2nd Test, Lords
Mitchell Johnson became the man who terrorized English batsmen and ended careers in the second half of 2013. For the first test at Cardiff, he looked more like the man whose career had almost ended on these shores in the first half of 2013. That he came back, intimidating moustache and menacing skip, only months later to become perhaps the most influential pace bowler ever to bowl in a series, is a testament to ruthless Aussie athlete spirit—of believing in greatness, and grasping it.
At Lords, on a balmy Sunday afternoon, Johnson, who struggled with his length at Cardiff, destroyed the English top order in a dizzying spell of pace and accuracy. He once again showed who the boss of this Aussie attack remained, given the emergence of Starc and Hazlewood over these months.
But cast this story back to the first day of the Lords test match. Though the bowlers managed to embarrass England over two innings on a flat pitch by taking the pitch out of the equation, it was the batsmen who defined this attack. England, carrying momentum from Cardiff, started the test by dismissing Warner cheaply on the first morning. Rogers and Smith then went on to not only stop them in their tracks, but amass a partnership so quick and prolific that there was only going to be one winner after that. Smith got his double century, and Rogers—ever the underrated Aussie opener—scored yet another fifty, but this time converted it into a century, and then a 150, narrowly missing out on a double himself.
The Aussies went on to make merry on a pitch that looked destined to kill test cricket. But then their bowlers returned to make a mockery of the English top order. Except for Cook, who battled through his own demons and soldiered on for close to six hours, none of the others could counter the full-pitched late-swinging strategy Clarke had entrusted his bowlers with. They were bowled out for 312, and Australia came out and batted as if they were playing in Bangalore again—scoring at 5 an over to extend their lead, and set England a quick target of over 500.
England had to survive 5 sessions to draw the match. They came in after lunch on the fourth day (Sunday), and Lyth fell to a peach by Starc, before Cook played his second loose shot of the match, falling to Johnson in his first over. Johnson smelled blood and went for the kill, while Mitchell Marsh—who is finally playing in place of Shane Watson—contributed with the crucial wicket of Ballance, in addition to the mega-crucial wickets of Cook and Stokes in the first innings.
The comeback was truly complete. In fact, it turned into a rout of sorts. England lost by more than 400 runs—not the first time they’ve been beaten at Lords by an overseas team recently.
Cook struggled for words later on, after watching his team collapse swiftly and end any discussions of a fresh new English summer. Despite their new-look ODI team, it has often been the case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ for the test team—who even won the opening test against New Zealand before losing the next one. This time, they have nowhere to run, because it is a 5-match series, unlike the New Zealand series, where they could escape the momentum by the abrupt termination of the series.
Only England is capable of such hot-and-cold cricket in a matter of a few weeks, as they struggle to establish their new identity. Such blips will occur, and their fans should be ready for more heartbreak after such a promising beginning. The Aussies seem to have rediscovered their mojo by simply bringing in two fresh pairs of legs (debut keeper Nevill, and all-rounder Marsh) to give their team a more balanced and young look.
My money is on a 3-1 Australia Ashes victory in England, with perhaps a match succumbing to weather. However, I’d love to be totally wrong about this.