Take almost 300 runs from Australia’s total and England would be as happy as a wallaby in the bush. Instead there was only misery as the second Test unfolded, a tale of missed catches and what might have been writ large.
Australia scored 570 for 9 declared in their first innings, their highest in the Ashes at Adelaide since 1921, 21 Test matches ago. Make that 284 runs, however, and it takes on a different hue. As the game wore on, so did those spurned opportunities.
The tourists’ recognition of the fact was displayed in their growing tetchiness, not only with their opponents but with each other. At one point in the proceedings the umpires were forced to intervene to calm everyone down, doubtless reminding them that only the Ashes were at stake.
The day ended with Mitchell Johnson bowling like the wind, which is rapidly, as it were, becoming the leitmotif of the series. He removed the England captain, Alastair Cook, with a ripsnorter of a ball which whistled past a forlorn bat like an express train hurling through a station at which it is not stopping.
It had seemed a different game when the home side were batting. Both Michael Clarke, put down on 30, and Brad Haddin, dropped on five, went on to make hundreds yesterday. Clarke was dazzling, Haddin was merciless, England were impotent. Set those additional scores alongside the 43 allowed to George Bailey, reprieved on 10, and it adds up to 286 extra runs. There were more sixes in Australia’s innings – 12 – than in any played previously in all Ashes series.
Some dropped catches are more costly than others. There is a well-worn tale of the Durham wicketkeeper, Chris Scott, who put down a straightforward chance at Edgbaston in 1994 when the batsman was on 18 and turned to his slips saying: “I bet he goes and gets a hundred now.” Brian Lara eventually called it a day when he had reached 501 not out.
England missed Clarke again on 91 yesterday when he offered an extremely difficult chance to backward short leg. It was at a decent height, it was travelling, the score was still not out of control by then. But the real damage had been done earlier.
Perhaps these lapses, finely balanced though they are, were indicative of a change in the tide. Well though England played in the summer, cleverly as they ensured they won the key moments and therefore three of the matches, Australia were never that far behind.
The big scenes in the last five days of this series have all been stolen by Australia and if England have fluffed their lines the feeling has grown that this is because they were being upstaged. The first session on the second day was a significant case in point.
The players and crowd spent a minute in silence for Nelson Mandela before the start, which was impeccably observed. After it, Australia came out slugging, England wilted under the broadside. How different it might have been. Clarke drove hard at the first ball he received, from Monty Panesar, but his eye was not in yet and it looped up from a leading edge, just clearing the infield.
The two runs that resulted took Clarke to 50 and he made only one more mistake until he was out. When it might have gone right for England it went wrong. Haddin could have been run out when Clarke called him for a quick single but Michael Carberry, culprit the night before when he dropped the same batsman, found himself moving one way when he wanted to throw the other.
The tough Clarke chance followed, but then Haddin edged Ben Stokes behind to give the young man his first Test wicket. The batsman was well on the way to the pavilion when it was suggested he stop walking. Stokes, comfortably England’s quickest bowler, had bowled a no-ball.
At the end of the over there was an altercation between bowler and batsman. Perhaps the latter was expressing his sympathy and understanding to the former. Perhaps not. Stuart Broad, as he tends to do, became involved if only to ensure that the whole of Australia stays on his case, and umpire Marais Erasmus, a cheerful but burly soul, walked down the pitch and suggested they get on with it.
Haddin took a heavy toll, slog sweeping Graeme Swann at will over midwicket. Clarke was more measured but equally busy in a frantic opening session which brought four runs an over. His 100 was his 26th in Tests and his third against England in the last five matches.
Eventually Clarke became Stokes’ first Test wicket, chipping to mid-on. It was but a brief respite for England. The spinners were still bowling the bulk of the overs and Australia climbed into them as though it were a Twenty20 match.
Haddin finished with five sixes to add to Bailey’s three on the first day, Ryan Harris clubbed two in his rampant, unbeaten 55 and when Nathan Lyon, the No 11, took the total to a dozen by heaving Swann into the Sir Don Bradman Stand, Clarke, as captain, decided he had seen enough.
It was imperative that England hung around but Johnson was in menacing mood. By his second over he had delivered the six fastest balls of the day and then he removed Cook. When Johnson was bowling it looked a different game.
The Decision Review System had its usual quirky time. England may have felt hard done by when the third umpire went no further with one review when he felt that ball hit bat before pad.
Human error in the form of players was involved in the last ball of the day. England had gone four overs without scoring before Joe Root took a suicidal single with a ball left. Carberry, who would have been run out had the throw hit, had a ball to face. It swerved into his pads at pace. The umpire rejected the appeal, the Aussies decided not to review as Carberry headed for the pavilion. Replays showed it was hitting leg.