Before the first Ashes Test, Australia started off as clear favourites. The spectators, experts, journalists, fans — everyone expected Australia to win. With that in mind, England’s 169-run victory in Cardiff was an upset. But if you watched the game throughout, you wouldn’t be surprised at the result, you couldn’t call what happened a fluke. England took the attack to Australia and they deserved to win.
Much has been said about the pitch. It nullified one man in particular – Mitchell Johnson. He needs nice, bouncy, hard pitches to be as effective as he can be. It’s not that he can’t be effective on slow pitches, but he would be a lot more effective on a hard, bouncy pitch. These slow flat pitches take away one of his main assets, the threat of physical danger which is never to be underestimated.
As a spectator, I wasn’t particularly happy with the nature of the pitch. I don’t think it was a good Test pitch because there was inconsistent pace and bounce. I’ve seen better pitches than that in Cardiff. However, conditions were similar for both teams; England bowled better and they used the conditions better than Australia did.
What it boils down to is that the Australian bowlers were just not consistent with their line and lengths – they were all over the place. Mitchell Starc was the most consistent of the lot for much of the game, his first two overs being his worst after which he was taken out of the attack by Michael Clarke, but not much fault could be found after. Josh Hazlewood showed control without the pace of the two Mitchells, but Johnson was a little bit too wayward and that was their major problem. They’re missing Ryan Harris a great deal. He had both good pace and accuracy which keeps gnawing away at batsmen.
Alastair Cook had a good match as captain. Almost everything he did proved to be successful but his bowlers and the fielding helped in that regard. Irrespective of how good a captain you are, if your bowlers don’t support you or bowl to the field placings, you’re not going to look all that good as a captain. I think everything worked very well for England in this Test – the captaincy was positive and more importantly, the bowlers supported the captain. That was what came together for Cook.
There are important moments either taken or missed during a day’s play that could have a great influence on the game and one of those was Joe Root being dropped by Brad Haddin. That was a big drop, a huge mistake, and it cost Australia dearly, so naturally there is now speculation about Haddin retaining his place. There were other instances where he didn’t look as assured as you would like behind the stumps. But I wouldn’t worry too much about Haddin because the pitch was tricky and the bowling at times too wayward. We saw the ball bounce in front of the wicketkeeper regularly, both wicketkeepers struggled with byes down the legside. I would prefer to see Haddin in the next game on a proper surface at Lord’s and judge him after that. And as for the drop leading to the loss, sure, it was crucial but I definitely don’t think you can put that one instance as what led to Australia’s demise. A team as good as them should make up for the odd mistake in the field. Certainly, you can’t afford three or four mistakes — be it missed run-outs or missed catches — but if you miss one batsman, one mistake, you should be able to make up for it.
Australia were just totally outplayed. England bowlers out-bowled the Australian bowlers. The batting was fairly even to a degree, but because of better bowling by England, the Australian batsmen had a tougher time.
It all comes back to Australia’s first innings. The batsmen went after Moeen Ali a little bit too much, they tried to be too aggressive. There was a bit in the pitch for him because it spun from early on, but it wasn’t a pitch that you’d think at some point you’ll get an unplayable delivery. So no need to adopt the attitude of trying to get whatever you can before one gets you. Against a bowler like Moeen, you can afford to wait for the bad delivery.
In my opinion, Moeen is not an international frontline Test spinner and perhaps the Aussie batsmen think similarly, hence their approach, but he is not so bad that you can just hit him whenever and wherever you feel like. His bowling played a big part, but he’s playing as a spinner in this team because he’s getting runs. If he wasn’t getting runs at No. 8, England wouldn’t be picking Moeen purely as a spinner. If I was picking the England team, I’d have him playing purely as a batsman and he’d be batting a lot higher in the order in a role similar to Root. At the end of the day, he’s a batsman who’s doing a bit of bowling and doing a good job of it.
Another case of mistaken identity is Shane Watson. They say he is in the team as an allrounder, but he’s only ever taken two wickets in all his Ashes encounters in England. This is his third Ashes tour and he’s taken just two wickets in total. On top of that, he’s not made any runs and he hasn’t made any runs in an Ashes series in England. I’m not sure of his credentials as an allrounder, especially in this country.
Mitchell Marsh has been making some big runs leading up to the Test, and I think that could be a possible move for the second game at Lord’s. I don’t think Australia will be panicking and making wholesale changes, but I think he should have been in the team originally. If Australia selected Watson because they thought they probably needed a bit of backup for the loss of Harris, history could have told them he wasn’t the man and his performance in the game with the ball confirmed that.
Another headache for Australia is the availability of Starc for the next Test. Of the two back-up options in Peter Siddle and Pat Cummins, I would prefer to see Cummins if Starc isn’t playing. I think Australia will need someone with some pace if they get a good pitch at Lord’s. They have Hazlewood who’s already a good line-and-length bowler, who can restrict runs and also get some wickets. With Siddle, I think they’d be duplicating each other. They need someone with pace, and though Johnson has pace, he hasn’t been effective in England. Losing Harris and now Starc are two big blows for Australia, but I don’t think they will go downhill from here. They have every chance of bouncing back in this series. They are a little bit thin in the bowling department right now and that would be their biggest worry. They need to find some way to remedy that.
Looking ahead, it will be interesting to see what the pitch will be like at Lord’s. I don’t think we’ll be seeing something like the one at Cardiff around the rest of England. Perhaps Edgbaston can be a bit slow and a bit inconsistent at times, but not Lord’s, The Oval or Trent Bridge. If what awaits at Lord’s is anything like the one that they had against New Zealand, we’ll have an excellent pitch and a keen contest. We just have to wait and see what they prepare.