Initially and certainly for the casual observer, the ease of the victory points to one of world sport's greatest form reversals. Only a week ago, England had beaten an Australian side which played as badly as England played well. Their bowling had been smarter, their batting showed more application, they played to the conditions and their captain had done a much better job than his counterpart.
How do you account for this? How will statisticians look back at the results of these two games and understand the huge disparity of the two results. Was it the toss? Were conditions so much better in London than in Wales. Was it psychological, a team harmony issue or did it just boil down to the Australians disliking Welsh singing?
There is probably truth in most of the above but the core truth probably lies in other reasons that keen observers would have noticed over time - observers who catch every word, who look for answer in eyes rather than actions.
In the next twenty four hours, while the media praises in Australia and castigates in England, lavishing superlatives in the thesaurus equivalent of there being no tomorrow, the simple and bald facts of the matter are that Australia dealt with England in the manner expected of them. This was the Australia everyone expected to see in Cardiff. Did they demolish England: thrash them, annihilate, blow them away? Actually no. Australia simply brushed them aside like a waiter does crumbs in between courses in a good French restaurant.
|Dark days: homeworkgate & Mickey Arthur|
The victory at Lords was based on lots of things which all stem from two facts.
Firstly, Australia's performance a week ago was bad but not a disaster and the players believed that. It was there in their post match comments after Cardiff and pre-match comments before Lords. As Mitch Johnson said in the minutes after the victory at Lords, no one panicked. The coach called it a hiccup. The captain called it a kick in the backside. The selectors did what was necessary and fate helped their cause. The response was measured, assured and based on the success this group of players has achieved in beating England, South Africa and India since. Whilst the media looked for disharmony - even during the Lords Test - the players gathered closer, fed of the resilience of the group and emerged from it convinced that statements made after Cardiff weren't spin but truths spoken with purpose.
Secondly, all of the above is down to the "Lehmann Factor". This seemingly happy-go-lucky, Shrek in human form, the man who lampoons himself even to his casual nomenclature, has the grit learned from the hard things which have impinged not just on his career but on his life.
For years he had an abundance of talent which lay unused at Test level because Australia already had playing opulence and his character didn't seem to fit with the unamused, austere professionalism of the Australia outfit. When finally given his head. late in his playing days, he showed all who doubted him of the error of his omission but with a humility and sincerity we have seen in recent years from Ryan Harris. As a self-decapitator, he is in the master class.
He also lived through the pain of David Hookes. He was there. He saw a mate's pointless end in the street outside a pub after a great day of cricket and a night of laughter and the serious talk of cricket tragics. Such things change a man, give him balance and above all else perspective. He brings that to his work. It's why he often says, "at the end of the day, it's just a game of cricket". He told Robert Craddock in a frank interview in early 2014 "It changed my attitude.I realised cricket was a game and life was more important. When you are at the ground you are driven by what you are doing but once that is done you can't change the past and you can't look too far forward."
From hard times comes resilience. From resilience comes perspective. From perspective comes contentment. Boof Lehmann is a man content with his life and just happy to be given the opportunity to shape others without them having to endure the pain of his own experience but with the insight to know that each man must find their own way. Responsibility over self is the first and most crucial step toward being able to work in partnerships. Selfish individuals may shine occasionally but Lehmann knows that each man should be more concerned with his legacy and the role he has played for his mates and to the greater view of cricket as a game: just a game.
At Cardiff, England were allowed to play the game they wanted: to hatch the plans they had to trap the Australians. They caught Lehmann's team midst the complacency of an outstanding month of cricket in the Caribbean and the early stages of an Ashes tour. Australia's only worries were a surfeit of quality players. As a result, the game was lost on the first day as the captain lost his way and his insight and forgot about his experience of playing and adapting to English conditions. From stumps on that day, the Australians have improved. They lost at Cardiff but it wasn't going to be a habit. England won and were surprised but behind the victory was a fair degree of luck. 50/50 decisions went their way. Root was dropped when England were on their knees and turned loss into profit.
The Australians played their best cricket at Lords. Apart from the last two tours to Blightly, they always have. Lords means more to them than it does England. After all, its a place where they play their domestic games and where they come for meetings. Its a place for business and corporate functions. For the Australians, however, all talk of playing here as being a highlight in their career and a good performance as the pinnacle. The word "special" is overused when Australians talk about the ground but, never the less, with total aptness. It's the place all Australians want to go, to experience at least once, even the fifth grade plonkers who collect ducks with a smile every Saturday.
|From thecricketragic's visit in 2012|
But its Lords and that's what makes the difference.
Australia were superb and England played as well as they could under the circumstances. Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes, courageous and full of fight in the first innings, were bumbling fools the following day, the inevitability of a defeat they didn't see coming falling upon them. James Anderson's twin brother subbed for him and wasn't anywhere near as good, constantly running on the pitch and bringing a smile to Nathan Lyon's face and two second innings wickets to his tally. Stuart Broad, close to their best at Cardiff, was their best at Lords. Like Stokes, he has ticker and he'll fight the Australians on any field at any time. Its why Aussie supporters love to hate him but will quietly admit their admiration for his pluck. The rest were at best disappointing and at worst awful.
|Root castled by Hazlewood|
Cook and Stokes apart, the English batting six are very vulnerable and it has been exposed in both Tests. Adam Lyth won't play at Edgbaston, Bell shouldn't and Ballance has flaws that the Australians will keep exposing.
The main difference between the sides will be the reaction to loss. Australia have quality cricket in their recent past, played for the last two years with only the visit to the UAE eighteen months ago as a shadow and based their confidence for Lords on that. England, by contrast, have been a side disturbed by volatile and/or damaged personalities, a captain low on the transfer of personal strengths to building confidence in his players and eventual changes to a management which had let rumblings fester. Andrew Strauss has put an end to it and Trevor Bayliss is the right man for the new direction but not in this series. England have played like losers for too long to break the habit and this loss at Lords, coming so immediately after such hope, will damage them and send them back along the well-worn paths of the last three years of ordinary cricket.
Australia don't leave Lords without at least one worry and some thinking to do on selection. The series isn't over and Chris Rogers retirement from the crease in the first overs of the last morning are a real concern. Dizzy spells so soon after a concussion, despite his apparent recovery during the rest of the day, are not to be taken lightly. Two weeks should not be enough time to ensure his health, nor a zeal to win again in Birmingham convincing enough reason for him to play. Shaun Marsh will want a long bat at Derby to make it easier for Rogers and the selectors to retain common sense.
|Haddin - a man of honour|
The ability to bat without responsibility and have a free swing at the ball in Australia's second innings will have done Michael Clarke the world of good. Voges needs some runs but both are likely to play a big innings sometime before August is exhausted. There is little else to tamper with.
thecricketragic, having sung these tunes before Cardiff, is mightily pleased to have had the Australians play true to form at Lords.
Now in the next day, I need is a good night's sleep, a strong cup of coffee and the company of some English friends.