Ashes 2013: England’s captain Alastair Cook ignores history to focus on here and now
Australia have wonderful record at Lord’s but controversy is still stalking them and momentum points to an England victory
All is right with England’s world. They are 1-0 up in the Ashes. Their opponents are suffused with controversy which they may rebuff but cannot entirely expel. Four years ago, the Lord’s bogey against Australia which had lasted for three-quarters of a century embracing 18 Tests was finally laid to rest with a 115-run victory.
Thus, England should be expected to prevail in the second Test which starts today. The past, the present, possibly the future seem to be with them. However well Australia performed in the first match at Trent Bridge, surprising perhaps even themselves, they still fell short.
It was agonisingly close and 14 runs still do not seem to do justice to the tension of it all after four days of reflection. The feeling now is that it could go one of two ways for the tourists.
Either they will be galvanised by their endeavours at Trent Bridge, aware that there is not much between these teams after all and that England are there for the taking. Or they may be so crestfallen after giving so much of themselves over five days of slugging it out and still losing that they will have nothing left to give. No Englishmen should assume the second of those possibilities is likely.
Alastair Cook, England’s captain, tried to make light of history yesterday in assessing what his side must do to retain the lead and ultimately the great prize. It was a curious stat, he said, about England not beating Australia in 75 years at Lord’s because he was not sure how many of the players involved in this match had taken part in those games. Well, none as it happens.
At this point, a young female in the audience fainted because of the heat and Cook lost his thread of thought. But he would do well not to overlook completely what has happened before.
Australia have five times come from 1-0 down in an Ashes series of five matches to win, three at home, two away. The most recent occasion was in 1997 when England astonished the planet by winning at Edgbaston, bowling out an undercooked touring side on the first morning, but then spending the rest of the summer being duffed up for their cheek.
Back in 1909, an England team possessing some of the most legendary cricketers to have played the game – Jack Hobbs, Wilfred Rhodes, George Hirst, CB Fry, Gilbert Jessop – won the first match in Birmingham by 10 wickets but within a month had been defeated at Lord’s and Headingley to lose the Ashes.
England’s recent record at Lord’s is splendid. Their only defeat at the ground since 2005 was against South Africa last year. Australia, as it happens, won their last Test at Lord’s, which was not against England in 2009 but against Pakistan in the neutral series the following year.
That decisive match against South Africa may also be pertinent to the present. Part of the reason that England lost was that they were in turmoil because of the unpleasantness with Kevin Pietersen which had prompted the selectors to drop him.
The abiding image from the match is of the home side’s captain, Andrew Strauss, playing the most distracted of strokes, an expansive shouldering of arms, to Vernon Philander in the second innings to be out lbw. Nobody could deny that the shot was fashioned by events off the field as much as on it.
Michael Clarke, Australia’s captain, is adamant that the events at Trent Bridge followed by the leaking of court papers involving their former coach, Mickey Arthur, will not affect his team. He was again resolute in making it seem that he and Shane Watson – who, according to Arthur, Clarke said was “a cancer in the team” – were joined at the hip.
Clarke said that Australia’s record was relevant. Of the total of 34 Test matches between the sides at the ground, Australia have won 14 and lost only six. “It feels like a home ground, I guess, for us. I don’t know the main reason as to why Australia has had so much success on this beautiful oval. It’s something you certainly write into the diary when you find out the Ashes series is on, the Lord’s Test.”
Only an Australian would describe Lord’s as a beautiful oval but perhaps MCC should consider putting the phrase into their promotional literature in future.
The pitch was under cover for most of yesterday. When it was briefly revealed it looked to have more grass on than might have been expected. But it is bound to be dry, it will probably be slow, it should help spin and it will need patience.
Both sides have selection issues, England over a bowler, Australia a batsman. Cook and the England coach, Andy Flower, will probably keep faith with Steve Finn on a ground where he has taken 29 wickets in five Tests and 72 in another 21 matches for Middlesex.
But Chris Tremlett has been practising with England for the last two days and had a bat yesterday, Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions are already in the squad. Their presence is not designed to make Finn feel comfortable about his place in the side.
Australia’s dilemma revolves around Ed Cowan. He has played in Australia’s last 18 Test matches, the first 17 as opener before being asked to fill the blue riband position of No 3 at Trent Bridge, the place occupied until recently by Ricky Ponting and in the past by Don Bradman.
Cowan responded to the challenge by playing two needlessly extravagant drives, one against pace, the other against spin, which had him caught at slip. He is a better player than that and it looked as though he had been overwhelmed by the occasion. If he plays it will be in the knowledge that it is for his place.
But if the Lord’s Test proves to be Cowan’s last so be it. The most important thing is that he makes the team. Make no mistake, there is nothing bigger in a cricketer’s life than to play in an Ashes Test match at Lord’s.
Second Ashes Test: Lord’s details
* Probable teams
England A N Cook (capt), J E Root, I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, J M Bairstow, M J Prior (wk), G P Swann, S C J Broad, J M Anderson, S T Finn.
Australia M J Clarke (capt), S R Watson, C J L Rogers, E J M Cowan, S P D Smith, P J Hughes, B J Haddin (wk), P W Siddle, M A Starc, J L Pattinson, A C Agar.
K Dharmasena (S Lanka) & M Erasmus (SA)
Today Hot and sunny. Max temp: 29C
Tomorrow Similar conditions; 26C
Sat Cloudy with some sun; 23C
Sun Staying mainly sunny; 25C
Mon Sunny, chance of showers; 27C
* Pitch report
Dry, both sides will expect reverse swing but it may not deteriorate quickly.
* Odds: Eng 10-11; Draw 13-5; Aus 3-1.
* TV Sky Sports Ashes, 10am-7pm
* Remaining Tests
Third 1-5 August Old Trafford
Fourth 9-13 August Riverside
Fifth 21-25 August The Oval
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