|The opening day and ordinary one|
In conditions that could not have been more perfect for the visitors, they put England onto their knees and then let them stand up swinging and did little or nothing about it.
This Australian team has been noted for the aggressive style of cricket they play under an inventive leader but yesterday at Cardiff, from the skipper down, they played like school boy amateurs. Instead, lead by the new core of revival which marks the direction of Andrew Strauss' "new England", Joe Root, it was England who played the aggressive cricket, rode their chance and accepted their lucky breaks and in doing so, won the day comfortably when they should have lost. Not even late wickets could mar a strong English performance.
Near total responsibility for the failure by the Australians o n the first day must lie with Michael Clarke. Sure, he cant bowl the ball for his bowlers but it was up to him to apply the appropriate tactical acumen to counter Root, Garry Ballance and Ben Stokes when they refused to be over awed and instead shoved the ball back across to the Australian side and asked them what they were going to do about. In most cases, they got no reply.
Clarke has been hailed for the inventive nature of his on field captaincy, which has often created opportunities but he not only failed at key moments to seize opportunities offered but he failed in the most crucial requirement of a Test captain by never mounting and maintaining pressure. Without doubt, the Mitchell's were dreadful on the opening day, with neither Starc or Johnson able to bowl a consistent line. They could be forgiven for erring on the side of a full length because the conditions and the ball demanded it but they couldn't place the ball on the same spot in the same way as the junior bowler, Josh Hazlewood did. It did mean that half of his bowling attack was completely ineffective but instead of demanding consistency and providing the opportunity for rhythm to develop, Clarke chopped and changed his bowlers, sometimes in spells as short as one over. Its an approach which has often bought success on bouncy wickets and hot days under the Australian sun, but Cardiff was overcast, cool and just perfect for swing bowling ... an art form which prospers from longer spells when bowlers can hone in on a spot and tempt batsmen. As any trundler will tell you, two overs under those conditions are an indication of a captain who lacks trust and patience and it rarely brings out the best in bowlers.
|Hazlewood was Australia's best|
Nathan Lyon was also very good but having benefited from an early bowl and a sign of his captain's confidence amid mocking from the media and the English team and then delivering a killer blow by deceiving Alastair Cook with bounce and turn, he was removed immediately and didn't bowl again until after lunch. Once again, Clarke was turning the wrong valves and allowing the pressure to dissipate rather than build.
Shane Watson, selected apparently more for his change bowling rather than his batting, didn't bowl enough or at the right times. When Starc and Johnson couldn't hold their line, he should have been the first Ghostbuster to be called. It was, according to coaches McDermott and Lehmann, why he was in the team. When he was eventually summoned, he looked better than the left armers but again, was discarded too soon. If his fitness means he cant bowl in spells longer than three overs, why is he playing?
|Haddin drops Root second ball|
Hazlewood and Lyon were positives on a bleak day, as was the Australian fielding, Haddin aside. David Warner snared a beauty low and coming forward in the gully which opened the early breakthrough and even when the best of the Englishmen smashed the cover from the ball, the fieldsmen did their work cleanly.
|Joe Root was all elegant drives and|
England came to Cardiff with intent and a plan to attack. They were good things to bring to the table and have set the tone for what may well be a much closer series than many have predicted. Much depends on what Michael Clarke can answer with. Hopefully, his further decisions will contain some prudence and pay homage to the concept that pressure wins Test matches as often as instinctive brilliance. You can't make the latter a successful tactic without the former.
Finally, let it not go unsaid ... oh how Australia missed Ryan Harris yesterday. With smarts lacking from the captain and half of his bowlers on day one, a clever and tenacious bloke like Harris would have been a valuable commodity. Perhaps now, those who have sneered at the thought that Harris was the leader of the Australian attack and not Johnson, might reflect on the difference his absence made yesterday.
Postscript: Commentary moment of the day belonged to Michael Vaughan. When asked about Adam Lyth, a player Australians have seen little of, Atherton explained that Lyth was an aggressive batsman who kept it pretty simple. "He's not the sort of bloke you would want to have on your trivia team." Gold Athers!