Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Spanner In The Works

And the spanner goes by the name of Mitchell Johnson. After all the big talk he finally re-found his mojo and produced a match-winning performance to boot. Delivering crucial first innings runs under the gun and then ripping apart England's once impregnable batting. The remedial work to his action in the nets clearly worked and the much-maligned selectors have to take a huge amount of credit for managing the situation so well. Shock horror, maybe they knew what they were doing all along. Not good news for Strauss' men after all the 'momentum' gained in Brisbane and Adelaide.

It was all looking so good after the first day. Admittedly the wagging Australian tail gave a far rosier complexion to the Australian total. But to bowl Ponting's men out for 268 on the first day of any test match has to be regarded as a success. Even the second innings bowling performance was highly commendable.

Tremlett was a more than adequate replacement for Broad on the bouncy WACA, Jimmy snared Ponting early on day one and looked pretty threatening throughout, Finn was expensive but chipped in with key wickets, Collingwood hastened the end of the second innings. Swann had a tough game but he produced the ball to remove Mr Cricket on day one. That man isn't giving many chances at the moment.

This time it was the batsmen who let the side down. Seems like it's all or nothing at the moment. 500-1 switfly becomes 123 all out. Where's the middle ground? Australia recovered from 69-5 to post 268 on day one whereas England plummeted to 187 after being 78-0 and 98-5. If England had got closer to Australia's first innnings total then that final run chase would have been far more 'gettable' in the players' minds. Even so to only make 123 was woeful. Losing is one thing, surrendering another.

After his heroics in the first two tests, Cook is of course immune from any blame. Strauss is looking a bit short of runs but the opening pair got England started before Cook became Johnson's first victim and the rapid slump beagn in earnest. KP did what only he can and followed up a career test best in Adelaide with a grand total of 3 runs in Perth. Bell continues to look the part but to he needs to prove his status as the best looking batsman in the side with big runs. A move up the order has been mooted to ensure he doesn't end up trying to force the issue when batting with the tail. A no-brainer at the moment.

The spotlight again falls on Collingwood before the 4th test. He had another poor match with the bat and can't hold down a place solely because of his excellent slip catching. The good news, apparently, is that when his position is under threat he tends to deliver. The bad news is that it seems to take a lot for his position to come under threat.

It was left to Alistair Cook to deliver the familiar Colly soundbite this week, "When his back is against the wall he plays his best cricket."

How many times have we heard this? Was the situation not perilous enough for him in Perth? Will the batsmen above him in the order have to deliberately lose their wickets to create the right environment for him to play himself back into form? He's not quite hanging on for dear life yet but he's close for the umpteenth time. England needs his fabled battling qualities, as well as his undisputed and continued prowess in the field, in Melbourne.

If he gets the expected nod, Collingwood can't fail to enjoy the atmosphere at the MCG on Boxing Day. The Aussies are scenting blood and after looking so dominant in Adleaide, England are in a right old scrap now.

This Ashes series is alive and kicking.

Now that's what we wanted.

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