Day 5 Comment
Australia reaffirmed their dominance by quickly dashing any hopes of a batting miracle this morning, leaving England with very little to take from this game into Friday’s crucial second test.
Now if this Ashes series is to really take off, England have to win in Adelaide. The result is even more significant than the first test. And England might find that the sense of occasion – though immense – will be less fraught then it was in Brisbane.
It’s a familiar situation for England and they know what needs to be done. The question is whether Flintoff can convince his men that they can do it; that they are capable of formulating a strategy that will press the Australians, and ultimately force a win in Adelaide.
As a guide to the psychological feeling England should be adopting here, let’s be introspective for a moment. I know how much I care about the England performance. I dream, analyse and despair over each ball in every test. So, look at yourself honestly. Do you believe England can come back?
I know I do, and here’s how.
1. Pick Panesar. It’s attractive to delude yourself into thinking that the mighty Monty would have made all the difference at Brisbane. He wouldn’t have. But he gives England control and an attacking option during those long Kookaburra 20-80 ‘middle’ overs. Anderson, though bowling well at times, was too inconsistent for a batting line-up of Australia’s stature. Monty should replace him at 11.
2. Win the toss. You could argue that one shouldn’t plan for things that are out of our control, but Harmy’s radar is beyond anyone’s control and yet we still plan around that.
3. Needless to say it, but bat, bat and bat. This means that Strauss will actually have to play himself in before trying to clear the world’s biggest boundaries with his almighty hook.
4. Open the bowling with Freddie. I have banged on about this for the last three days. Give your strongest bowlers the best possible chance with the new ball. It is for the same reasons that Australia prefers McGrath over Hussey with the new ball.
5. Think 2005 not 95. England are Ashes winners. They are a bunch of aggressive, gifted and tough players who thrive on playing attacking cricket. Through much of this test, England’s body language in the field was meek, lethargic and purposeless. On flat pitches, fielding sides have to work doubly hard to create pressure. This means disciplined fast bowling with occasional short balls that reach neck height, not regular waist-high long-hops.
6. Play on the opponent’s pressure. Australia had a 100-day countdown to this series. They have been subjected to boot camps and at Brisbane resorted to dispersing the Barmy Army around the ground and sending their trumpeter packing. They are obsessed. Their desire is feverish. Ponting almost threw a Trent Bridge-esque fit when dismissed for 196 and when Stuart Clark dropped Pietersen on the third day, he received withering glares and was ignored by his teammates. Australia has put themselves under huge pressure to reclaim the urn. If England could sustain a period of dominance and scare them; the Australian players, media and supporters have the potential to explode.
7. And finally, the elephant in the room, Stephen James Harmison. It is unfair of us to project our dreams on to him, but many have. He has to play at Adelaide, but must not become the distraction he did at Brisbane. If he’s not firing, use him as a middle over stock bowler. Set the field back and let him toil away for few runs. In Brisbane England wasted time and energy trying to get him right. Sky Sports spent more than two days demonstrating their split screen analysis of his bowling action. Every paper has put in their two-cents worth. It’s all a distraction. For now he should accept Dennis Lillee’s offer for a few coaching sessions. Lillee is the finest fast bowling coach in the world and a mentor to Troy Cooley, the coach who took England to Ashes success before switching sides. Now that nothing is expected of him, Harmison may roar in and win England the Second Test. But if he doesn´t, lets not spend five days talking about it.
The first test has been the worst of starts for England, yet they and the Aussies know that this series is far from over. Bring on round two.