The Ashes: Australia draw level on docile Lord’s surface

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]pearheaded by the pace triumvirate of Starc, Hazlewood and the inimical Mitchell Johnson, Australia decimated England’s top order to level The Ashes at Lord’s. The margin of defeat: 405 runs, was England’s fourth heaviest defeat in test match history.

Simply put, Australia were in control of the test from ball one on a lifeless, unresponsive track. From winning the toss and electing to bat first to blowing England away in 37 overs on day 4, England were on the receiving end of a polished, ruthless display from the tourists. In a vastly improved bowling performance, the Australian quicks hunted in packs; Starc and Johnson’s hostility and pace through the air providing the perfect complement for Hazlewood’s Mcgrath-esque accuracy – a seamer perfectly suited to the Lord’s slope.

Michael Clarke could scarcely suppress his glee after winning the toss on a glorious opening morning at Lord’s. His decision to bat first on one of the flattest Lord’s pitches in recent history under the beating North London sunshine was surely the simplest of his captaincy thus far. The next five sessions resembled a car crash in slow motion for England. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, a potent partnership in swinging Cardiff conditions were nullified by the uncharacteristically slow pitch and disciplined batting from Chris Rogers and Steve Smith who continued his blistering 2015 form. Only a handful of deliveries, notably from Broad, beat the outside edge of the batsmen and other than Bell dropping Smith on 50, England created very little pressure. Australia finished day 1 on 337-1.

England were on the receiving end of a polished, ruthless display from the tourists.

England produced a fightback of sorts on the second day in similarly batting-friendly conditions. Broad tightened his line and deservedly picked up first innings figures of 4-83, typified by his dismissal of the centurion Rogers who played all around a full straight delivery. Mark Wood’s pace through the air was notably down and his fitness must be a worry in such a gruelling five-match series. Anderson struggled again finishing with 0-99 and despite bowling 36 overs Moeen Ali was the complete opposite of penetrating. Australia pushed on and declared an over before tea on 566-8 after Smith had completed his double-century.

Australia batted sensibly but England’s batting management on such a benign surface lost this test for the hosts. Once again the English top order flopped, leaving them 30-4. Rookie opener Adam Lyth again nicked off to Starc, Ballance and Bell hopelessly clean bowled by Johnson and Hazlewood respectively. Alastair Cook anchored the innings with a resolute 96, sharing a 145 run partnership with the enterprising Ben Stokes. Both Cook and Stokes fell short of their centuries, playing on to the new man Mitchell Marsh who justified his inclusion over Shane Watson who was wicketless in Cardiff. Once the tail was exposed, the pace, aggression and control of Johnson and Starc forced the batsmen onto the back foot and England were eventually all out for 312.

the hostility and intimidation of Mitchell Johnson’s short bowling spells re-opened some psychological scars from the infamous series down under

After electing not to enforce the follow-on, Australia finished day 3 on 108-0; Warner finishing the day on 60 after being dropped by Lyth for 0 in the gully. Rogers was forced to retire hurt on 49 on the morning of day 4 after complaining of dizzy spells after being struck on the helmet by an Anderson bouncer and remains a doubt for the third test. Sparked by Smith, Clarke and Marsh, Australia upped the run-rate and whilst at the crease Clarke declared on 254-2, setting England a record 514 to win.

Even at this stage, England should have battled through to the afternoon of day 5, if not salvaged a draw. The following 37 overs brought back memories of the 2014 whitewash, especially the hostility and intimidation of Mitchell Johnson’s short bowling spells which re-opened some psychological scars from the infamous series down under. Most telling was Johnson’s dismissal of Ballance who’s inability to play 90+ mph pace coupled with his reluctance to play on the front foot has led to his removal from the English squad for the third test. England collapsed to 64-7, with Lyth, Bell and Buttler all failing again. Ben Stokes’ comical run out epitomised this shambolic display. A ruthless collective bowling performance from Australia, but England’s lack of fight and eventual total of 103 was, as Alastair Cook admitted ‘not acceptable’.

The next five sessions resembled a car crash in slow motion for England.

There are two major worries for England fans which emerged from the 405 run defeat; England’s feeble top order batting, and the slow, low surfaces which are ironically being prepared by English groundsmen, inadvertently nullifying England’s seamers. The former has been acknowledged by Trevor Bayliss who has recalled Yorkshireman Jonny Bairstow in place of Gary Ballance, although question marks remain over Adam Lyth and Ian Bell. The latter is less black-and-white. Cook has vehemently denied that England have requested slower pitches stating ‘we want to play on English wickets and that probably wasn’t too English.’ Judging by the pitch this week in comparison with the pitches prepared for the New Zealand test in May and India test last summer, it is reasonable to suggest that groundsman Mick Hunt consciously primed a slower track. With the Ashes returning to Edgbaston for the third test, it remains to be seen if the conditions will differ considerably. Regardless, England’s top order batting must show more gumption and fight, they must refuse to be softened up by the short ball of the Australian pacemen.


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