The left arm fast bowler turned the match around so swiftly and vehemently that by draw of stumps the same day the hunter had become the hunted.
By Partab Ramchand
You can never write off the Aussies and a cornered Australian is a most dangerous proposition in world cricket. That has been their reputation for long and we have had several graphic examples of Aussie fightbacks that are part of the game’s folklore. But somehow with the Australians in decline even this reputation took a dent. Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat was a typical Aussie trait but these days it was thought that they were more likely to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory – the events at Mohali some three months ago being perhaps the prime example.
But no, it appears that even in decline you can write off the Aussies only at your own peril. Here they were midway through an Ashes campaign looking as confused as headless chickens. They were down and seemingly out. An English team their fortunes on the upswing and looking the picture of confidence first scored a major psychological point while drawing the first Test at Brisbane and then appeared to make sure of retaining the Ashes with an emphatic victory in the next game at Adelaide. Only one win and England would make sure of winning the urn `Down Under’ for the first time in 24 years. The champagne bottles were ready to be uncorked even as the obituaries concerning Aussie cricket were being written. There were three more Tests to go but the series as a contest was all but over. An England team on the rampage seemed too powerful for a weak home side and a dithering Aussie selection policy did not help.
There was little to suggest till the morning of the second day of the third Test at Perth that there would be any change in the scenario. The pattern had been set and it only remained for England to tighten the screws. The scores read: Australia 268, England 78 for no loss. Would the fate of the Ashes be decided before Christmas? It’s not unique, it has been done before - only it was the Aussies who delivered the killer blow.
And then it happened! The script underwent a sea change thanks in the main to a spell of bowling that Ricky Ponting was to hail as ``one of the all time great Ashes spells’’. In the context of what had happened before – and perhaps in the context of what is yet to unfold – the Australian captain was not being hyperbolic. Mitchell Johnson at one time the Aussie pace spearhead but now down in the dumps after being dropped for the second Test following a nightmarish outing at Brisbane proved why he is among the most destructive pace bowlers around. The left arm fast bowler turned the match around so swiftly and vehemently that by draw of stumps the same day the hunter had become the hunted. The batsmen – led by that incomparable fighter Mike Hussey – helped to consolidate by which time it was only a question of when Australia would win the Test and square the series – something they accomplished in double quick time.
I had mentioned in my preview of the Ashes series that ``while I normally love sticking my neck out this time all I will say that is that it will be a close series with the contest probably hinging on events in the final Test.’’ This prediction could well come true but certainly there were moments during the series that I was in danger off being far off the mark. After taking the lead at Adelaide England just needed one win to make sure of retaining the Ashes till the next time the teams meet in 2013. Now however the series like the best tradition of Ashes contests is very much alive. The best thing that has happened is that the teams go into the fourth Test at Melbourne starting on Boxing Day all square with everything to play for. And if that continues to remain the position till the final Test starts in Sydney in January the series could well be the stuff that dreams are made off.