Rod Marsh is a destabilizing force; a man of strong opinions and firmness of stance. His presence was like a bird of prey, its wing span overshadowing the Australian rooms, overshadowing the coach, overshadowing the captain, overshadowing the players’ collective.
Under that influence Australia, for the 3rd Test, made a series of catastrophic blunders before even a ball was bowled.
Another ‘green’un’ did indeed greet the touring party on arrival at Edgbaston. It had been raining for a week and the pitch had been constantly covered. The grass was left long and plentiful. Clarke said he’d never seen a pitch like it. Yet on winning the toss Australia chose to bat first. Cook could not have believed his ears nor the England dressing room their luck.. Anderson took 6 for 47 in 14.2 overs. Australia’s innings of 136 lasted two balls short of 37 overs.
Siddle, the one bowler in the camp ideal for these conditions was left out.
Cardiff had revealed the weakness of the Australian attack deprived of Harris; inconsistent in length and direction. The performance of the bowlers at Lord’s, where Australia took 20 England wickets for 540 runs, obscured the obvious, but should not have done so. Siddle would surely have replicated Anderson’s impact had he played. The selection gnawed at the roots of the Australian player’s confidence in their management. M Marsh who does not open the bowling at state level and who has no experience of bowling in seam friendly conditions and whose runs have been scored on hard, dry surfaces should have made way for Siddle. The old pros knew this and were dismayed.
And on top of this ‘their’ Haddin, available for selection, was overlooked, was cast aside, to their minds cruelly as well as unwisely. This was a group of players, a family, still scarred by the loss of their comrade Hughes, unsettled by decisions beyond their control. Nevill had done little wrong in benign circumstances at Lord’s, but Haddin, the players felt, offered what comes with seniority. He would have brought command and on-field authority to bowlers who were still haunted by Cardiff, stiff with doubt, incapable of withstanding the pressure of defending a total of 136.
Within a matter of a couple of overs in England’s reply, MacDermott, Australia’s bowling coach, was rushing round the boundary to support the wayward Starc. Once MacDermott had left the bowler’s side, Siddle took his place trying to steady him but from the wrong side of the boundary. At the other end, Hazlewood, sensing a swinging ball, bowled a fuller length and squandered the seam movement so obviously exploited by England.
Johnson removed Stokes and Bairstow with two deliveries banged in cross-seamed that rose like flying saucers, the seam rotating horizontally like Saturn with its rings. With the shine topside the resulting lift described an upward parabola towards the batsman’s throat. Yet to the disbelief of all, Johnson failed even to try to repeat such deliveries.
Even so, and with the bowlers squandering opportunities, England mustered just 281 runs. In conditions where the ball was jagging off the seam as well as swinging late the divide between the totals was just too great. England’s economy rate had been 3.5 runs, theirs was 4.5.
Australia’s second innings matched England’s first innings. Even without Siddle and Haddin they were not a mile off matching England. It was just that extraordinary misreading of the situation, that concession of first dig, the self-directed immolation, the trashing of a fragile team resolve.
The sound of England drinking winners’ piss echoed down to them through the walls.
All that fortune needed to throw at these players now, as they headed to Trent Bridge for the fourth encounter, was another doped wicket, Buggins’ turn at the toss and more bright ideas from the Chairman of Selectors.