Australia's brave new world bore a stark resemblance to the bad old world. Far from rejuvenating a flagging campaign as had been hoped, the newcomers flopped and within hours the team's position had become dire. Not that the established players were any better, hanging their bats out to dry in the manner of a washerwoman on a Monday morning. Once again it was left to a betrayed middle order and lusty tailenders to attempt a salvage operation, a task they carried out with admirable determination.
Ricky Ponting and company can curse but not blame their luck. Australia might have preferred to lose the toss in Adelaide and win it on the hard, grassy track provided at the Waca ground. Instead the hosts had to face the wrath of an efficient England side in conditions suiting its purposes.
Blessed with early life but thereafter well disposed towards batsmen, the pitch cannot be held accountable for the latest top-order collapse. By no means were conditions impossible yet Australia lost five wickets for a pittance. Batsmen used to concrete slabs were exposed by the bounce and late movement encountered on this deck. England did not bowl that well but caught superbly and Australia did the rest.
Cricket is a craft. As far as batting is concerned, courage is a requirement. Since the advent of helmets and with the decline in fast bowling it has been less important, and more's the pity. Over the years players of the calibre of Bill Lawry and John Edrich batted bravely and skilfully on pitches of this sort. While their batting was seldom attractive, it conserved wickets till the pitch settled down and the bowlers lost their sting. Then even pampered middle-order men could score a few runs.
Suffice to say that none of their successors here showed the fortitude needed. Phillip Hughes committed a basic error by playing across the line. Chris Tremlett's delivery breached a poorly constructed defence unworthy of a Test opener, a breed in short supply. Later Steven Smith played an equally loose stroke, poking at a ball better left alone. Spirit alone is not enough.
Amongst the seniors, Ponting and Michael Clarke paid the penalty for playing away from their bodies. That the Tasmanian was brilliantly caught distracted attention from the risk taken by trying to force a high delivery on a firm track. He lost control of his blade and was athletically snared.
Clarke did nothing to refute suggestions that short deliveries rattle him. His flirtatious offering invited trouble and lacked the conviction of high-class batsmen and prospective leaders. Amongst the seniors, only Shane Watson was blameless, beaten by a faster – though hardly unplayable – yorker.
Thereafter Australia recovered tenaciously but real damage had been done. Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin reinforced their reputations as proud warriors. Hussey knows the pitch and realises that anything landing short of a length can be ignored. His strategy forced the bowlers to play the game on his terms. Before long he was cutting and pulling and driving past the bowler.
Not that it was all glamour. His shots were defined by the company they kept. Hussey was able to play them because he kept his wicket intact, an approach long favoured amongst batsmen with deep roots. He has a depth of knowledge about the game missing in the younger generation.
Haddin blended fierce strokes and watchful defence. Twice he took the ball on the rise and dispatched it through the covers. Next he lent back and sliced the ball over the cordon.
Even Mitchell Johnson found form. Apparently he had been formidable with the ball the previous day. His batting is an adjunct to his flinging – when his action is working, his confidence soars and everything else falls into place. Pity it has taken so long to get him going.Reuse content