Pie-chucker makes the critics eat their words

It has taken me forty eight hours to find the willpower to write something about events at Perth. I’ve been avoiding the Ashes since the first session of day two. I even avoided the news channels in case there was a sports update. And I’ve particularly avoided tattoo parlours that specialise in ridiculous and effeminate cherry blossom designs. The reason, of course, is that they remind me of Mitchell Johnson.

I could write something balanced and insightful about the third test but that’s not my plan (is it ever?). This post is my therapy pure and simple. It’s also going to sound like sour grapes … which of course, it is.

Basically, if a pie chucker hurls enough pies at a wall, eventually some of them will stick. Mitchell Johnson has had seven Ashes tests to sort his life out, and now – finally – he’s shown us he can bowl a bit. Three deliveries can change a test series. The balls that got Trott, KP, and Colly in the first innings did just that.

Johnson most definitely has the X factor – literally. Most of his appearances are so bad they’re comical. But the occasional superstar performance salvages his credibility and his place in his nation’s hearts.

It’s extremely difficult for a left-armer to swing the ball into the right-handers at pace. Johnson has the ability to do it. I would say he has ‘the skill’ to do it, but I can’t. He admitted before Brisbane that his only thought is to wang the ball down as fast as he can. Therefore, his match winning effort was more down to luck than judgement.

My bitter, nonsensical and overly emotional conclusion is therefore this: England were beaten by a loose canon who has little control over his game or his emotions. The problem is, of course, that blokes like Mitchell Johnson can be devastating on their day. If you run into them on those occasions, just try to accept it and hope it doesn’t happen again.

The problem for England, of course, is that we don’t have anyone remotely capable of blowing sides away. Tremlett would be a world beater if he was a yard quicker, but he isn’t. Anderson is a good swing bowler but doesn’t have the aforementioned X factor. Meanwhile, Steven Finn bowled like a Christmas drunk – he was all over the place.

The main problem, however, is the batting. The best analysis I heard at Perth was Bumble’s observation that England can’t bat on bouncy pitches. He’s right. However, I would go further than that. England can’t bat on pitches that offer anything for the bowlers full stop. We have been prone to collapse for years. Our big scores at Brisbane and Adelaide were compiled on total featherbeds. Most decent test teams would have done the same.

Just for the record, England have underperformed with the bat in three innings out of five thus far in the Ashes. If you include our last major series against Pakistan and South Africa, England have passed 300 just six times in nineteen attempts. It’s quite pathetic really.

The truth of the matter, therefore, is that our abysmal batting in Perth wasn’t entirely unexpected. What we are seeing at the WACA is a return to true form.

Before the series started most experts thought the teams were remarkably close. Both XIs have deficiencies. England’s main problem is their propensity to collapse, and their reliance on four good, but hardly world beating bowlers – and when one of them malfunctions, as Finn has done in this game, we’re exposed.

Australia meanwhile have a top order in decline, inconsistent seamers, and no spinner to speak of. This series has also proven that their selectors are bizarre at best. Steven Smith a number six batsman? Xavier Doherty a test class spinner? Don’t make me laugh.

Australia’s impending victory at the WACA has therefore got this series back on track. We expected the Ashes to be a topsy-turvy roller-coaster between two flawed teams – and that’s exactly what we’re getting now. Momentum will probably shift back and forth a few more times at the MCG and SCG because neither side is good enough to play consistently.

England’s best hope is to play Australia on more flat pitches. When that happens, our batsmen can actually score runs and Graeme Swann gives us the edge on the fifth day. I just hope the toss at Sydney doesn’t decide the Ashes – unless, of course, Andrew Strauss calls correctly. The Aussies would do well to prepare another spicy surface at the MCG.

James Morgan


  • Good article, if a little harsh on Johnson (though you do pay him at least one backhanded compliment). 

    The difference between the sides isn’t much. When the ball has moved of the straight both side have looked vulnerable with the bat. When it hasn’t batsmen have made hay – we’ve just tended to be in that position with our top 3 in, rather than Hussey and Hadin. 

    When the ball hasn’t deviated England’s bowlers have generally been more accurate hence why we’ve edged it till Perth. The other key point is that when Australia have sniffed blood with the ball they’ve killed England. Sidall in Bisbane and Johnson first up in Perth. Two good spells have ripped the heart out of England’s batting (I’m ignoring Johnson clean up the tail yesterday – yes yesterday). England’s bowlers failed to do that on day one – and cost us a first innings lead even with our miserable total.

    So, all in all, I wonder if the Aussie selectors might be vindicated at the end by trying to find the match winner with the ball… Few thought Siddall should play in Brisbane, and who would have brought Johnson back for Perth?  Siddall gave them a good position to force victory and in Perth it looks all but secured…

    As you say Morgs, England don’t have that match winning bowler – except for Swann who didn’t get a bowl till the afternoon session today – Australia do!

  • It’s amazing that all Sky’s ‘experts’ said Australia didn’t have the talent to take 20 wickets after Adelainde. Boy they’ve got short memories.

    Just for the record, the fact that Johnson was dropped at Adelaide, and the selectors almost didn’t play Siddle in Brisbane, proves they don’t know what they’re doing. Remember, they were also close to dropping Hussey too. The talk was that Khawaja might play. Indeed, he might have done if their promising batsmen had made runs in the A game in Hobart.

    Australia are going to win this game in spite of, not because of, their selectors. Picking a 5 man pace attack is wrong in any circumstances.

  • Can’t agree with your logic. They did pick Siddle who went on to take 6-for. They did pick Hussey who must be batsman of the series at the moment. Yes there might have been debate amongst the selectors but they got it right. As for Johnson? He was shocking in Brisbane. Everyone raised an eyebrow when he did not go and play state cricket and stayed with the squad to practice in the nets with, I presume, Troy Cooley who was roundly question for his role in Johnson’s form. Two weeks later he looks like the player who was the ICC cricketer of the year a while ago. So selectors 1, the rest 0.

    Yes Doherty was a mistake – but they wanted balance with a spinner. Just they haven’t got one, if you take their view that Hauritz was out. Should have Smith come in as a specialist batsman? Well he hasn’t done any worse… Not that counts for much.

    As for playing 5 quicks – Watson hasn’t bowled this match, they have just used the 4 quicks.

  • Oi. Stop playing devil’s advocate. Only we’re allowed to do that! It seems that your saying they’ve got some things right and some things wrong – which is kind of fair. However, if we’re keeping score I think they’re well behind on points.

    You are counting the decision to play Hussey as a major plus. My point is that Hussey is a brilliant batsman and only an idiot would ever consider dropping him. There should never have been a debate. It hardly takes a genius to work out that you shouldn’t drop your best batsman. Selectors 1, the Rest 0? I beg to differ. After the Hauritz, Doherty, Beer debacle, you could say it was a consolation goal for the selectors in a 3-1 defeat.

    I disagree re: Johnson’s recall being a big plus too. He only played at Perth because Bollinger, who was supposed to be bowling better, was so awful at Adelaide. Johnson had done nothing to justify a recall – as you say, he didn’t even play for his state. He should not have been dropped in the first place.

    The result in Adelaide might have been entirely different had Johnson played in the 2nd test. He is Australia’s match winner. He blows hot and cold. To drop him after one cold spell was insane. Recalling him for the WACA (thus reversing the logic of dropping him in the first place i.e. he needed to play state cricket, which he didn’t even do) was an act of desperation born of the fact that Bollinger had been so bad. You could credit them with fixing their original mistake I suppose, but an overall plus? I’m afraid I can’t agree. It could be argued that Johnson’s success at Perth vindicates those who believed it was wrong to drop him. I’m sure Johnson himself would look at it this way.

    The Smith situation also shows muddled thinking. Ask Khawaja, Ferguson etc whether they think Smith is a better batsman that them. In fact, we could ask any domestic cricketer in Australia and the answer would be the same.

    Meanwhile, Hauritz remains the best spinner in Australia by a country mile. His test average is even far superior to the domestic averages of his replacements. The problem is that selectors have got themselves into a tangle by over-reacting to the team’s defeat in India, for which Hauritz was made the scapegoat – and now they’ll look stupid if they recall him. It’s intransigence of the highest order – to the extent that they’d rather pick blokes with 5 first class games and a domestic average of 50 instead.

    As for Watson not bowling much in this match, it shows their bowling resources were too plentiful. Wickets weren’t a problem for them, but they struggled to score runs – making barely 300 just once. The team they picked had the wrong balance and was a batsman short. I hope they pick the same team again! They won the third test because England can’t bat on bouncy pitches – it had nothing to do with their team selection.

  • But I learnt from the Master, sir!

    In the end I expect we’re both right in part. Hauritz was a draft decision. Smith at 6 – even worse (North is still a better bet and there are better youngsters around as you say). Which leads to an imbalanced side. I think the Aussies went for a 4 man pace attack with Watson and Smith as options (Colly & KP?)

    I’m not sure on the Johnson debate. I take you line of argument but I do think that they deliberately kept him with the squad to work some technical issue with a view to him returning. Not the first side to leave out their match winner recently (KP, who did go and play but different people different responses)

    Let’s hope England’s selectors get it right…

  • MHA: Johnson’s success at Perth was a fluke, from a strategic point of view. No-one could have confidently predicted that, least of all Johnson himself. They picked him because they had no other options.


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