By Shrikant Shankar
Dec 4, 2013
After all the talk and predictions no one was prepared for the manner in which Australia won the first Test of the 2013—14 Ashes series. They outplayed England to win by a massive 381-run margin in Brisbane at The Gabba. Now, all the attention shifts to the second Test at the Adelaide Oval. As ever, this is important for both teams to come away with a victory. While Australia would want that cushion of a 2—0 lead, England will be hoping to make it 1—1.
England are not particularly great starters to a Test series and their loss in Brisbane proved that. What it also proved was that they are not the best when it comes to facing pace. Mitchell Johnson was not bowling at his absolute quickest, but with the pitch aiding fast bowling, he didn’t need to. Australia had a strategy and that was to bounce England out. England also employed a similar ploy against certain batsmen, but it was Australia’s Test and they deserved to win it.
The pitch had something in it for the spinners at The Gabba, but there was more for the pacers. In Adelaide, the situation is slightly different. It is not the fastest Australian wicket and the spinners get a little more help. England have the better spinners in their ranks. But now it is all about confidence and clearly Australia have got that in abundance. The exit of Jonathan Trott due to a stress-related illness is unfortunate. But that gives someone else a chance to claim their worth.
Despite their batting failing miserably in Brisbane, England would not like to make wholesale changes to their starting XI. Michael Carberry looked solid in the first innings opening the batting and is expected to do so again in Adelaide. Alastair Cook played a stoic knock in the second innings and the pair have to give England positive starts. Trott’s departure brings in the big question – who will replace him and who will bat at No 3. Gary Ballance might get a chance to make his Test debut if England want a like-for-like, which means a batsman. If they go in for a bowler then Monty Panesar is most likely to make a return.
Graeme Swann is England’s best spinner and Panesar is not far behind. If Panesar gets his rhythm, there are not many batsmen who can keep him at bay. Australia packed their batting line-up with right-handers to counter off-spinner Swann in Brisbane. If left-arm spinner Panesar is thrown into the mix, it might help England in countering Australia’s plot. Either way, who will bat at the No 3 position is between two batsmen — Ian Bell and Joe Root. While Bell has the attributes and the records to fill in that position, Root is England’s future and they eye him as a top-order batsman, if not as an opener.
Kevin Pietersen will bat at No 4 and he would be hoping to score a big century. During his last two visits to Adelaide, he has notched up hundreds. Despite some poor form shown with the bat, Matt Prior is still England’s best wicketkeeper—batsman in Tests. James Anderson and Stuart Broad will spearhead the attack again. Anderson has been a little off the boil, but expect him to have a say in the series sooner rather than later. Another change that can happen is that Chris Tremlett might be replaced by Steven Finn or Tim Bresnan.
While Finn is England’s fastest bowler, Bresnan is a good lower—order all-rounder. Plus he also brings a lot of luck as England usually wins when he plays. Selection has to be spot on and more importantly whoever is selected has to perform. The reason it is important for England to win in Adelaide is that the third Test is in Perth and the wicket at the WACA is highly conducive for fast bowling. England can suddenly be staring at a 3—0 deficit after the third Test. And that is exactly the reason Australia would be hoping for victory.
For a nation that has seen a generation of stars winning almost everything in their paths, losses in three Ashes series wouldn’t have gone down too well. The win at The Gabba was Australia’s first in 10 Tests and more importantly the first in eight against the old rivals. After a scintillating performance in the first Test, there is very little change that will happen for the second Test. If it happens then it is because of injuries. David Warner and Chris Rogers look set to open the innings. Shane Watson will be at No 3.
Captain Michael Clarke is Australia’s best batsman and he will bat at No 4. Steven Smith, George Bailey and Brad Haddin will follow him in the batting order. Then it is the turn of the bowlers. Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle will form the pace—trio and Nathan Lyon will be the lone spinner. Lyon will get more assistance from the pitch at the Adelaide Oval. What will be interesting to see is what kind strategy the pacers will employ in the second Test. Since it does not bounce as much in Adelaide, a slight change in tactics might be on the cards.
The on-field banter is not likely to stop and that will add to the spice in the Ashes. Whatever the conditions and situation, England need the victory more than Australia and that might just spur them on.
Australia (probable): Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (c), Steven Smith, George Bailey, Brad Haddin (wk), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon.
England (probable): Michael Carberry, Alastair Cook (c), Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Matt Prior (wk), Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, James Anderson, Steven Finn.
Time: 10.30 local | 05.30 IST
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