The Ashes 2015: more swing, more roundabouts

Chris Rogers is struck by a delivery from Steven Finn. Photo: Michael SteeleAshes 2015 scoreboardBatting woes for AustraliaPlayers unhappy Haddin left outVoges snares unbelievable catch

Here was the English pitch both sides said they had been looking for. Here was an archetypal English day, all murk and muck and brollies periodically and sweaters from first ball to last. And here was England’s day, their best of the series yet, to follow their worst day, the last at Lord’s. It is becoming that sort of Ashes rubber, not so much a series as a sequence of random happenings.

Day-long cloud made for non-stop swing. Rain every two hours spritzed the pitch, covers might have added a film of sweat. But Alastair Cook would have batted on it, and Michael Clarke did. Both sides were surprised to find such a lively surface, but the stoic Chris Rogers, speaking on behalf of Australia at day’s end, did not second-guess the decision to bat. It was not a batting pitch, but it was a battable pitch, as England would demonstrate before the day was out.

But it awakened in Australia an old phobia about squaring up to the moving ball. And it became another instance of how in this age of instant cricketing gratification, few teams have the necessary doughtiness to arrest a collapse once it has begun. Australia did not last even as long as England at Lord’s.

Credit where it’s due: Jimmy Anderson was bewitching. Lord’s had yielded him nothing, which gave rise to a false impression that he had nothing left. The Australians found his bowling this day as impossible to track and pin down as the golden snitch of Harry Potter fame. Every ball was different, one swinging in, another out, one straightening off the seam, the next jagging away, the best of them curving one way and cutting the other. One of these did for David Warner to start the rout. Warner is not enjoying the English game of having to wait with tea and scones until the ball arrives. He prefers to ride out to meet it.

Anderson produced extravagant movement, but within a tight range, a deceptively difficult discipline. Steve Finn and Stuart Broad also had their sights finely calibrated, and the Australians always in them. All fell to full or full-ish balls, seven missing or edging, two trying not to play at all. The fullest of all, an old-fashioned yorker from the revitalised Finn, bowled Clarke. Finn, two years out of Test cricket, began the day by punching the Australian flag as he jogged onto the ground, and the rest of his work had the same exuberant stamp.

As for Clarke, it is symptomatic of the batsman in decline that their starts become more faltering. Through the grille of his new helmet, he is staring mortality in the face.

Anderson needed a total of 11 balls to dispose of Mitch Marsh, Peter Nevill and Mitch Johnson. For Marsh, it was inswinger, straight ball, away swinger, catch. For Nevill, the in-ducker. For Johnson, around the wicket, straightening, gully catch. It was such a professional job it was a wonder Anderson was not seen afterwards detaching his bowling arm, cleaning it and packing it away in its case.

Only one man resisted meaningfully. Rogers was born (a long time ago) to see off great bowling. Adopted by the English, he learned to see off great England bowling. Against nearly every delivery, he delays his shot until he looks more to be absorbing the ball than playing it, then – ever the clinician – studies the scoreboard replay. Thwarted, the bowlers try a little harder to penetrate, and suddenly he has a half-volley to drive through covers or pick to leg. He rarely misses.

He was more troubled this day by movement behind the bowler’s arm than movement through the air or off the pitch. He batted for two-and-a-half hours, the rest of the Australians only three between them. To think he might not have played this match at all. To think that he might not play the next series.

Australia’s bowlers fell for the three-card trick England avoided. They bowled both sides of the wicket, and a metre too short, and if they did pitch up, pitched wide. England scooted along at five an over and within an hour-and-a-half had all but cleared the deficit.

Australia’s gains were incidentals, albeit gratefully accepted. Adam Voges nearly dropped one catch at first slip and took another without knowing it, Cook’s full-blooded pull at off-spinner Nathan Lyon lodging in his bread basket at short leg. Johnson did not take a wicket, and when an outfield ball escaped him and skidded on for four and the crowd got on his case, suddenly it was 2010-11 all over again.

Australia this day was third in a two-horse race, behind England and the pitch.  “We’ve got to find a method and we’ve got to find it quickly,” said Rogers, “because I’ve got a feeling we’re going to get a lot more of these.” And that. Warned Anderson: “I can bowl better than that. We can bowl better than that.”

If England director of cricket Andrew Strauss did not send an email before the series specifying pitch preparation, as alleged on the weekend, he will surely send one to the Edgbaston groundstaff now, with vouchers attached and kisses at the bottom.

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