Men against boys. Here was the day which demonstrated the true dynamic between these sides. Three sessions of play which held the Cardiff banknote up to the ultra-violet light, and revealed it to be counterfeit.
Tellingly, Australia did not blow England away. Rather, the visitors slowly crushed the hosts in their merciless vice of authority and confidence. England did not play particularly badly, either today or on the first two days. And yet Australia are light years ahead. That tells you all you need to know.
The new balance of power was best indicated not by a flurry of wickets, nor Steve Smith’s innings, but by the way David Warner and Chris Rogers set about Australia’s second innings, after tea. Barely breaking sweat, and exerting almost total control over proceedings, they eased their way to a three figure opening stand.
There was an inevitability to their progress, which bore a cocksure serenity an English opening pair could never match. The Rogers-Warner partnership was, to them at least, the restoration of a natural world order. It illustrated exactly why Australia have been superior to England since November 2013. Michael Clarke’s side have greater force of personality. They have deeper, stronger, confidence. And they have far more – to use the word again – authority.
Allied to skill, these are the qualities which generally win five-test series. By contrast, a manifesto pledge to play ‘an attacking brand of cricket’ is only words, an aspiration. In this match, Australia haven’t needed English-style corporate mission statements. They’ve just batted and bowled.
I know what you’re going to say. England haven’t even lost this match yet. They are still ahead in the series. Even if they are defeated here at Lord’s, the pitch and a crucial toss will be mainly to blame. Cardiff proved the side can not only live with, but beat, the Australians.
Look into your hearts, though. What do you really think will happen? This match is already leaving deep scars on the England player. They have lost eight of the nine sessions, and each one is corroding their self-belief and self-esteem, reinforcing their inferiority complex.
After Cardiff, a few hyperbolic comparisons were already being drawn between this series and 2005. To my mind, England should be more mindful of the example of 1997. That year, we won a commanding and emphatic victory in the first test, albeit with a little help from the pitch, only to quickly discover – from the second test onwards – that it had taken place in a parallel universe.
Alastair Cook’s innings will be interpreted according to perspective. Supporters will describe it as the kind of contribution Cook was invented for – adroit, patient, tenacious, resilient. Others will point out that his eagerness for a Lord’s Ashes century led Cook into a loose, ill-disciplined, stroke which cost him his wicket and hastened the side’s demise. Some other England players used to get criticised for that kind of thing.
England’s real bright spot was the performance of Ben Stokes, who grows in stature with every match. Barring major mishap, he will become a very fine player and potentially one of this nation’s great all-rounders. Stokes has a greater natural batting talent than Andrew Flintoff. Can his bowling get anywhere near as good?
Finally, my apologies for absence, the result of force majeure. As you may have seen James mention, I have been on paternity leave, and a little earlier than anticipated, after my daughter decided to get things moving, with precision timing, on the very first day of the 2015 Ashes.
As the aftermath has been rather more complex than expected, I’m not sure how often I’ll be around during the next week or two, but I’ll pop in whenever I can. Hope to see you all soon.