Another thoroughly professional performance from England as they comfortably chased down a mediocre Australian total with a minimum of fuss. The long-awaited return of Mitchell Johnson brought the hilarity we hoped for, as a series of no-balls and free hit boundaries got the home side off to a flyer from which there was no way back for the tourists. Pointing out that Johnson actually bowled reasonably well apart from those aberrations is akin to suggesting that Harold Shipman was a decent GP, apart from murdering more than 250 of his patients.
England have been so good over their recent run of ODI success – this was the eighth successive victory in the format – that it’s slightly disturbing to realise that there’s still considerable room for improvement. The fielding wasn’t at its best, with four catches put down and a couple of missed runouts, while conceding 25 extras was absurd. And yet Australia were still restricted to a below par total thanks to a strong performance from the bowling attack. Ravi Bopara hasn’t really contributed that much with the ball over the years but, in tandem with Graeme Swann, he completely throttled the Australian innings throughout the boring middle overs, with the wicket of Michael Clarke being the icing on the cake.
With the bat, Ian Bell’s rebirth as the greatest ODI opener in the history of the game continued while Bopara made a fine, unfussy 82 before deliberately running himself out to get first dibs on the post-match drinks in the changing room, not the first time he’s pulled that particular trick. Eoin Morgan is another enjoying something of a renaissance, with a rapid 43* to remind everyone of his importance to the side in the post-KP world.
The feeling remains that England are a batsman light with Craig Kieswetter at six and Bresnan at seven. If the top order continue to perform like this, it doesn’t seem as if that theory will actually be put to the test.
[Editor’s note: in the name of Anglo-Australian relations, and because we couldn’t stop laughing at Mitchell Johnson’s comical return to international cricket long enough to actually write anything down, we invited Matt Larnach to provide an Australian view of the away side’s travails]
This was always going to be a series that featured a fair amount of experimentation from Australia. Unfortunately for them, they seem to have forgotten to fill the players in as to what their actual roles are from game to game. After David Warner’s early dismissal Shane Watson, Peter Forrest, Michael Clarke and George Bailey all tripped over each other in their rush to anchor the innings. The outcome was that the Australian run-rate in the middle overs degenerated so badly that we’re sure it actually started going backwards at one point, and the final total was about 30 to 40 runs shy of what it should have been.
Matthew Wade was supposed to have played the cavalier innings that was so sorely needed, but the poor sod seemed so confused after his frequent jaunts up and down the order he entirely forgot what he was supposed to be doing out there. Steve Smith would have had no such issues, but the selectors wisely decided to leave out the one genuine late innings player in the squad. That decision, incidentally, was supported by one member of the 51allout team, who dared ask the question, “what is the point of Steve Smith anyway?”. It’s an opinion he will no doubt be wary of expressing openly again, if he can remember the incident at all after he wakes from his coma.
With the ball there’s not much to say. At least at Lord’s the Australians looked to have a clear plan (unfortunately stymied by their usual trick of losing their heads during the last ten overs) with each bowler bowling his full allotment of overs. Here the ball was just chucked to anyone and everyone in the desperate hope that it would stem the tide. Obviously the gambit didn’t work terribly well. Bringing Johnson back after ten months on the sidelines was a poor choice as well. He would be better off bowling at lower quality batsmen for a while to get his confidence back, before being subjected to anything resembling proper cricket.
The series now moves to Birmingham on Wednesday, and with the English now believing a 5-0 whitewash, and the ranking of the world’s number one ODI outfit, is entirely within their reach, most are conveniently forgetting their earlier derision of the series taking place at all. Of course, just to dampen the enthusiasm a little bit, it’s worth pointing out that peaking the year after a World Cup, and three years before the next, is probably not the wisest of moves.
England can be expected to field a similar line-up as they did here, as they do admittedly look to be gelling into quite the formidable outfit. Who knows what the tourists are going to do however. In their desperate attempt to find a line-up that works they may even be tempted to dust off the old ‘reversed batting order’ trick from the Bradman era. James Pattinson will probably get a run, most likely at the expense of a tiring Brett Lee, but otherwise it will be largely more of the same from the tourists. Which, coupled with the fact that no Australian player managed to make it past the first round of Wimbledon, will probably create legions of new cycling fans, as they instead switch over to watch Cadel Evans guide his chiselled chin to Tour de France glory.