A see-saw battle which culminated in a gripping finale made sure that the first ever Test at Cardiff left its imprint on the series, one which now promises to be equally sumptuous as the 2005 one. Two batsmen, certified number ten and eleven batted for around forty minutes to thwart the Aussies from taking a lead going to Lord’s and in essence, their partnership best describes what has been the story of this match. Grit and determination, which England lacked in their first innings and much of their second innings while Australia showcased how things ought to be done!
You take one look at Ricky Ponting’s face and it will be known that he doesn’t intend to lose another Ashes series in England. But as much as it is in his hand, it is but out of the hands of the hosts, if they continue making mistakes. Going into the series, many thought that England had the upper hand, though not by much. They won the toss and had the wherewithal to stamp themselves on a pitch that would have settled down after the first session. But the fact that they lost those three wickets in the first two hours of play meant that middle order was on the backfoot immediately after lunch, and they couldn’t afford taking false steps after that.
In that context, Kevin Pietersen’s shot against Nathan Hauritz was a horrendous error of judgement, and not only because the shot was poor, but because he and Collingwood had fought back nicely just to throw it all away. Further more also because Pietersen is the mainstay of this batting side, probably the only one who in the current scenario can change the match around, alone. And he did, providing the Aussies with a way to claw back in, after which, the tourists didn’t look back.
Talking of Hauritz, Ponting should give away his man of the match award to the off spinner. For his bowling performance is actually what defines the Australians’ in this one match, three wickets in the first laying ground for the four tons and then, three in the second bringing them close to a lead. Spinners are believed to be a dying breed Down Under and thus Haury, as he has come to be known, came into this game with no reputation at all. Instead he has come out of the first Test with not only those six wickets but also now as the most dangerous spinner in the two sides, giving flight and pitching in the right areas as he was.
This brings us to the English spinners. Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann were always supposed to threaten on a pitch that was slowing down as the match progressed, they did anything but that. Call it stage fright in Swann’s case, or lack of form for Panesar, England came up short in the spin department, which going by their previous three Test series ought to have been their strength. Especially since the same opposition struggled first in India, then against the Proteas and lately the Pakistanis in the last year or so, all good spin bowling attacks.
Australia knew they had to bat well in order to avoid batting last on a pitch that would turn bad on the fifth day if not ugly. And the way Simon Katich and his skipper went about their business, cutting out all mistakes, the English batsmen watching ought to have taken a leaf out of their books. They batted as men possessed, trying to leave a mark on the English attack, warn them of the sterner battles ahead.
And those battles came, as early as Marcus North’s arrival onto the crease. He has been an extremely good find for the Australians no doubt. But before we get too carried away, if there indeed were to be any comparisons, one would suggest that they have probably found another Michael Hussey. That simply means a player who has made his bones playing too much domestic cricket and now, on the biggest stage he can easily be an answer to their middle order problems. Remember, Hussey was one when the likes of Steve Waugh and Damien Martyn first exited.
Hussey along with Adam Gilchrist lower down the order had been effective for long and the same can now begun to be said of Brad Haddin’s contributions. Although there will always be a huge difference between a Gilly and a Haddin, the point is with Michael Clarke and Hussey coming in before them and Mitchell Johnson to follow, the Aussies have a solid middle and lower order to fall back on, in case of early blows. And they can all play spin quite potently, atleast the kind bowled by the English, so in that sense they hold the upper hand in terms of batting.
One certainly isn’t saying that the hosts who looked pretty neat before this game have suddenly lost that spunk, but they have been found out nicely by a potent Australian attack. Something the Windies weren’t able to do, or allowed to do, over a seven match contest earlier this year. And the bigger problem is that they have to make do with the same batch, or fall back upon the likes of Ian Bell and Robert Key all over again. The former option is a better one indeed.
This game was all about momentum. It shifted from England to Australia immediately after the toss, and they didn’t wake up again till the second session on day five. With Australia upping the ante, the ECB’s effort to change the venue from Lord’s to Cardiff almost came back to bite them. As one watched, the thought did come across that if the English can somehow stick around enough to save the game, maybe just maybe, they can muster enough inspiration to launch a truly good offense in the second test. A 0-0 score line is incentive enough!
(The columnist is a sports writer and Mobile ESPN cricket commentator based in New Delhi, India.)