Friday, 22 November 2013

How The Hell Did That Happen?

Mitch Johnson came up short
Nothing is a certainty in life, which means sporting events, in their attempts to imitate life, can often be surprising. Apart from a few diehards determined to buck the system, 34000 of us were surprised at the Gabba on the second day of a series England was predicted to dominate.

None were surprised more than the eleven Englishmen that came and went, victims of uncertainty and bald aggression, for there was something brutal in the work of the Australians. At 2-82, chasing what would normally have been considered the incomplete work of wastrels, England looked to be cruising after lunch. Captain Cook for once had failed to navigate safe passage, as Harris found his outside edge. Jonathan Trott looked to be the lesser of the man he was when England last toured here. Still, so what? Everyone knew this was a formidable batting lineup ... and so it is but not by any reputation stemming from what followed.

Lyon came on from the Stanley St end and bowled the first of three consecutive maidens. Harris swung around to the Vulture St end and all hell broke loose. Six wickets fell for nine runs in ten overs to a combination of Harris, Johnson and Lyon and the Gabba was in din. Pietersen's departure, perhaps underlining the two paced nature of the pitch by lifting a ball from his pads to Bailey at mid wicket, was helped to the sheds by at least half the crowd pointing the way. The other half were English. Bell and Prior went from consecutive deliveries from Lyon which gained enough lift to slide from bats at waist level and deflect from their bodies to Steve Smith at short square leg.  Carberry, scoring only a single in six overs, appeared to lose concentration amid the carnage and edged Johnson to Shane Watson at slip. Joe Root ran up the white flag. Johnson was too quick and too dangerous for him and he played an even worse shot than Watson did yesterday. The youngster may have talent, but he has much to learn about the pace and bounce of  Australian pitches. Graeme Swan was Johnson's fourth victim, again intimidated.

Chris Tremlett and James Anderson did well to support Stuart Broad's rear guard action and the three of them added an additional 45 when it looked as though England may not avoid the follow on.

It was a staggering lunch to tea collapse which reversed the fortunes of this game. It would do well to remember that the series not long ago finished in England delivered similar consequences for the Australians when collapses of six and seven wickets in a session took games away from them that they otherwise had competed in.

Mitchell Johnson was buff and aggressive, doing exactly what he was bought into the side to do ... he bowled fast ... faster than anything England sent down on the first day. He genuinely scared the Englishmen. Terrified some of them. Root for instance. Harris was the better of the two. His line better, his length varied more effectively. Johnson over did the short stuff but Harris got it just right. Peter Siddle stuck to what he knew best and kept England under pressure with line and length and Lyon was the surprise. Perhaps a little quick through the air at 90 kms/hr, he slowed the English down for long enough to make the batsmen keener to take risks that were low percentage.

Backing them up, the fielding was first rate. Smith held three catches, Bailey and Haddin two and apart from a Siddle return catch which was bungled, everything was held.

Warner and Rogers kept the pressure on
as the nervous fathers in our group shared binoculars to check on their sons elsewhere in the ground - somehow forgetting their own passage through earlier times. Australia began their second innings 159 in front. During what was left of the final session, England managed to bowl 22 of the 24 overs required of them but never at any stage did they look the threat they posed yesterday. David Warner played his second good hand for the match, running quickly between wickets and pressuring the bowlers. Although never appearing to be tearing the English apart, he still scored at a decent clip, with nearly 75% of his runs coming on the off side. England, in trying to avoid his hitting over the on side, forgot how effectively he drives and cuts. Rogers was the model of great defence, the perfect foil for Warner. He may have only created seven scoring shots in 77 deliveries but he never looked likely to start any potential collapse.

Cook ran out of answers too soon. He is developing a habit of doing so.

With rain forecast and likely to intervene over the next two days, these 224 runs of advantage are precious. To have them after two days - the first two days of the series at that - is better than anyone expected.

On the credit side, regard must be paid to the Barmy Army and the other brothers in English Arms. When the worst of things were happening, they sang loudly and proudly in order to stir their team, to rouse them from a demise which came anyway. No fault of their supporters. Jerusalem was bellowed with pride and then their signature tune. During the day they were vastly entertaining and clever and amusing. They were as our spectators once were: Sydney's Yabba among them. Instead, all that could be offered against them was aggression and crudity. There is no wit left in Australian crowds, just boorish louts with ugly mouths and no brains to drive them.

Give me a seat with the Barmy Army any day.

Cook must find a miracle. Rain won't be enough.