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Sydney: Jan 11, 2014
One factor that has emerged as the key was Clarke’s clever manipulation of his bowling attack. He rotated and reshuffled his bowlers with the hyperkinetic intensity of a Delhi street cop while Cook stood passively and let matches drift.
In the five Test matches, Clarke changed his bowlers with marginally greater frequency than Cook— once every 4.3 overs compared to Cook’s once every 4.2 overs. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, what that figure hides is when the changes happened, and how strategic was Clarke’s thinking.
For example, in the first three Tests, on the best batting wickets of the series, Clarke changed his bowlers 25 per cent more frequently than Cook. Cook followed old formulae of giving Graeme Swann and James Anderson very long spells, but Clarke fearlessly rotated his bowlers about, not just when they were not taking wickets, but even when they were.
In each of those first three matches, England bowled roughly the same number of overs, 191 to Australia’s 197. Only in the furnace of Perth did Cook rouse himself to change his bowlers more, but even then it was a minor adaptation, down below once every five overs for the first time.
Clarke, by contrast, changed his bowlers every 3.4 overs in Perth, recognizing the effect of the heat. Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris were kept fresh, but so were Australia’s support bowlers. The two teams bowled the same number of overs in the Perth Test, but Clarke, with 52 bowling changes to Cook’s 42, was considerably kinder to his men.
By Melbourne, when the Ashes were lost, Cook woke up to Clarke’s tactics and tried to emulate them. In the MCG and SCG Tests, the balance shifted, and Cook changed his bowlers far more often than Clarke. But here was another example of how Cook was following schedules while Clarke was responding to conditions. Melbourne and Sydney were poorer batting wickets than Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
Clarke recognised that these matches were going to be shorter, wickets would fall more frequently, and the weather was considerably gentler. He was also less able to depend on Shane Watson to relieve the frontline seamers. If anything, Cook’s over-compensation in Melbourne and Sydney cost him as dearly as his inertia in the first three matches, though, to be fair, he was not helped by Swann’s retirement.
A telling impact of Clarke’s changes, was how often wickets were taken by refreshed bowlers early in their spells. During the series, Australian bowlers took a wicket in the first over of a new spell 24 times, compared to England’s 13. In all, an astonishing 48 of the 100 wickets the Australian bowlers took came in the first or second over of a new spell.
This reflects the success of Clarke’s tactics, and also the skill of those bowlers in hitting their line and length immediately. In terms of bowling in partnerships, the most productive was that of Johnson and Harris, who captured more than half of the English wickets.
When it comes to ‘team’ bowling, Lyon was the most valuable in building pressure at one end before a wicket fell at the other. He took 19 wickets, but bowled the preceding over for 36 other wickets, nearly twice as many as any other bowler.
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