It’s fair to say that the first three days at the Gabba have opened a few eyes, not just in 51allout Towers but across the world. Suddenly those people predicting a 5-0 victory for England – we’re looking at you Sir Ian Botham – are looking even more foolish than normal, with the tourists staring down the barrel of a heavy (and well-deserved) defeat. That is, unless Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell can conjure up a couple of astronomically large partnerships or the weather gods once again decide that trying to sink Brisbane underwater is a good way to pass the weekend.
It’s easy to point the finger of blame in the current situation. We did it only yesterday, with James laying the blame for England’s catastrophic first innings firmly at the door of Graham Gooch. And it’s hard to argue with that viewpoint when Jonathan Trott appears to had some sort of batting lobotomy. But we’ re going to take an alternative viewpoint and, in an unprecedented move, actually praise Australia.
One of Australia’s main problems in the (English) summer was a complete lack of continuity. Openers came and went, Watto wandered up and down the order like a lost child searching for his mother and the bowling attack changed in every single match. And yet, by the end, more through luck than judgement, they stumbled across a batting order that makes at least some sense, even if it is still rather dysfunctional.
And while that batting order can’t be said to have completely fired in this match, there has still been enough to set up the platform for victory. Which means that, for the first time in perhaps more than a year, there won’t be any debate about the top seven for the next Test.
Meanwhile the real success has been with the bowling. Ryan Harris remains a pretty decent bowler – not exactly a controversial opinion after his performance in the summer – but it’s been the performances of Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle alongside him that have strangled England. In the previous Ashes series it became a matter of just seeing off Harris and then tucking into whatever else was served up; here there has been no such escape. With pressure building in both innings England have mentally crumbled, a point evidenced by Kevin Pietersen’s nonsensical Red Bull single that should have resulted in Alastair Cook being run out by a mile.
It helps that Australia have some decent (although largely common sense) plans, plus a couple of bowlers touching 90mph. On a fairly flat pitch the extra speed makes all the difference, with the possibly of intimidating a batsman that England just don’t have, hence their fairly rubbish attempt to bounce out Michael Clarke in the second innings. Compare that to Mitch’s ruthless working over of Jonathan Trott.
Getting the basics in order doesn’t sound like much, but it’s made a huge difference to Australia. Meanwhile England’s problems that were largely papered over in the summer – the lack of an opening partnership, Trott’s descent into madness, Prior’s complete loss of form, the lack of a compelling third seamer – have festered largely unresolved before choosing the first Test of this series to rear their ugly heads.
Of course, we’re not dumb enough to proclaim the series done and dusted. England were similarly shambolic in Ahmedabad before fighting back to win the series against India. They are down, but it is far from over.