Same faces, different players – but an opportunity for England

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Chris Tremlett still LOOKS imposing...

Today was a nice little primer in how to approach Test cricket in Australia. It called for extremes. England didn’t really have any. It was all a bit fast-medium.

We blame Steven Finn for this. On England’s last Ashes tour, he was exactly the right kind of bowler for Australian conditions, but lacking three years’ experience. However, someone appears to have subtracted experience rather than adding it. Finn is less of a bowler now than he was then. And he’s the young one. He’s the one we were relying on to improve.

England have been left without a third seamer. In the first Test, they turned to Tremlett, who also fits the archetype for bowling in Australian conditions. For more understandable reasons, he too has regressed in the last three years. He now delivers little more than a nice bit of fast-medium.

The other three

Jimmy Anderson has other skills which mean he can get away with being fast-medium. However, they’re less relevant in these conditions and a man who is normally a strike bowler must therefore switch to being a support bowler.

But who is he supporting?

In both Tests, England’s third seamer has also been a support bowler, while Stuart Broad took two wickets for 80 when England triumphed on their last tour of Australia. Broad’s doing well, relatively speaking, but you wouldn’t build the attack around him.

Then there’s Graeme Swann. Like Broad, his contribution was fairly insignificant three years ago – 15 wickets at 40. Why should we expect earth-shattering performances now?

More worryingly, he too is showing signs of being less of a bowler than he was. He suffered in comparison to Nathan Lyon in Brisbane where the latter’s overspin was deemed to be advantageous and Lyon also looked more dangerous in his short spell today where the hardness of the new ball was floated as being a possible explanation for his apparent superiority. But how many exceptions does it take before what was previously thought to be the norm must instead be considered the exception?

Meanwhile, at the top

Is Alastair Cook all that he was? No-one seriously expects him to match his performances from the 2010-11 Ashes, but it’s also true that he has just endured a long summer as an Ashes captain and the best part of two days directing things in the field.

He’s a fantastic player, but he’s unavoidably compromised. That’s just the reality. Someone has to lead the side, Cook appears to be the best candidate and he simply has to try and minimise the impact on his batting. He’s still more than worth his place, but on balance he’s probably not quite the player he was.

Small changes

If all that sounds unremittingly bleak to English ears, it’s not meant to be. We’re talking about minor deterioration here. Small changes can make a lot of difference.

Take Mitchell Johnson, for example. With a year off and a bit of tinkering with a view to improving his accuracy, he advertently gained about 8mph in pace – not bad as side effects go. Suddenly he had a way to consistently threaten batsmen and this brought confidence, which brought relaxation, which then brought the accuracy he was striving for all along (greater accuracy at any rate – he’s still Mitchell Johnson).

Johnson is now quicker, more accurate, confident, determined and focused and Australia have the best bowler on either side – something they haven’t been able to claim with any confidence for seven years. While it would be going too far to say the team’s performance entirely hinges on this – Ryan Harris and Michael Clarke are fantastic players in their own rights – there is certainly a case for saying the team as a whole has gained confidence as a result of Johnson’s apparent transmogrification and that they have been able to play under less pressure as a result of his wickets.

An opportunity

But with so much of the team’s improvement hanging off Johnson’s pace, England actually have an opportunity in this match – a very, very big opportunity.

If they can take Johnson into his eighth spell (he bowls short spells), they will sap his pace in this Test and inevitably for the next as well. If that sounds unlikely, the sad fact is that they won’t have a better opportunity. The Adelaide pitch isn’t particularly friendly to fast bowlers, but it’s downright rude to those who deliver fast-medium.

How long will it take for Johnson to ebb to fast-medium? Who knows, but he’s not had a really heavy bowling stint in quite a while and if England’s batsmen can get to this point, Johnson’s brain should take care of the rest. He might even turn to the razor blade (for the ‘stache, obviously).

300-and-odd runs short of the follow-on would seem an odd position from which to launch an attack. It wouldn’t be so much launching an attack, however, as very gradually unveiling one. Good luck – you’re not exactly in prime position here, lads.


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    1. Au contraire, I found it to be quite an interesting thought. And very well written too. As professionals in any field, the best you can do is try to come up with a strategy to bring back the focus when times are tough. This piece should be made mandatory reading to the English team.

    2. In the assumption that’s not shot-through with sarcasm – thanks.

      And even if it is, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The page is looking a little feedback-light.

    3. It was well-written. And it’s a good point. I’m just so sick of players coming out after every awful day and saying “We’ve just got a bat long tomorrow”.

      Well, yeah. You do. But maybe, just once, you should say “We were outplayed. We have not been good enough. We have no excuses. We’re sorry for everyone back home who is losing sleep to watch this shower of excrement night after night.”

      Ok maybe not that last bit.

    4. I would love them to say that last bit.

      Test Matches in Australia are set up perfectly for watching in the evening over here, but I am not wasting any of my time on this useless shower.

    5. The relative lack of comments on this site during this Test match and the opprobrium being directed England’s way is quite surprising to us. We never took England supporters for being at all fairweather.

    6. I can leave plenty of comments if you like, but until England buck their ideas up they’ll all be whingey. πŸ™‚

      I don’t do the positive mental attitude thing. Why look for silver linings when they’re going to be losing by an innings again?

  1. Johnson was mostly this fast in his career, early and mid. Don’t know why he dropped down to fast medium for a couple of years.

    He’s nearly always shot it through at around 88-90mph in pyjama cricket.

    1. We’d agree he was fast back then, but after the subsequent lull he appears to have returned faster still.

  2. If England do follow-on, I have a radical idea — Pietersen opening the innings to take on the new ball and Johnson.

  3. It’s kind of a fancy way of saying that if England can get out of this with some ease it could turn the series. Think Faf du Plessis last year (and could happen in Dunedin today). With Bollinger and Coulter-Nile on standby in Perth it’s fair to say that Australia are think about this too.

    1. It’s more about giving specifics than saying it in a fancy way. Not so much ‘if’ as ‘how’.

  4. i dunno about fairweather, KC. i’m finding it hard to work up the enthusiasm to follow at all right now – and i’m not sure about anyone else, but in my case it has less to do with england losing (i really wouldn’t care *that* much if the opposition were any other (cricketing) country) than it does to do with the aussies winning. the fact of them winning so emphatically is almost unbearable, cos you just know what they’ll be like as soon as they’ve been back on top for five minutes: totally insufferable. just the idea of them belting out that fucking victory song of theirs is enough to make me feel ill πŸ™

  5. that said, with my working week at an end, i’m actually following the score live at the moment. a boundary!! that pushes the RR for the last ten overs back above 1… come on boys πŸ™‚

    two boundaries in three balls? that’s it i’m quitting while i’m ahead

  6. What Pietersen did was worse. I hate that forced shot to the on side. Well I like it when there aren’t two fielders there. But there was. And Pietersen has forced me to start a sentence with a but, which is wrong. Damn you KP. Damn you.

  7. We have now been on 111 for fully 15 minutes, And it isn’t lunch or anything. The cat has fallen asleep. That’s how bad things are.

  8. Nope I was wrong….how bad things are is Carberry out. Good catch as well from the man you love to hate Warner. Mainly because he seems a perfectly horrible individual. And he’s quite good at cricket. And he isn’t English.

    I want to swear so much right now (whilst writing messages to myself in the night)

    Stokes up

  9. I take it all back. Clearly this England team isn’t deserving of criticism. Boy, they’re a great side!

    Oh wait, no, they’re terrible. Maybe they’ll scrape up to 200 at the third time of asking. Maybe.

  10. From this point on my only interest in this series is Bell’s progress up the all time England run scoring records (he’s close to passing Thorpe, if you’re interested).

    The rest of the useless bastards can fuck right off.

    1. Bell and England are increasingly becoming reminiscent of Tendulkar and India in the 90s. They keep this up and you’ll soon realize why Tendulkar is God.

  11. i don’t want to talk about the cricket at all after getting up and seeing that news.

    the one thing i will say: it’s funny (…) how all the journos are suddenly falling over themselves to make it sound like this was inevitable, they always knew it was gonna happen (eng over the hill, time has come and gone etc etc). don’t recall any of them saying that before the series started.

    1. No, we’ve thought much the same thing. We’re also intrigued to know who’s past their best. No-one’s AT their best, but it’s hardly like they’re getting on in years.

  12. Who do you drop? Cook and KP are pretty much undroppable, Bell has been our only batsman for much of the year, and Carberry has been our best bat of the series. Which leaves Root from the batsmen, who has no idea where he is batting.

    Bairstow by all accounts cant keep, which means Prior stays. Panesar has proved himself no better than Swann since the heady days of India last year. And Anderson and Broad havent really done much wrong apart from bowling themselves into the ground because they have around 17 minutes between taking their bowling boots off and putting their pads on.

    Lets just switch the third seamer, that will work. Bresnan at Perth, Rankin at Melbourne and Finn at Sydney.

    How tempted must they be to just say “to hell with it” and call up Taylor, Onions, Compton and Kieswetter/Buttler.

  13. Can someone tell me how South Africa batted in the 4th innings in Perth to get 417 in double quick time. I think I have those figures correctly. They must have been really attacking to do that.

    Could it be that extra bounce and carry mean England can pull and hit rising balls right out over the top. Maybe their faults could be virtues in Perth?

    (Keen but ill informed)

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