The Ashes are on the line now. For England to stay in this series and defeat Australia for the fourth consecutive time at home the heavy damage inflicted at Lord’s must be repaired immediately.
If the tourists prevail in the Third Investec Test, which begins at Edgbaston on Wednesday, the game will be up. It goes beyond the fact that England have never come from behind after losing two Tests in an Ashes campaign, it is that the balance of power will have shifted inexorably and there will be nothing that the selectors, or the coaches, or the captain, or the players, or the spectators, or the feelgood factor, or the ghost of Ivo Bligh, can do about it.
Australia will capture the urn for the 33rd occasion at the 69th time of asking. Alastair Cook’s tenure as captain will have run its course. Much of the rest of the season will be spent discussing his successor.
But England are not done for yet. Somehow, to recapture the great prize – for the 32nd time, which would tie the wins and losses column – they have to recapture what they stumbled on at Cardiff. The uplifting, unexpected 169-run victory they fashioned there was not accidental.
They seized the occasion by recovering from a fragile start and then bowling and fielding with a dynamism that shattered their opponents. The foundations for the equally shattering reversal at Lord’s which followed last week may have been laid in the immediate aftermath of that superb win.
Instead of celebrating the achievement – not wallowing in it, or being cocky about it, understand, but marking it – their new coach, Trevor Bayliss warned that Australia would come back hard. It was all the invitation that Australia needed.
Bayliss conceded after Australia had indeed come back hard, winning the second match by 405 runs, that his reaction was wrong. He should have concentrated on his team, not the other lot. Maybe, being Australian, he knew, and could not stop himself giving voice to what he knew.
What England must have at all costs in Birmingham is a renewal of self-belief. But a close second, and one that may fuel the first, is the pitch. It has to give the type of bowler they have, and especially Jimmy Anderson, some encouragement. This is a risk, but if Anderson is outbowled on an amenable surface then so be it.
England have taken another legitimate gamble (which is, of course, the very essence of selection) in bringing in Jonny Bairstow and changing their batting order to repel the Australian bowling menace which now contains not one, not two but three Mitchells in Johnson, Starc and Marsh.
There is more sense to this than there initially appears to be, for although the newish No 3, Ian Bell, is himself in no sort of form, he has batted at first wicket down for Warwickshire 108 times, 53 of them at Edgbaston. This is not an alien concept to him.
Repelling Australia, who have the swagger back, will not be easy. The men who have to do it for England and do it now are their longest-serving players, Anderson and Bell.Reuse content