Excellent England power into series lead

Following their remarkable recovery at the Gabba last week, England secured a superb victory in a dominant display against their Australian hosts in Adelaide. Records had tumbled in Brisbane as against all odds England amassed 517 runs, for only the loss of skipper Strauss (110). Alastair Cook compiled a masterful 235* and Trott was also unbeaten after hitting 135*. The pair shared a huge unbroken partnership of 329, ensuring England could claim a draw when defeat had looked certain with two days remaining; Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin having both smashed centuries in Australia’s 481 all out, replying to England’s first innings 260. The England second innings was in stark contrast as the batsmen dominated the bowlers, with Mitchell Johnson and debutant Xavier Doherty being hit for over one hundred runs and each remaining wicketless. As a result, the England squad travelled to Adelaide imbued with confidence and hoping for a more consistent display.

Having lost the toss and been forced to field, Strauss and the travelling “Barmy Army” contingent could not have hoped for a better beginning to the Test match. Disastrous running between openers Watson and Katich saw the latter run out by a superb direct hit from probably England’s least athletic fielder, Jonathan Trott. Anderson then delivered the unthinkable, dismissing Ricky Ponting first ball to spark jubilant scenes among the fielders following a smart low catch from Swann at second slip. Better was to come as Michael Clarke, who has looked vulnerable so far this series, was dismissed for only two, leaving Hussey and Watson with much to do at the remarkable scoreline of 2-3. This commencement to the Test set the tone for the rest of the match, and Trott’s run out should be seen as the catalyst that invigorated England. Despite a defiant 93 from Hussey and a half-century from Haddin, England dismissed the hosts for 245 with Anderson claiming 4 for 51.

England’s reply began badly as Strauss was bowled for just one, Bollinger picking up the first wicket following his return to the team. However, Cook and Trott continued from where they had left off in Brisbane with a partnership of 173 before Trott was caught off Harris for 78. His dismissal brought Kevin Pietersen to the crease. KP’s last Test century had come in March 2009 against the West Indies and there was some pressure on him, especially as he had not participated in the previous week’s batting masterclass. He proceeded to produce a masterclass of his own, an innings that only ended on the fourth morning, following 308 deliveries, 227 runs, 33 fours and one six. Ironically, the bowler who had supposedly been selected to dismiss him, Xavier Doherty, did so, but only after Pietersen had smashed a double century. Cook’s dismissal the previous day for a superb 148 saw useful contributions from Paul Collingwood (42) and Ian Bell (68*); indeed, Bell has so far looked in excellent touch. England declared on 620-5, about an hour into the fourth day’s play.

Thus began the difficult search for Australian wickets to secure victory. Watson and Katich began positively before Swann struck twice, to dismiss both Katich (43) and captain Ricky Ponting for just 9. Waston followed fairly shortly afterwards having hit successive half-centuries, but Australia were steadying the ship and England were becoming increasingly desperate for a further breakthrough when Strauss asked Pietersen to bowl his occasional off-spin. The gamble paid off as a stunning Cook catch claimed the vital wicket of Michael Clarke (80) with the last ball of the day, leaving England optimistic about their chances on the final day, despite a forecast of rain and a worrying injury to fast bowler Stuart Broad.

Early on day five it became clear that the injury to Broad was more serious than had been anticipated, with staff announcing that he was to miss the rest of the series with a stomach muscle tear. Yet, England’s remaining bowlers were well up to the task, wrapping up a magnificent innings victory in just over an hour. Mr Cricket (Mike Hussey) was removed early on attempting to hook a shorter delivery from Finn, before Anderson removed Haddin and Harris in successive deliveries, the latter for only the second king pair in Australia’s illustrious Test cricketing history. The writing was on the wall after Swann had the out-of-form Marcus North adjudicated lbw with the score on 286-8. Swann completed the match himself, clean bowling both Doherty and Peter Siddle to claim 5-91 and his tenth five-wicket haul in almost exactly two years of Test cricket. Remarkably, seven of these hauls have come on tours.

The defeat of Australia by an innings and 71 runs meant that the antipodeans suffered the ignominy of their first innings defeat in Australia since 1993, when beaten by the West Indies at Perth. Such a result evidences the enormity of the result for England who have made great strides in all formats of cricket in the past twelve to eighteen months. Part of this success can be attributed to the strong relationship that Strauss enjoys with coach Andy Flower, but also the emphasis placed upon playing positive, attacking cricket that has consequently meant the players enjoy the freedom to express themselves and produce their best cricket. Others might suggest that the ECB’s enquiry following the abysmal 2006/07 Ashes series is finally bearing fruit. Australian captain Ricky Ponting believes that the week-long break up until the next Test at Perth will benefit his players both physically and psychologically. If the media continue to chastise players as they did following the draw at the Gabba, then England may be facing a completely different line-up in Perth! Such infighting within a proud cricketing nation used to cricketing success evidences the sheer scale of what England have so far achieved, and they must now push home their advantage and not take their foot off the throttle.

It has been announced that North, Doherty and Bollinger have been jettisoned from the squad and replaced by Steven Smith, uncapped left-arm spinner Michael Beer and Mitchell Johnson with Ben Hilfenhaus expected to be the twelfth man. Such chopping and changing highlights the difficult situation that Australia find themselves in, and their desperation at finding the line-up to defeat a confident England side. Phil Hughes also comes into the side as Katich has an achilles injury, but it should be remembered that Hughes had an unsuccessful tour of England last summer and was dropped following the first two Test matches. There was even talk in the media of spin legend Shane Warne returning to the fold and this desperation should fill England with optimism that their opposition are in such disarray.

England themselves must contend with some selection difficulties. Stuart Broad has been ruled out for approximately two months and will be replaced by one of Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad and Tim Bresnan. In the three-day tour match against Victoria the English bowlers only claimed eight wickets, and Tim Bresnan was the only successful seamer hoping to replace Broad, with one wicket. Despite this, the wicket was sluggish and not particularly conducive to seam bowling whereas the Perth wicket is expected to provide pace and bounce. Furthermore, the trio were all fairly economical and will join a fearless England team buoyed by their success in Adelaide, something that the new Aussie recruits definitely cannot enjoy! Let’s not tempt fate, but this England side certainly has a fantastic opportunity to win the Ashes down under for the first time in 24 years.


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