Alastair Cook (3 and 1) – The 766 runs of 2010-11 must feel an awfully long time ago. The England captain was targeted (for once we can see exactly what that means) by Mitchell Johnson and was beaten for pace in both innings. First time round, he was done by fast and full; second time round, he was done by a perfectly directed bouncer, hooking to long leg from a hair’s breadth in front of his grill. The latter wicket will have pleased Johnson and Clarke more because Cook, cool customer that he is and with 99 Tests under his belt, was caught playing the man and not the ball – and that way lies trouble.
Michael Carberry (60 and 14) – Unlucky in the first dig to hit the ball down and still be caught, but that’s the way it’s been going for England on this tour and David Warner is the heir of Andrew Symonds in the field, so it’s worth knowing exactly where he is. Perhaps unlucky too in the second innings – having seen off Johnson, he was just beginning to accelerate (as he must to avoid being bottled up) when he was mortified to pull the ball to Nathan Lyon, another brilliant fielder, who took a fine catch in the deep. The Hampshire man has shown that he has the tools required to play Test cricket, but needs to find ways of getting off strike when tied down. And who knows what would have happened had he held on to a simple chance offered by Brad Haddin then on 5, late on Day One.
Joe Root (15 and 87) – Inexperience showed in his horrible first innings hoick from outside the off stump to deep square leg where Chris Rogers could hardly believe his luck, pouching a simple catch. But he wasn’t the only batsman keen to get on top of the spinners early: Australian heroes Michael Clark and Brad Haddin didn’t let England’s spin twins settle, but didn’t find fielders either. Root learned quickly and got it right in the second dig, anchoring the innings after his captain’s shocker. Having batted well over six hours in the match for more than 100 runs, the Yorkie looks to have secured the Number Three slot for the rest of the Tour.
Kevin Pietersen (4 and 53) – Twice sorted out by Peter Siddle, who may be just the sort of bowler (not in the highest class, but plenty good enough to bowl to plans and possessed of sufficient heart to keep going) that will get to KP. The first innings slap to one of two men placed at midwicket precisely to capitalise on the infamous hubris that’s never far away from KP, was an unforgivable lapse from a man in his 101st Test. And, judged at the standards to which he aspires, his second innings inside edge on to the stumps through a gaping gate was scarcely less culpable. It’s not so long ago that KP pleaded for some time away from the international treadmill and he looks, for all the sensitive management he has enjoyed since then, like a tired man in need of a break now. It’s Perth on Friday.
Ian Bell (72* and 6) – Started like a train in the first innings (he hit two of his first 13 balls for six) but settled in to play a considered knock before running out of partners. Suckered horribly by a Steven Smith full toss in the second innings that he hit straight to mid-on. He might be grateful for Joe Root’s second innings effort taking attention away from the reluctance for him to assume the responsibilities of a Number Three.
Ben Stokes (1 and 28, 2-70 and 0-20) – There’s many an all-rounder would have taken a debut comprising a tidy two hour knock and a decent return from bowling that was quick and accurate on a road of a track, but in the context of England’s general inability to compete, he (or his selection) will cop as much criticism as anything else. Only 22, but with bags of experience in county cricket, he’ll have to build a case as one of a four man attack or one of a six man batting unit if he is to nail down a regular Test slot – on this showing, the latter seems more likely than the former. Overstepped the line when claiming the “wicket” of Haddin for 51 – a cardinal sin at the best of times and, at 367-5 at Adelaide, well…
Matt Prior (0 and 69, 4ct) – The whispers about his place in the team grew more insistent after a second duck of the series, but he dug in second time round taking 25 balls to reach double figures – a rare circumspect start – and his half-century may just have lifted him from his long slump with the bat. As leader of the fielding effort, he can hardly shoulder the blame for his colleagues’ lapses, but he will want to make sure the precision and energy that marks England’s work at its best. is back for Perth.
Stuart Broad (0 and 29, 3-98 and 0-19) – Like all his fellow England bowlers, his figures don’t reflect a good effort on a flat track with a ball that refused to swing (conventionally or reverse). Mixed up straight seam with cross-seam and never let the batsmen off the hook in spells that asked plenty of questions, even if the batsmen mainly found answers. He might have bowled a little more if his skipper didn’t have half an eye on Perth and had the chance to improve his modest figures. Batting under pressure in the first innings, he played the most dismal of hopping legside flicks to be bowled round his legs first ball by the rampant Johnson, but got his head down in the second innings to send the match into a fifth day before giving it away again.
Graeme Swann (7 and 6, 2-151 and 0-31) – Arguably England’s most crucial player had another bad match, failing to keep it tight as the Aussie batsmen went after anything remotely off-line or short of an ideal length (and went after plenty that was pitched perfectly too). Didn’t look like he fancied gutsing it out for Ian Bell with the bat either, topping off as poor a Test as he can have endured in years. Since he is paying almost 100 runs for each wicket in the series and going at above four per over, the option of an all pace attack for Perth must be on selectors’ minds, as fire may have to be met with fire.
Jimmy Anderson (0 and 13*, 1-85 and 2-19) – Toiled away and never lost control of the run rate, but hasn’t the pace to dismiss set batsmen with a Kookaburra ball that doesn’t get off line much for anyone, through the air or off the pitch. Like his captain, he’s finding the return trip a tougher proposition than last time. If England are to win two of the last three Tests to retain The Ashes, he will have to bowl as he did at Trent Bridge in July, the last time England’s attack leader took more than five wickets in a match.
Monty Panesar (2 and 0, 1-157 and 1-41) – He produced two classic left-armer’s dismissals pulling the right-hander forward to turn past the defensive bat and hit the stumps, but those were Monty’s only rewards for 54 overs’ effort. His fielding, both catching and the interminable time it takes him to gather and release the ball, is no better than when he started out as a Test cricketer, for all the work he has put in. Showed real heart with the bat, getting into line and wearing a few, as Ian Bell lifted England’s first innings total from disgraceful to poor. As ever with Monty, you wonder when he’ll play his next Test – but we can be pretty sure it won’t be this week in Perth.
David Warner (29 and 83*) – King of the Flat-Track Bullies? That’s damning with faint praise, as the back-in-favour opener is devastating so long as the ball isn’t swinging or seaming towards the slips. Short of stature and quick of foot, he gives the bowlers no length to bowl and has the power to hit over the top as well as through the covers. Growing up in public is one of the hardest things to do in life, but Warner shows signs of being in the home straight of that journey and can expect to see his career average, now over 40, head towards 50 very soon. Latching on to a dazzling one-handed screamer to precipitate England’s loss of six first innings wickets for 24 runs showed his knack of finding a way to stay in the game.
Chris Rogers (72 and 2) – As usual he sailed under the radar, but his 72 saw off the new ball and laid the foundations for his captain and keeper to take the match away from England. Geoffrey Boycott doesn’t rate him, but he has three fifties, a 49 and a century from his seven Tests in this Ashes double-header – and that’s delivering the opener’s job description if you ask me.
Shane Watson (51 and 0, 1-0 and 0-6) – Two tame dismissals and just 51 runs in the match, it’s a testament to how well the lower middle order has played that his output from Number Three is not an issue at all. Has bowled eight maidens from his 11 overs so far in the series and might be more needed to block one end at Melbourne and Sydney.
Michael Clarke (148 and 22) – The captain weathered a mini-crisis at 174-4 and another at 257-5 but found a partner in Brad Haddin, as the two Adelaide specialists took the Test (and, maybe, The Ashes) away from England, with a morale crushing partnership of 200 runs before a tired stroke presented Ben Stokes with a notable first scalp. His Mr Nasty routine still looks a little forced, but the No More Mr Nice Guy tactic is working after all the early series bonhomie in England last summer. He wouldn’t be human if he wasn’t thinking about holding up the Urn on his home ground in January – and nobody will have done more to that end, if the dream comes true.
Steve Smith (6 and 23*, 1-43) – His esoteric technique showed some signs of working in the truncated second innings and he’ll be pleased to have snared Ian Bell with his golden arm, but, like Watson, he’s a little fortunate that team-mates’ stellar performances are masking some ordinary stuff from him.
George Bailey (53) –He got in and got on with it, contributing three of his side’s 12 first innings maximums as England wilted. And, when KP hit the ball straight at him at short midwicket, he juggled it, kept his head, and caught it to send England’s trump card off for 223 runs fewer than he managed the last time he batted at Adelaide. Not quite the new Michael Hussey, but proving the selectors right in giving a Test debut to a 30-something.
Brad Haddin (118, 1ct) – The luck that always attends positive players turned up and he rode it all the way to the century he deserved in Brisbane. He also had the time (and the concentration) to take an excellent catch to end Joe Root’s second innings resistance. Hard to believe that Australia recently found more attractive alternatives than the New South Wales fighter for such a key role. He has lifted his career average above 36 from his 51 Tests, just five runs less than his opposite number, who has gathered significantly more praise over the years.
Mitchell Johnson (5, 7-40 and 1-73) – For the third time in succession, the Mitchell Johnson dice were rolled and up came a double six, as he simply blasted through a fragile England middle and lower order with pace, aggression and no little smarts in getting the ball very quickly, very often, to the exact place each batsman did not want to see it. The mysterious “rhythm” is at the heart of his remarkable impact on the series – that rhythm gives him searing pace and lifts his confidence as high as his bouncer to Alastair Cook. There’s still plenty to go wrong with a his low, slingy action – but nothing is going wrong just now and the Barmy Army’s figure of fun from the last Ashes Down Under has been transformed into a figure of fear for England’s fans and players alike. Expectation will be sky-high for Perth, but who would bet against him? Whisper it, but we’re two or three good spells away from dubbing this series “Johnson’s Ashes”.
Peter Siddle (2, 1-34 and 4-57) – In he comes, never giving much away, bowling to plans and sending KP back to the sheds. It says much for the vegan from Victoria’s character that the man who took a hat-trick last time England came is content to bowl first or second change and plug away in Johnson’s shadow. He is an admirable cricketer who, lest we forget, builds pressure and takes his share of wickets. Having played in all fifteen Tests of the last three England series wins, he can probably taste The Ashes now – and you would have to be the most one-eyed of England fans not to feel for him if he is to be celebrating at last.
Ryan Harris (55*, 0-30 and 3-54) – The perfectly named “Rhino” belted England’s demoralised attack all over South Australia and then bowled with his usual skill, if not his usual bag of wickets. It’s instructive to note that Australia, despite some poor results and periods of chaos on and off the field, have won 10 of the 18 Tests Harris has played since his belated debut in 2010. Even in the days of bowling machines, computer analyses and teams of specialist coaches, fast bowlers win matches.
Nathan Lyon (17*, 1-64 and 1-78) – Not at his best on a wicket that offered the spinners the proverbial sixpence as a “good area”, he still outbowled his two opponents with overspin as much as sidespin as his weapon of choice. He is yet another resourceful Australian cricketer who fields well, can hold a bat and doesn’t fear batsmen coming at him. Rather as is the case with the wicketkeeping slot, it’s hard to believe that the selectors have recently tried alternatives to what is plainly the best that they have available.
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