By Shrikant Shankar
After England added only 29 runs to their overnight total before being blitzed by Mitchell Johnson early on Day Two to end their first innings at 255, the fans would have expected a continuation of the recent trend in Ashes history. Australia won the first three Tests of the 2013-14 Ashes series by bowling England out cheaply and scoring big runs. On Day Two, they did exactly that. England were at 226 for six at stumps on Day One with Kevin Pietersen on 67.
Pietersen played a very risky shot to Johnson in only the second over of the day and got bowled for 71. Johnson took three wickets on Day Two to add to his two. Johnson took all his five wickets with the second new ball, bowling nine overs of which three were maidens. In those nine overs, he conceded only 18 runs. This is Johnson’s third five-wicket haul of the series and has taken 27 wickets so far.
After sending England into bat, Australia captain Michael Clarke would have been delighted with his bowling and fielding departments. So, Australia bowled England out cheaply — as they have done throughout the series. However, they could not repeat the second part of the recent trend i.e. scoring big runs. They are reeling at 164 for nine at stumps on Day Two. This Australian side seems to have a never-say-die-spirit. But let’s not get carried away and expect a miraculous 10-wicket bailout.
Brad Haddin, though batting quite exquisitely on 43, cannot be expected to guide Nathan Lyon, who is yet to bat, to overturn a 91-run lead. The reason Australia have lost nine wickets in less than a day is due to the England bowlers’ disciplined bowling tactics. Chris Rogers and David Warner began quite well by hitting a few fours each. But James Anderson struck quickly by bouncing out Warner. It is often said that judge the track after both the teams have batted at least once. On evidence, there seemed to be something extra for the bowlers.
Then Shane Watson and Clarke fell quickly. Watson edge one to Jonny Bairstow behind the wickets to give Ben Stokes his first wicket of the match. Clarke was bowled by an absolutely brilliant delivery by Anderson. The ball swung in from a good length and clipped the bails as Clarke did not offer any stroke. Just before that, Rogers was hit flush on the side of his helmet by a Stuart Broad delivery. The ball jumped higher than usual from a back of a length and Rogers could not get underneath it. He needed medical treatment before resuming his batting.
Surprisingly, Rogers began batting much better after that blow. England bowlers bowled a consistent line outside the off-stump and dried up the runs. As a result, Steven Smith lost patience and played a loose cut shot and edged it to Ian Bell at second slip off Broad’s bowling. Then immediately, Rogers, who was batting on 61, played an uncharacteristic lofted shot off Tim Bresnan’s bowling and Pietersen took the catch at mid-off.
George Bailey was then dismissed by Anderson for a 19-ball duck. This is the same man who smashed a world record-equalling 28 runs off an Anderson over in the third Test in Perth. Haddin came in and scored fours for fun. He added 29 runs with Johnson for the seventh wicket, off which the latter only scored two. Johnson was dismissed by Bresnan as he pulled straight to Anderson at mid-wicket, who took a good catch.
Then Broad came back to dismiss Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle cheaply before the umpires called for stumps on Day two. England are in a position that they have not found themselves in the whole series. They looked more energised as a group right from the beginning of the Australian innings. They have also bowled to some strict tactics and frustrated the free-scoring Australian batsmen. For the first time, they seemed to have a set strategy and they stuck to it.
England need to keep this intensity not only to take that final wicket, but also when they bat the second time. Australia will also bat last in the match on a tricky surface. It is imperative that England take this glorious chance and dictate terms against Australia in the Test. The Ashes has been lost, but England have a chance to avoid losing a fourth straight Test match and increasing the possibility of a 5-0 whitewash.
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)
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