The second Ashes Test this week is a crucial affair for both sides. More than simply deciding the score-line in this series, it will provide a clear indicator as to the direction both sides are headed. Are Australia back on the right track, or was Brisbane a rare shard of light in a dark period? Are England on the wrong path, heading back to mediocrity or worse, or was Brisbane an aberration?
It is tempting to conclude the latter, in both cases. Australia’s batting clicked in the second innings in Brisbane, with hundreds for Michael Clarke and David Warner, as well as a battling innings first up from Brad Haddin that did so much to restore Australian belief in the face of the now usual tumble of top and middle order wickets.
England’s batting has been, for some time now, weak looking. The best work done by England has very much been underpinned by the bowlers of late. Yet the bowlers struggled. Australia weren’t disturbed by Graeme Swann and only Stuart Broad and James Anderson looked likely to rip through Australia. That’s too much work for just two men. Troublingly, the support just isn’t there right now.
Chris Tremlett had an economical Test, but his pace was just above medium at times and he’s not going to cause anyone too many headaches on current evidence. Boyd Rankin is an option, but he struggled in the tour match in Alice Springs and Steven Finn is a shadow of the bowler who took to Test match cricket in a flurry of wickets.
The case of Finn is a worrying one for England. His pace has gone, his radar has gone and he simply can’t be considered for selection at the moment. For those calling for his inclusion, this isn’t a man bowling quickly but erratically. He’s still bowling erratically, but the pace has gone. Tremlett will get another chance in Adelaide and that won’t bother Australia one bit.
Tim Bresnan’s stock has risen as a result of being out of the side and much will be hoped of him in the third Test should his back hold up and should Tremlett struggle to make inroads into the Australian batting in Adelaide.
Australia, in their preparation for the second Test, will be hoping that the batting continues to hold up. Too often in the summer Ashes series they fell apart, notably at Durham where they tossed away the winning platform laid down by Warner and Chris Rogers.
In Mitchell Johnson they possess a man who has rediscovered his mojo and intimidating style. He almost won the first Test on his own with a blend of aggressive bowling and aggressive sledging. He’s done this before, mind, so he will be keen to prove Brisbane wasn’t a one-off like Perth was during England’s last visit.
Ryan Harris and Peter SIddle are ever reliable, when fit, but Australia will doubtless have been absolutely delighted that the much maligned, not least in Australia, Nathan Lyon comprehensively out-bowled the much vaunted Swann.
Was Brisbane a one-off or was it a changing of the guard? For England, will the second Test be like it was in Mumbai or like it was in Abu Dhabi, with a famous win or another hammering following a first Test thumping? One thing is for certain, the result in Brisbane was not expected and it has blown this series wide open.
By Miles Reucroft