James Lawton on the Ashes: By the time we get to The Gabba, expect Australia to be up for a fight and over Ashes loss

Australia displayed far more bite and urgency

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Some will say the Ashes series has been washed away by the rains of Manchester but they are the kind of people who might not have recognised resurrection had they seen the boulder pushed aside on Easter Sunday.

The Aussies, and the Ashes, are alive again and beyond the barricades of extreme patriotism this is surely a matter for celebration. Yes, we know England are now sure to get their hands on the little urn for a third straight series but that was hardly the issue after the slaughter they inflicted at Lord’s. The question was whether the men in the green caps could rescue a modicum of pride from the wreckage of that disaster.

Now we know the resounding answer. Australia go to Durham later this week and then The Oval a re-formed fighting unit. They outplayed England at every phase of the third Test and even though they cannot win the current series they can lay down the most formidable markers for the resumed action Down Under later this year.

Michael Clarke came to Old Trafford with the forlorn distinction of being regarded as Australia’s only authentic Test player. He left it exasperated by the climate of England and the dilatory approach of its cricketers, but with some massive encouragement – for the future not only of his career as one of the world’s best batsmen but a captaincy that a few days ago was being defined as the last word in futility.

Clarke was in a class of his own while defying England’s much lauded triumvirate of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and a Graeme Swann who not so long ago was talking lightly not only of crushing victories but maybe a few impending knighthoods. Clarke’s 187 was the essence of class and superior to anything England could produce, including the century of Kevin Pietersen.

But then, if Clarke triumphantly restated his ability to stand toe to toe with any opponents, the huge bonus was that he was hardly alone.

Before yesterday’s decisive deluge, England were once again on the ropes after the assault of Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. Once again they outperformed their opposite numbers Anderson and Broad. Once again they bowled with a combination of superb discipline, marvellous commitment and a fine understanding of how best to undermine the core of England’s batting, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Pietersen. When the match was finally abandoned late in the afternoon England came out on to their balcony to whip up a little tepid applause for the retention of the Ashes. The truth was  this was not a statement of triumph but considerable relief.

If the rains hadn’t come, the odds against England’s survival were not notably high. As it was, Australia could anticipate something rather more than the mere formal completion of hostilities at Durham and The Oval. They could claim that the widespread predictions of not just a 5-0 sweep in England but a 10-0 annihilation over both series could not have been more comprehensively discredited. After narrow defeat in Nottingham, and the pummelling in London, Clarke’s team could not have done more to produce reasons for a new self-belief.

Apart from Clarke and the strike bowlers, Chris Rogers and Steve Smith also completed impressive rites of passage. Shane Watson  reasserted his all-round ability and then, most intriguing of all, was the potential of the man who pushed him down the order when Australia chased quick runs on the fourth day.

Warner accepted his villain’s status with great humour and a buoyant spirit and in some ways he was the best expression of the Australian revival.

When he was hit in the chest by an explosive delivery from Tim Bresnan he absorbed the pain and the jeers and got on with some extremely brisk business. When Ian Bell was hit on the thumb yesterday the frustrated Clarke complained about the lingering attention of the physiotherapist. That might have been a little unfair on the admirably consistent Englishman, but it did highlight the sense that it was the Australians who for five days had displayed infinitely more bite and urgency.

It was a return to character which will require a considerable resurfacing of English authority if their opponents are to be denied still more strengthening of their spirit in the last two Tests. This, plainly, will be crucial to the mood of resumed battle in Australia.

Pietersen produced some of that vital quality in his first-innings century but yesterday he was an angry, dislocated figure when sent back to the pavilion after a strangely indecisive appeal to the now random whims of the DRS system. Both Cook and Trott were set up for the kill quite brilliantly by Harris and then dispatched.

None of this could retrieve the Ashes, not this time. But it certainly fanned the embers of a dying contest. By the time England arrive at The Gabba, they might well have a full scale bush fire on their hands.

Jose helping to detach Wayne from his world

Is Jose Mourinho merely being mischievous in his pursuit of Wayne Rooney – or does he really believe he has the old messianic power to make a compelling force once more of the best English player of his generation?

It is certainly one of the more intriguing questions in the transfer frenzy which has been described as a joke by Arsène Wenger.

The suspicion here is that it is mischief, a sure-fire way of detaching Rooney from the reality that he has slipped so far down the pecking order of major talents in the game – and that his best chance of recovering some of that old cachet, which Wenger helped to build when he described him as the best young English player he had ever seen, is facing up to the challenge which first came to him at Old Trafford 20 months or so ago.

That was when Sir Alex Ferguson made it clear that only a massive rededication to his trade could rescue the career that first started to go seriously downhill in the 2010 World Cup. Rooney still seems to see himself as a marquee name unjustly downgraded by the arrival of Robin van Persie. It is better perhaps for Mourinho, and his hopes of supplanting United as champions, to foster that misconception which has already caused such distraction in the new regime of Ferguson’s successor David Moyes.

Questions linger over Tiger’s major prospects

It is easy to understand why the seven-stroke slaughter inflicted by Tiger Woods on his way to his 79th PGA Tour title at the Bridgestone Invitational has excited fresh belief that the man in the red shirt is about to end his major title slump.

Once again he will be the prohibitive favourite when they tee off for the US PGA title, but then this has been a prevailing opinion for some time. At Augusta, Merion and Muirfield so many hard-eyed judges believed that the Tiger was about to claim his 15th major and move to within three of Jack Nicklaus’s all-time mark of 18.

At Muirfield his playing partner over the first two days, and former US Open champion, Graeme McDowell, delivered an astonishing eulogy, saying that Woods had produced both amazing control and patience. Yet each time the fanfare reaches a climax, the Tiger dwindles. It’s a pattern that some say will ultimately be swept aside by the talent of a great player, not to mention the law of averages.

Saying that is easy enough, however. Much more difficult, it seems, is getting the Tiger to believe it.