’ the bowler. He was followed rapidly by Siddle in his day-glow bib. At the other end Hazlewood found the conditions too helpful and adjusted his line rather than his position at the bowling crease with the inevitable result. (For a tutorial from Mike Hendrick, see this.)
The unpredictable left armers returned to their Cardiff form. On field the captain’s fielding positions and bowling changes became more and more bizarre, resembling those one might make facing a stand of 500 rather than when bowling on a wicket where a score of 150 might have been expected from England. Bell, the condemned man, escaped, the gallows. After a heart-in-mouth start he made a plucky 53 and left the noose that had been round his neck on a hook in the dressing room like a mislaid jock-strap.
England’s first innings ended at a mighty 281, a mammoth and intimidating lead of 145. The game was up. The retreat inevitable.
And finally, what of Johnson and Clarke? The former began Day 2 with two wonderful steeply rising deliveries that disposed of Bairstow and Stokes, and inexplicable decided that that was that as far as this kind of delivery was concerned. Wither Captain Clarke? And in the second innings, defending a lead of just 120 the Captain waited until England were well on their way to victory at 47 for 1, before bringing Johnson into the attack.
One has to ask whether these strange decisions and this poor bowling in wonderful conditions from the quicks would have occurred had the Vice Captain been on the field, organising the seam attack and steadying Clarke’s experimentation.
On the field, rout comes from disorder as much as anything. If morale falls away and capacity evaporates, it is more than anything a failure of command. It is hard not to imagine that players and management are now even more at odds. Lions and donkeys come to mind. But for management to make the necessary changes, it would have to admit their errors of the last week.
That does not seem likely.