Magnificient seven for Johnson leaves England on the brink
If the second Test in Adelaide was a Hollywood sequel, movie-goers would surely be asking for their money back for simply repeating the storyline to the first.
With its repeated themes of an English batting collapse, a comfortable Aussie declaration and a scintillating performance from central protagonist Mitchell Johnson, it felt like we’d seen it all before.
All out for 172 and 530 runs behind after Australia opted not to enforce the follow on, the problem for England and Alistair Cook is that this particular horror franchise has three more left to play.
On this form, with England fragile, shell-shocked and hopeless, their main goal may now have shifted from retaining the Ashes to simply avoiding the kind of 5-0 whitewash they last experienced Down Under in 2007.
After Australia declared on 570-9, England began day three on 35-1 having been unable to close out the previous day’s play without losing their skipper.
Yet with Michael Carberry looking in fine nick, and Joe Root seemingly unflustered by Johnson’s 90mph bullets, England survived relatively unscathed for the first 40 minutes, despite managing to add just 22 runs to the scoreboard.
It was the introduction of Nathan Lyon’s off-break that played out the first in a sequence of telling parallels to Australia’s innings that sum up why England find themselves in the situation where they are now.
On day two, Michael Clarke chose to attack Monty Panesar’s very first delivery of the day. His bold tactic paid off as Cook was forced to spread the field, but it had not been without some luck as Clarke’s opening shot landed only feet away from onrushing English fielders.
Clearly inspired by his opponent, Root attempted to do the same to Lyon’s first ball. Only Chris Rogers proved sharper in the field than England had been, and took the catch at deep square leg with ease. Root was gone, and England’s collapse could begin in earnest. As the old pros on TMS often repeat, catches win matches. Quite simply, Australia have been able to keep a hold of the cherry. England haven’t.
Back with the bat, one of those guilty of such fielding crimes, Carberry, can count himself a tad unfortunate to be magnificently caught by David Warner on 60, while Ian Bell’s wonderful unbeaten innings of 72 suggested that he might well find himself batting at three come England’s second go.
The only other notable highlight for England, Monty Panesar’s 57-minute and 35-ball stint at number 11 for his two runs, only served to show just how poorly his colleagues further up the order had done.
Despite finishing a daunting 398 runs off the hosts’ total, England might have been somewhat surprised and certainly relieved to learn that Clarke did not intend to enforce the follow on, preferring to add more runs on the board before surely putting England’s frail batsmen back in early on day four.
The Aussies, essentially the same side that were humbled 3-0 by England in the summer, only with added confidence, aggression and of course pace, are 1/10 to win back the urn they last held seven years ago.
England’s last hope (they are 11/2 to retain the Ashes and 20/1 to win the series) appears to lie in being able to punish Clarke’s decision not to enforce the follow on by batting out for two solid days on a turning drop-in pitch.
But unless the rest of the batting line-up follow the lead of Carberry and Bell and quickly learn to nullify Johnson’s threat, their hold on the Ashes will likely be over. A 2-0 deficit heading to Perth, a venue known for its (gulp) pace and where England have won only once ever, will surely turn England’s tour into a damage-limitation exercise.
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