Australia demolished England in the recent Ashes series, there is no other way to describe it. No England Batsman scored 300 runs in the five test series and only two bowlers took five wickets in an innings. Compare this to Australia where six batsmen scored over 300 runs in the series and they had a bowler take five wickets in an innings on five occasions; albeit it Mitchell Johnson achieved the feat three times.
Shane Watson has said that the turnaround justifies his comments after returning home from India after a bust up with former coach Mickey Arthur, saying that he is the happiest he has ever been playing cricket. It has been said that Darren Lehmann has worked miracles turning the team around and it is that allowance for the players to have some fun that has been the difference. As always though nothing is ever that simple.
Lehmann like all coaches needed some luck. What undoubtedly helped his cause was Mitchell Johnson finally living up to the potential that many coaches had been saying he had for years. Johnson’s bowling was truly awesome. It was fast, it was aggressive and the key word, controlled. Finally he seemed to be able to put the ball where he needed to and once he saw the results there was no stopping him, and the England batsman had no answers.
Yet all good cricket teams need bowlers to bowl in pairs and Johnson would not have been so effective had he not received strong support at the other end. Ryan Harris is a superb bowler of that there is no doubt, strong, powerful and intelligent. His bowling to wipe up the tail and win the final test showed that knowledge and expertise; Boyd Rankin could learn a great deal from that spell!
With Ryan Harris staying fit it took the pressure off the ever reliable Peter Siddle, and when called upon he too never allowed any of the England batsmen to get on top by bowling a good line and length. With the three frontline bowlers on top and wickets having fallen the pressure on Nathan Lyon eased, and at times he showed that when his confidence is up he is a more than reasonable test spin bowler.
Australia at times showed their vulnerability when batting and it was Brad Haddin who was undoubtedly the glue in the middle order, as he time and again stopped the rot. Had he been dismissed cheaply the series could definitely have changed and the 5-0 not been achieved. Despite confidence building centuries from all the top order batsmen, the reality is Australia’s batting still looks brittle when a bowling attack clicks.
There are two things that this series and the recent one in England highlight, the first was that without the midweek games of yesteryear between Test matches, touring teams have next to no time to help out-of-form players play themselves back into form. A batsman cannot have a knock against a state/county side and find his timing nor a bowler his rhythm. The other thing that is aligned to this observation is how both nations players struggled to adapt to the different conditions abroad; something that may well have been helped by some county/state games.
Many have said that the England batsmen’s technique was found wanting in Australia, and there is no doubt that the bowlers bowled too short or too full, but it takes a while to adjust that length and change your rhythm as a bowler and its best done in the middle rather than in the nets. Australia too suffered in England from a lack of warm up games to prepare adequately and adjust their techniques as batsman and bowlers. In England you cannot throw your bat at the ball with such abandon as you can on hard fast tracks in Australia. There is more movement off the pitch and in the air. The ball needs to be caressed and timed far more than in Australia where it comes on at pace.
Maybe a long way into the future touring sides will look to increase the squad size and when a test match is being played the “dirt trackers” to use a rugby term will play a midweek game against a state team or test team so that the back up players are ending form should there be a need to drop a player or an injury occurs; This is however highly unlikely, but for the fans players need extra games to find form both here and in England.
England can have no excuses, they were outplayed in every department, but where they lost the game was in terms of always being defensive. Australia came out in the first test with aggression and credit to Michael Clarke and his team they managed to maintain that aggression throughout the series. So much so they battered Graeme Swann into retirement, and when one cog in England’s four prong attack failed to work, Australia gained the ascendancy.
Lehmann no doubt did his preparation, he also gave his players a belief and a freedom to play their own game, but he was lucky he had a fighter such as Haddin in his middle order, and a fit Ryan Harris to act as the perfect foil for an inspired and menacing Mitchell Johnson. However as they say fortune favours the brave!
The acid test will be the next series against the World number one test playing nation, South Africa. Then we will see how far this team has really come.