In the aftermath of England’s comprehensive 169-run victory over Australia in the first Test at Cardiff, the two sides could not be more at odds in their preparation for the second Test starting at Lord’s this Thursday. England have announced an unchanged 13 and will entertain no thought of altering a line-up which astutely claimed 20 wickets against the old enemy and made runs in the worst of the conditions, before exploiting the Australian attack when it sensed weakness.
In Joe Root they’ve found the man to carry the attack to Australia’s much venerated pace attack, but of equal importance in Wales, they saw talisman Ian Bell return to his destructive best. His swashbuckling 60, in tandem with Root in a near hundred run partnership took the game away from Australia in the second innings and did so at speed that rendered day five – and its gloomy weather forecast – obsolete.
In contrast, Australia are beleaguered. The injury-forced retirement to stalwart Ryan Harris was a blow days away from the first ball of this series, but the ankle issue to Mitchell Starc, despite Australian team physio Alex Kountouris suggesting he’ll play, and the underperformance of spearhead Mitchell Johnson (2-180) means the tourists are approaching the second test facing the prospect of a patched up pace attack against a host brimming with confidence.
It is only 1-0 from five Tests, and as custodians, Australia need only draw level with England to retain the urn. The situation reminds of the old political adage — it’s never as good as they say, and it’s never as bad as you think.
Australian coach Darren Lehmann used the slightly bemusing tone of describing their loss in the first Test as a “minor hiccup” but Dad’s Army or not, there remains a clear blueprint of success within the Australian team that by any other name represents experience.
What will be crucial for the Australian camp is that they get their XI right. Pressure on Haddin over his drop of Root in the first innings when the Yorkshireman was on nought (he went on to score a match high 134) will be dismissed. Whilst it wasn’t a memorable match for the gloveman, removing him would cause far more trouble than it would solve, even if he is closer to his 38th birthday than his 37 years suggest.
All-rounder Shane Watson, however, is another matter. The groundswell for the younger of the touring Marsh brothers, Mitch, to replace the middle-order veteran is fervent, and given Clarke’s reluctance to hand Watson lengthy bowling spells, either due to concern of injury or productivity, it seems probable Mitchell Marsh will return to the Test scene to add to his four caps, the last of which came against India in December, 2014.
Watson has been dismissed lbw a Test-record number of times compared to other players with 100 innings or more in his career, and England’s quicks are the architects-in-chief of that unwanted testimony.
The selection quandary facing Mitchell Starc’s spot is the more tantalising. It is hard to imagine the bean-pole quick will get up for the second Test, given the clear discomfort the New South Welshman displayed when bowling in the second innings, even though Australian medical staff are making comment to the contrary. Whilst he’s yet to take Test cricket by storm, Starc represents Australia’s future at 25 and his form with the white-ball as Australia became world champions in ODI cricket for the fifth time provides evidence of his undoubted worth to this side.
Waiting in the wings if Starc is sidelined is tried and tested quick Peter Siddle, and the more precocious but injury–prone Pat Cummings. Recent pecking order would suggest Siddle is next in line, but with Australia 1-0 down and staring down the barrel of extending an Ashes winning trough in England that stretches back to 2001, the thought of unleashing Cummings might be considered the educated gamble that selectors feel they need to make.
Whichever way the cards fall, it can be reasonably inferred that Lord’s will again serve a wicket which provides less by way of pace and bounce, and more towards the skill of line and length that befits the virtues of England’s new ball battery. In James Anderson and Stuart Broad, England hold the aces in English conditions, and with both in form, it would take a brazen man to suggest that their impact will diminish as the series progresses.
The toss of the coin could prove critical, with Clarke and his men no doubt keen to make first use of the Lord’s deck that up until recent times has been a happy hunting ground for Australian Test team.