Australia will be going into this week’s third Test in Pert expecting to win, expecting to dominate and expecting England to be brittle and scared. It’s an unusual position for this Australia side to be in given the year that they’ve had. The manner in which they handle this expectation will decide the pattern for the rest of the series.
This is where captain Michael Clarke and coach Darren Lehmann have been very clever. It was very clear from the thumping that they received in India that things needed to change. Then again, despite a change of personnel and some wild selection shifts, that things still needed to change after this year’s Ashes series in England. The response: to rediscover a bit of that Aussie mongrel.
It hasn’t always been pretty. The umpires have had to get involved, players have had to be fined and it’s gone beyond the mark on more than one occasion. Whatever your view on this, you can’t say that it hasn’t been successful.
Australia have come out snarling and biting. The bowling has been short and fast from Mitchell Johnson and co at every Englishman. When they’ve surrounded the bat when Nathan Lyon has been bowling, the abuse aimed at the Englishmen has been incessant. They’ve questioned the bravery of their opponents and clearly they’ve affected their mind-sets.
That comment has nothing to do with Jonathan Trott, to be clear. I’m no expert on mental health issues so I’ll stick to the cricket (not sure I’m expert there, either!). And on the cricket field Australia have been bullies; they’ve been nasty. It is impossible to see them relenting as it is so clear that they are playing for a nation’s pride and to reassert themselves over their old colonial masters. Clarke and Lehmann are not short of ammunition to pump the team up.
Instead, the change must now come from England. They must stand up to the onslaught. Like a boxer letting the referee know he’s okay to fight on near the end of a 10 count, England must pick themselves up and find their own combinations to get back into the contest. It’ll be a tall order – they need to win two of the three remaining rounds to retain the Ashes.
This is a hugely important moment in the future of the England cricket team. They’ve been coasting along for too long, their approach justified by famous wins in India and three consecutive Ashes wins, as well as a place in the final of the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy that they somehow contrived to lose and a first ICC tournament victory at the 2010 World T20. They were, too, ranked number one in the world in all three formats simultaneously at one stage.
They have been caught completely off guard by a rampant Australia that has said ‘no more!’ If England pull this off, it will be their greatest heist, the defining moment of the Andy Flower era that has contained a few defining moments. It will justify everything.
If they don’t, however, then it is very obvious that change is afoot. And wouldn’t Australia just love to be the team that brings the curtain down on one of, if not the, most successful eras in English cricket. It’s impossible to envisage them backing off now.
By Miles Reucroft