|Four days in Cardiff|
England made a dream start to their home campaign to regain the Ashes and in doing so, restore faith in a new direction built on the ethos of team and not the spectacular deeds of individuals. Gone was the adherence to the cult of personality which had previously been the yeast which rose England to the top of world Test cricket a few years back but collapsed disastrously in the UAE and Australia soon after, when improper kneading had failed to take the hot air from individuals.
Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook have the first but not the last laugh over Graeme Swan, Kevin Pietersen and the assembled media who have so vehemently criticised selections and team management. The cult master,Andy Flower, has been excised from the England ranks and what has replaced it is as old fashioned as the Pennines, a great spine of a thing which stands firm down the very centre of Great Britain.
|Joe Root - man of the match|
Root was England's star, scoring heavily, catching brilliantly and even taking late wickets as the quicker men tired from their toil. He even managed a school boy giggle as his King Alastair (previously known as Captain Cook) lay grovelling from juggling one two many balls. In the forty five minutes of KA's absence, he even captained well ... as one would expect of a Prince.
The maligned English bowling attack - rated as lesser mortals even in these pages - were superb. Their control, their patience and their adherence to plans for each opponent were delivered to masterful perfection. The seamers were the heart of the attack, bowling in what modern parlance refers to as "channels" - perhaps in this instance English channels in which they drowned the Australians. There was no panic when Smith attacked, no distress when Rogers used all of his experience to reach a fine first innings 95 and no looks of exasperation as Warner escaped their early attempts on the fourth morning and blossomed. They never re-grouped for they never ungrouped. This was a solid, thoughtful and concerted approach to the problem of how to bring the Australian batting machine down from the heavens to stand judgment from peers.
By contrast, Australia were woeful, collapsing under pressure and bad management. Their contribution to losing the game was as great as England's pressure to win. On the first day, they had exactly the start they required with all of England's best cards laid bare but a failed catch by Haddin the subsequent panic and failure to interpret the conditions by their skipper Clarke, doomed them before two sessions were exhausted. By tea on Wednesday, the match was decided.
Time and again on that first day of the contest, Clarke whipped bowlers on and off in response to English counter attack. Quick rotation of his bowlers is a particular style of his captaincy which has met with considerable success but here it was a glaring inflexible policy which failed to grasp the need for Starc and Hazlewood to bowl longer spells to understand and adjust to the conditions. They couldn't control their line or the extra swing of the Duke ball because they didn't get enough consecutive deliveries to do so. Like Bill Lawry years ago, this was captaincy by numbers, where two fours in an over condemned a bowler back to a fielding position to smart and mull over his captain's lack of confidence. Then there were brain farts which removed bowlers who had broken through at the start of spells. In the first innings, Lyon was thrust into the attack early and removed Cook in his second over, only to have the ball taken off him at the end of the over and not returned until after lunch. In the second innings, Hazlewood came back mid innings, removed the dangerous Root with the first ball of the spell, bowled a wicket maiden, went for three in his second over and was replaced by a hobbling Starc.
|Impatient, restless captaincy|
There were some highlights. Mitchell Johnson got better as the game went on, bowling well without even the slightest luck in England's second innings and then batting with equal supplies of skill and guts on the last day when others wilted. He will be even better at Lords. David Warner's second innings showed perspicacity and focus, wafting at balls like flies at a summer bbq in the early stages but fighting on till misjudging the length of an otherwise innocuous Moeen Ali wobbler just as his hunger pains had set him to automatic on the stroke of lunch. Josh Hazlewood was impressive with the ball but fielded better than most tall fast bowlers can and showing continued form with the bat. Steven Smith showed enough to think he will score runs in England if he has the class to think about what went wrong at Cardiff and take the game back to England. Chris Rogers set the tone of how to counter the English in the first innings and was out to a cracker in the second.
The glaring worries for Australia are Starc and Haddin. Its hard to imagine Starc being fit for Lords which means their third choice for one of the seamers spots, the long serving and loyal Peter Siddle, will likely return. None try harder and his bowling coach will know that if on his game and used well, he is exactly the type of bowler Australia lacked in Cardiff. If there is no Harris, there must be Siddle.
|Haddin - footwork slow and indecisive|
The only obvious question mark leading into Cardiff was Watson but this has been resolved once and for all. His batting in the second innings was full of merit and courageous but he was a drowning man. Favoured over the younger Mitch Marsh on the grounds of his bowling, his captain gave him only thirteen overs as England made merry and removed him quickly, as though allowing him the ball had only been a courtesy. He has played his last Test. He failed one last time to live up to great expectations and he will forever be a man lost to his own demons of self-doubt. The greater failing was that of the selectors to seize the day and play Marsh ahead of him.
England have the ascendancy and in it's place, Australia have injuries and the loss of confidence such a poor performance gifts you. Clarke, having led his team to despondency must now show his mettle and bring them back.
Funnier things have happened. After all, it sport right ... not life?