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.