By Partab Ramchand
A moral victory at Brisbane followed by an emphatic innings win at Adelaide. England are looking increasingly unbeatable and with three Tests still to be played it does seem Mission Impossible for Australia to regain the Ashes. After all even if they win two of the remaining matches there is no guarantee that this will suffice for them to bring the urn back home.
The series started with one team’s fortunes on the upswing and the other in decline. And what has happened so far in the Ashes series has proved that Australia just doesn’t have the personnel to lift their game. The batting is vulnerable, the fast bowling is woefully short of international class and the spin attack non existent. It is now clear that the Aussies are heading for the kind of slump they experienced in the 80s following the retirement of several stalwarts. After all the scenario is much the same with one world class player after another retiring in the last couple of years and as is well known they cannot be replaced overnight. Rebuilding is required and Australia are in the midst of that painful process at the moment. They have slid down the rankings from No 1 to No 5 and are bound to languish around that position for some more time.
If the batting presents problems the bowling is a major headache. Nothing symbolizes this more than the fact that England have scored 1137 runs over their last two innings and lost just six wickets. Centuries, two double hundreds and a brutal mauling of the Aussie bowling has left them in a state of shock from which there could be no recovery. Even in the days of Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Hammond and Hutton, May and Cowdrey, Dexter and Barrington never was the Aussie bowling dismissed so contemptuously. The fact is that they just don’t have adequate replacements for the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and with Mitchell Johnson going through a horrid phase it is nothing short of a pop gun attack. Indeed it is quite difficult to believe that Peter Siddle kicked off the Ashes campaign with a hat trick. It suddenly seems so long ago.
That the Aussies lost three wickets with just two runs on the board on the first morning – their worst start for 60 years – symbolizes their batting woes. The failure of Ricky Ponting to get among the runs has hurt the Aussies hard. Consistency is lacking and the fact that Hussey and Haddin had to come up with a rescue act by figuring in a double century partnership for the sixth wicket in a way sums up Australia’s batting woes. It was always on the cards that Graeme Swann would be a match winner. He is clearly the best spin bowler in the game today and given the Aussies’ vulnerability to off spin his five-wicket haul at Adelaide is not surprising. The England pace trio is also bowling with greater heart than their Aussie counterparts while the selectors’ continued faith in Xavier Doherty is quite inexplicable especially with Nathan Hauritz fit and available.
Oh yes, there are concerns aplenty for Australia and they have a week to address them before the next Test at Perth. But just what they can do to avenge their first innings defeat in an Ashes contest since 1986-87? Change their batting order? Go in for an overhaul of their malfunctioning pace attack? Recall Johnson and Hauritz? The fact remains that whatever they do they don’t stand much of a chance against a supremely confident England side. Their resurgence is continuing symbolized by Kevin Pietersen’s return to form. That was the last thing the beleaguered Aussie bowling line-up would have wanted. The swashbuckler supreme was under a cloud, he had not got a hundred in 21 innings and his career average had fallen from just over 50 to 47. But his buccaneering batting has a demoralizing effect on the opposition and this is exactly what happened in Adelaide. One wonders whether the shell shocked Aussie bowlers will be the same again.
England’s 100th win in an Ashes encounter has raised the proverbial hornet’s nest. The critics `Down Under’ already cynical are becoming even more acerbic. It will require an Aussie fightback of the good old days when they reigned supreme if they are hoping to come back into the series and to be candid this seems as unlikely as snow falling in Chennai. Defeat seems to have become a habit for them. All the visitors have to guard against is complacency and Andrew Strauss could well become the first England captain to win an Ashes series in Australia since Mike Gatting 24 years before.