Eng­land can still win Ashes

Now that Mitchell John­son is fir­ing on all cylin­ders again, it must be ac­knowl­edged that the at­tack at Michael Clarke’s dis­posal is much bet­ter than the one that he had in Eng­land, writes RAY WHITE

Weekend Witness - - Sport -

AUS­TRALIA’s big win should not have been a sur­prise.

I did not see it com­ing, but oth­ers, no­tably Shane Warne, gen­uinely be­lieved that Aus­tralia would beat Eng­land in the first Test match of the lat­est and seem­ingly end­less Ashes se­ries. Those whose fore­sight was greater than mine rea­soned that the se­ries in Eng­land was much closer than the 3-0 out­come and on re­flec­tion I have to agree that they were right.

The first Test was de­cided by the nar­row­est of mar­gins. The third Test would surely have been won by the Aussies had it not rained. The fourth was all but won by the Aussies when their bat­ting col­lapsed in the face of a late in­spired spell of bowl­ing by Stuart Broad and in the fifth the Aussies were on top un­til Michael Clarke made a risky dec­la­ra­tion on the fifth af­ter­noon and then nearly lost the gam­ble.

It was only in the sec­ond game at Lord’s, which the home team won with ease, that Eng­land ap­peared to be much the bet­ter team. Some com­men­ta­tors were able to look past the Lord’s match to dis­cern that Eng­land had not coped well with an Aus­tralian at­tack that was close to its strong­est only in the first Test when James Pat­tin­son was still fit, but even then Nathan Lyons did not play in that match.

The de­stroyer of Eng­land’s bat­ting at the Gabba, Mitchell John­son, did not ap­pear in Eng­land un­til the one-day matches when he gave the now de­parted Jonathan Trott such a tor­rid time. Nathan Lyons, who took cru­cial wick­ets in Bris­bane, did not play in the first two Tests. Only Peter Sid­dle and Ryan Har­ris of the present at­tack played in all the Eng­land Test matches.

Now that John­son is fir­ing with re­newed vigour, it must be ac­knowl­edged that the at­tack at Clarke’s dis­posal is much bet­ter than the one that he had in Eng­land where he was un­able to put his op­po­nents un­der the con­stant pres­sure that so of­ten brings wick­ets. This is one rea­son why Ian Bell, bat­ting in the mid­dle of the or­der, was able to play with the free­dom that brought him four cen­turies at cru­cial mo­ments.

A colder anal­y­sis of Aus­tralia’s chances this sum­mer would have come to the con­clu­sion that there are now more play­ers of Test class in their team than there have been for sev­eral sea­sons. Of the present lot I would sug­gest that their cur­rent non-starters are lim­ited to Rogers, Smith, Bai­ley and pos­si­bly the wob­bly Wat­son.

The other seven all had good games at the Gabba and of th­ese, their four best play­ers, Clarke, Warner, Haddin and John­son, de­liv­ered match-win­ning or -sav­ing per­for­mances. That is prob­a­bly as good as it will get for Aus­tralia, which is why I can­not see Eng­land fail­ing to win at least one Test and prob­a­bly the two that will al­most cer­tainly en­sure their re­ten­tion of the Ashes.

It is un­likely in this se­ries that Aus­tralia’s top four play­ers will again per­form in such har­mo­nious con­cert. For Aus­tralia to re­gain the Ashes it will be im­por­tant for their bit play­ers to per­form well above their ap­par­ent class. Wat­son might do it once as he did in Eng­land, but his bat­ting at the Gabba was al­most as poor as that of Trott who has prob­a­bly left the scene for good.

Rogers and Bai­ley looked too bad to be true in Bris­bane and I will be sur­prised if both are still in the squad who come to South Africa later this sum­mer. It speaks vol­umes about Aus­tralia’s woe­ful depth of bat­ting if th­ese are two of their best bats­men. I have played in league teams that would have been re­luc­tant to play ei­ther of them. Smith is not much bet­ter, but he had a good time of it in Eng­land. He de­serves to be in the team for now, but one can­not help feel­ing that Eng­land’s bowlers rel­ish the prospect of bowl­ing to him.

This brings one to Eng­land, now reel­ing from a dread­ful ham­mer­ing. Alis­tair Cook needs his best play­ers to per­form now that he is with­out Trott, who was im­mense on the last tour Down Un­der when he oc­cu­pied so much time at the crease and emp­tied the en­ergy from the legs of Aus­tralia’s bowlers.

Pi­etersen can be re­lied upon to pro­duce at least one big in­nings, but the keys to any English suc­cesses might well be Bell and Root, one of whom will be asked to bat at num­ber three. If th­ese two go on to have good se­ries, I think Eng­land will be dif­fi­cult to beat.

Next week’s match in Ade­laide has come at a for­tu­itous mo­ment for Eng­land. Of all the venues this is the one most likely to suit Eng­land in their cur­rent state of dis­ar­ray. The drop-in pitch there has of­fered lit­tle to spin bowlers and noth­ing to the quicks. If they had wanted a pitch that would blunt the pace of John­son they could not have done bet­ter than this one, which a year ago saw South Africa stave off de­feat on the dead­est of strips.

This is a chance for the English bats­men to find some form be­fore hos­til­i­ties re­sume in Perth. I still think that there are more qual­ity play­ers in the Eng­land team than there are in that of Aus­tralia. The ques­tion is whether or not the Aussies have be­gun to get on top of a num­ber of the Poms. In this re­gard Eng­land need to see good per­for­mances from Cook, An­der­son and Swann dur­ing the re­main­ing matches if their team is to re­tain the Ashes. If th­ese three fail to de­liver then it is hard to see Eng­land com­ing back from the loss at the Gabba,

From a South African per­spec­tive our own sum­mer will be more in­trigu­ing if the Aussies come here as hold­ers of the Ashes. Af­ter the dis­ap­point­ing trun­ca­tion of the In­dian tour this would pro­vide fresh chal­lenges for our play­ers.

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