Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's

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The Independent Online

Into the Edgbaston counselling chamber they filed, one by one in their Baggy Green caps mumbling incoherently about a reaper called Jimmy. It was, at least from the English perspective, a deliciously grim inversion of the Lord’s debacle, batsmen shredded by a bowler who would not be contained, and who in the end was taking wickets by reputation as well as merit.

Anderson bowled deliveries they thought were there but weren’t, ghost balls that fizzed along imaginary lines before passing inexplicably through defensive walls. The certainties of Lord’s were driven out of the Australian psyche by Anderson’s opening delivery of the match, jagging savagely past the bat of the adhesive Chris Rogers.

David Warner, who survived a run-out appeal off Anderson’s second ball, was walking back to the pavilion after his eighth, done up like a kipper with a ball that straightened into his pads. And to think Ian Botham spent the previous afternoon defending the reputation of England’s most prolific bowler as he journeyed north from London to Birmingham on the train. The wonder was not that Sir Beef should travel by rail but that the great Anderson, he of the 400-plus Test wickets, should fall foul of the public mood so quickly.


His wicketless state at the home of cricket, which followed one empty innings in Cardiff, was only the sixth time he had left a Test match without reward, and the first time in 60 outings he had posted a coconut in both innings. Yet the impression that England’s sharpest blade had lost his edge came readily to passengers traumatised by the subjugation of St John’s Wood.

Anderson is an accumulator by stealth, considerable not potent. There are few cartwheeling stumps in his repertoire. But give the man a greenish top and a grey canopy overhead and he is your dream seamer. Warner, like former India opener Virender Sehwag, is a kettle quickly to the boil and on flat tracks a vaporiser of bowlers.

But this was Anderson country, a lively surface with enough juice in it to introduce doubt. And once Anderson gets in your head, he might as well be called Mitchell. The biggest problem facing England in Birmingham was never the premier Mitchell, Johnson, but the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs in the capital.

By loading up on the Johnson problem, England risked giving back the gains of early summer, the attitude shift that saw them take on and then down New Zealand over 50 overs and reset parameters in the longer form of the game.

England bowlers Stuart Broad and James Anderson (Reuters)

Ben Stokes, as yet becalmed here, was at the centre of this irreverent energy flow, his belligerent biff at Cardiff carrying forward the raging positivism of the English spring. There was more of it from him in the first innings at Lord’s but under the renewed Australian hammer it met with less muscular support. The second innings was a betrayal of the new philosophy, the resurrection of which is far more important than the negation of Johnson’s speed.

The latter is necessary, of course, but not sufficient. The mood hike has to penetrate all aspects of the game. The second Test was lost before Johnson took possession of the ball, the English attack wilting beneath the Australian response to Cardiff. The swaggering aggression, iron self-belief and out-and-out doggerel at the core of the Australian proposition are more developed characteristics in the sporting setting.

But this England team is learning. This was their bounce back, the opportunity to demonstrate mettle. And spectacular was the response. There was a hint of what was to come during the preamble, when the outfield resembled a film set populated by actors from another age.

The pre-match rituals are essentially TV spectaculars starring former players  in various stages of narcissistic distress brought on, it seems, by trichological disorders. Shane Warne led the parade of hair transplanters, sharing the stage with fellow weavers Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting.

The one exception was former Hampshire captain Mark Nicholas, whose magnificent barnet is as yet unchallenged by nature. Nicholas was resplendent in highlights and quiff, taking the viewer through the importance of the coin toss in the manner of a member of Spandau Ballet. In the background Steve Finn was running in from the City End, quietly measuring his run-up.

Steve Finn celebrates bowling the Australia captain, Michael Clarke, with a fast yorker (AP)

The thought occurred that Finn was carrying out an instruction, a 6ft 7in speedster sent out by the England coaching staff to simulate the 90mph howitzer that would later provide the explosive counter to Anderson’s unplayable precision. Let the opposition, and the pundits, digest the sight of Finn with menaces.

The new regime of the England coach, Trevor Bayliss, is predicated on mind - not numbers. Control the space between the ears and the stats will take care of themselves. Fearlessness, tempered by nous, is next to godliness in his house.

It is two summers since Finn was last thrown a ball in a Test match, against the same opposition at Trent Bridge. He was soon to be deemed unselectable by coach Ashley Giles, sent home from the one-day squad in Australia, even. Much of the next 12 months was spent faffing about with a run-up that had gone awry. The tendency to tickle the stumps in his delivery stride was a problem that became a neurosis.

A shorter run arriving at the crease from a wider mark was thought to be the answer. Not for the first time the technical reconstruction of a bowler’s action proved the wrong starting point. It was all in the head. Finn looked to be back to his best in a hostile spell that returned the vital wickets of run-maker-general Steve Smith and captain Michael Clarke.

Anderson walked off with the match ball, of course, after a career-best 6 for 47 against the Aussies. He had more than knocked them over, he had got into Australia’s soul, giving England’s batsmen the platform to plunder on a wicket that looked unplayable when he had the cherry on a string.