Two snapshots at the Adelaide Oval today demonstrated the unity within this England team, and their commitment to winning the Ashes, more clearly than anything they achieved on the field.
Moments after his colleagues had completed their most emphatic victory in Australia since 1966, Stuart Broad walked on to the outfield. The previous night, Broad had learned that an abdominal strain had ruled him out of the tour. Yet instead of feeling sorry for himself, Broad strolled to the middle, removed two stumps and handed one each to Kevin Pietersen and Graeme Swann.
Broad’s absence means that either Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shahzad or Tim Bresnan will replace him for the Third Test in Perth, which begins on 16 December. As England’s first-choice XI reflected on going 1-0 up in the series, all three men were practising on the square with England’s fast-bowling coach David Saker. All three know that, with victory at the WACA, England will retain the Ashes, and whoever is a part of that effort will be able to savour it for the rest of his career.
Most professional sportsmen are willing to peddle the usual platitudes about team harmony, regardless of the reality when the dressing room door is closed. Although it can become tiresome to listen to every member of this England squad bang on about “the group”, they seem at least to be telling the truth. Broad’s gesture was as spontaneous as it was enlightening. Shahzad, Bresnan and Tremlett are competing for one spot, but, watching them work with Saker, it was clear that their rivalry is healthy and respectful.
The trio will play in the tour match against Victoria in Melbourne, starting at the MCG on Friday, with the tall Tremlett considered the slight favourite to start at the WACA because the surfaces there are usually the most bouncy in Australia. While Andrew Strauss, Andy Flower and national selector Geoff Miller watch the hopefuls closely, Australia have eight days to clear their minds, work on their techniques, and somehow form a plan to win two of the last three Tests and avoid defeat in the third.
As the Barmy Army serenaded Swann with their adaptation of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, the Aussies looked a thoroughly disjointed bunch. From the moment their best batsman Mike Hussey was dismissed, mistiming an attempted pull off Steve Finn to Jimmy Anderson at mid-on in the sixth full over of the morning, the only obstacle between England and their 100th Ashes Test victory was the Adelaide weather.
As predicated, the rain started to fall at about 2pm local time, followed by thunder and lightning. Unfortunately for Australia, England had completed their victory two and a half hours before the cloudburst. Once Hussey had fallen for 52, the door was ajar, and Anderson and Swann barged through it by taking three wickets in the space of four deliveries.
Brad Haddin, so dangerous in the First Test in Brisbane and during the first innings here, was caught on the crease and nicked Anderson’s outswinger through to Matt Prior. Ryan Harris was dismissed first ball in the first innings, and here he completed the king pair.
Not offering a shot, Harris was struck on the pad and sent on his way by umpire Marais Erasmus. As he did in the first innings, Harris called for the TV replay, but HawkEye showed the ball would have clipped the top of middle stumps, and the bowler trudged off after an Ashes debut to forget.
Harris’ departure meant North was the only competent batsman left. Two balls later, it was tail enders at both ends. The left-hander pushed forward to Swann, was deceived by the turn and ball hit pad. Umpire Tony Hill initially reprieved North, but England reviewed it and there was no mercy as replays showed the ball would have hit middle stump half way up. Australia are likely to make significant changes for the WACA, and North’s two failures in this game might have denied him the chance to make amends there.
Swann is too good a spinner to be resisted by lower-order players like Xavier Doherty and Peter Siddle, and he quickly despatched both to ensure victory by an innings and 71 runs and a 1-0 lead in the series. As the Barmy Army sang, Swann did indeed “tear them apart”, and England had their first Test victory in Australia with the Ashes still at stake since 1986. How sweet, after their disastrous defeat in Adelaide four years ago, that they should do it here.
Slowly but surely, the difficult questions about certain England players before this tour are being answered. Alastair Cook’s technique and confidence were in pieces last summer as Pakistan’s Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif toyed with him. Admittedly, he is playing against vastly inferior bowlers, but the opening batsman has 450 runs in three Test innings on this tour at an average of 225.
Could Jonathan Trott bat as confidently on tour as he does in England? A century in Brisbane and 76 here are good responses. Would Kevin Pietersen ever recover his panache at the crease and his levity off the field? Here, KP scored a Test best 227, was named man of the match and was even joking at his own expense, calling himself “a pie chucker” despite dismissing Michael Clarke in the last over yesterday, one of the decisive moments of the contest.
Ian Bell, Anderson, Finn and Swann have all performed well enough to prove they are talented enough to prosper in Australia. With Strauss and Flower providing such measured and authoritative leadership, what could possibly go wrong for England?
Plenty, as Broad’s injury yesterday proved. A man who looks before he leaps, Strauss was right to urge his players not to count their chickens. Australia are wounded and dejected, but it would take only one poor innings from England to revive them and bring the home supporters into their corner once more.
The trouble for Ricky Ponting and his team is that England have steeled themselves to ensure that does not happen. Only a brave gambler would back Australia to regain the urn from here - and it is England’s job to ensure all bets are off before Christmas.
Tom Collomosse is the cricket correspondent for the Evening Standard