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July 19, 2013 7:54 pm
In the long history of Ashes cricket, the competing nations have both known ups and downs, peaks and troughs, triumphs and disasters, most of the disasters being English ones. Not this time.
At Lord’s on Friday, Australia produced a batting performance of such ineptitude that living memory could hardly provide a precedent. In a single session all the hopes engendered by their competitive performance in the opening Test were shredded.
In keeping with the nation’s instinctive empathy with the underdog, England kindly lost three wickets for 31 themselves before the close. But by then they already led by 264 and the wicket was becoming ever more eccentric. It was hard to see how England avoid going two up after two (something they have done against Australia only once since the war) and winning their fourth Ashes Test in a row, a sequence last achieved 85 years ago.
A ball before lunch, Australia had been tootling along at 42 for no wicket in response to England’s indifferent total of 361. They were not exactly in control of the situation but had at least made a trouble-free start along the path to the sunlit uplands.
At that moment Shane Watson was given out lbw for 30, which so affronted him that he insisted on an appeal to the TV umpire – a difficult ask in the case of leg-before decisions, where the default position is not to overturn the on-field umpire’s call.
How dominance has shifted between Australia and England in over a hundred years of Ashes cricket
With one of their two permitted failed reviews gone, Chris Rogers opted not to complain immediately after lunch when he was hit groin-high by a full-toss from Graeme Swann and also given lbw. Mistake! This one would have been overturned. Then Phil Hughes flailed at Bresnan and was caught behind. He wasn’t going to die quietly like Rogers, and demanded redress. Wrong again! Now Australia had no reviews left.
So they had to find other ways of making themselves look stupid. Usman Khawaja gave mid-off catching practice; Brad Haddin played a vile shot; Ashton Agar, mobility impaired by a hip injury, reacted by attempting a sprinter’s single. No one’s helmet fell on the wicket; no one was given out for hitting the ball twice; no one was timed out, locked in the lavatory. But pretty much everything else that could go wrong did go wrong.
Michael Clarke, Australia’s captain, looked a different class to everyone else, giving proceedings an air of calm, class and professionalism. But he was leg before to Stuart Broad for 28 and was clearly thinking “Review!” before he remembered his teammates had used the full quota. Maybe the Aussies could not cope with the searing English summer and had all gone troppo, as the old Anzacs used to say. More likely we were seeing a team whose cohesiveness is still fragile and whose collective ability is more often than not going to be insufficient to cope with England’s skills and discipline.
Australia lost nine wickets for 52 in just over two hours. There was a last-wicket stand, which is becoming a theme of this series, in this case worth 24, which took them to 128, still their lowest total in a Lord’s Test since 1934. England’s last pair, Broad and Swann, had added 48 in the morning. Swann then found himself taking five for 44 and earning a place on the Lord’s honours board. It should have space to acknowledge the assistance he had from the opposition batsmen.
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