This summer it has been a bit odd in the British Isles. The rain didn’t come down as expected when April set in, so much so that they were a few who thought that the BCCI made a mistake taking the IPL-2 to the showers in South Africa. Then the T20 World Cup too passed through without more than a drop on the horizon. As half the summer went by, there was only one question on many minds: where is that English rain and why hasn’t it wrecked a cricket match yet?
Finally the Rain-Gods heard us. With almost two out of five days at Edgbaston lost to incessant downpour, Australia’s hopes of leveling the series were, well, drained out. For rain may have saved them the Test, it certainly isn’t going to win them any.
The curator had termed the pitch as jelly, whatever that meant, for the only thing seen was ample bounce and some pretty soggy outfield. Ricky Ponting won the toss and elected to bat, which seemed to be the thing to do but only for teams that boast of two openers, not one.
In fact, it won’t be wrong to say that Shane Watson was any different from an Indian opening batsman in the nineties, making his debut on a foreign track. Now if the track was devoid of any movement or swing in the air, he would help himself to a half century, something which Shane Watson did in both the innings. But if there was any swing around, that same batsman would be gone first ball. Something again that Watson did in both the innings. He really shouldn’t be boasting about his opening prowess, this is not the IPL mate!
Come to think of it, the Aussies indeed chose a very strange team. All talk about the jelly-pitch aside, after taking a look at the strip, it was quite obvious that this was one place where Phil Hughes could have been given one more chance (he is after all no make shift opener) and that Mitchell Johnson shouldn’t have been. Instead, this was the pitch where Stuart Clark could have come in with all his bounce and straight line-bowling.
Even so, the Aussie attack seemed to have done reasonably well considering they restricted England to just 376. On their part, the hosts have been time and again guilty of not striking rich partnerships, letting the onus provided by any particular player fade away and then do some major rebuilding. That has been the story of their innings throughout the series. Truth be said, they are probably an innings away from a collapse for it is high time the Aussies had their share of the spoils. What then, will be there left for Strauss and company?
Quite simply, it is a matter of taking twenty wickets, whatever be the situation. And the one player who has been a waste in this cause throughout the series, if not the summer is Stuart Broad. In the second innings, England gave it all to take ten Australian wickets but they couldn’t do it. Every time an Andersen or a Flintoff or a Swann or an Onions won’t do it for you and at some point, a Broad has to raise his hand. It may be said that he did score a half century, thus playing his part but his primary job, again, is to take wickets and any runs scored are only a bonus.
Again it beats any body’s cricketing intelligence why Steve Harmison is only loitering around as a back up to the semi-injured Flintoff. Are they waiting for his complete break down? Really then, Harmison should just hang up his boots rather than wait for the series to get over for Freddie will play all the Tests. Imagine being an Australian player now and finding on the first morning of either of the two remaining matches that the burly all rounder is out, and Australia will surely come back roaring in the series. It is the effect that players like Flintoff - and their absence for that matter - have on the game, and Straus and Flower are intelligent enough to understand that.
For what it is worth Australia batted twice in the match and in the last four innings, only the second innings at Edgbaston was an instance where they looked the part, something they could build on just like their opponent at Cardiff, without making it dramatic though. While Ponting may have got a delivery rich enough to contend for the ‘ball of the decade’, the others haven’t really gotten their knickers in the right place. More so, Michael Hussey, for that man doesn’t know anymore where his off-stump is, shouldering arms twice in two Tests to dead-on straight deliveries.
And Hussey is exactly the reason why Ponting and his think tank should be worried about Marcus North. Almost nearing thirty, he looks solid when playing well, both pace and spin, but he is still in on the learning curve on the international circuit, and this stage of his as professional cricketer means that there might be more off-days than on. Either it will be an eyebrow-raising century off his bat (nearly), or a duck raising the hairs on Ponting’s neck.
What will also prick Ponting is that if he loses the Ashes a second time in England, the Aussie selectors have a ready made alternative available. They tend to make switches fairly quickly as seen from the Steve Waugh to Ricky Ponting transition. Pub has been doing quite a bit of growing up (read scoring tons) and if ‘the urn’ is indeed lost, one only foresees Michael Clarke leading Australia this coming summer at home.
Ponting, and Australia, have two matches to avoid the harrowing loss it is going to be. They need to turn up as they did at Cardiff and stop thinking about Lord’s or how they turned some corner at Edgbaston. Brett Lee should be fit for Headingley and provide them some much needed movement in the air thereon, as all they need to do is win one and draw one of the remaining two Tests. Get the batting clicking and stop making umpteen mistakes, tell Hussey where his off-stump is, send Johnson on holiday and win the toss and bat first, then grow on England’s mistakes!
Those are some of the things that Ponting should make a check list of, before going out for toss the next time around. And lest one forgets, Aussies, don’t do the rain dance!
(The columnist is a sports writer and Mobile ESPN cricket commentator based in New Delhi, India.)