They were utterly relentless from the 78-run partnership that opened the second Test on Thursdayto the final wicket taken by Josh Hazlewood 40 minutes after tea on the fourth day.
If England dominated the first Test in all aspects then it was repaid with interest, on a belting pitch at Lord’s. They were batted into oblivion, outbowled to an embarrassing degree, outfielded and, in as much as Michael Clarke won the toss, outcaptained. The five-Test Ashes series stands at one match apiece but the change in momentum has been massive and quite possibly terminal for England. Would it have been too mischievous to invite the England team along the corridor for a beer? Australia had powered on with the bat in the morning so that Clarke was able to declare 20 minutes before lunch at 254 for two, a lead of 508, and five sessions and a bit in which to bowl England out.
They had every right to be confident but even they cannot have expected the capitulation that followed, with England bowled out in 37 overs for 103, a total boosted to a small extent only by some late hitting on a may-as-well-have-a-go basis. The last five wickets went down in nine overs after tea for 39 runs.
The defeat by 405 runs is the fourth highest suffered by England in terms of runs. In 1934, at The Oval, Bill Ponsford and Don Bradman made big first-innings double hundreds and defeated Bob Wyatt’s team by 562 runs. At Old Trafford in 1976 West Indies won by 425 runs. And at Lord’s in 1948 Bradman’s Invincibles triumphed by 409.
That it was Stuart Broad who top scored with 25 rather tells its own story. England were terrorised by Mitchell Johnson, who removed Alastair Cook – looking desperately tired – with his fourth ball and returned to blast out Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali in his first over after tea.
There was the wicket of Adam Lyth for Mitchell Starc, with the new ball, and that of Joe Root for Hazlewood with the sun setting on the England innings, as well as the final one. There were a couple for Nathan Lyon and one for Mitchell Marsh, who enjoyed the sort of gallivanting match with bat and ball that will make improbable any return for Shane Watson.
If anything could encapsulate the sheer absurdity of the batting implosion it was the dismissal of Ben Stokes, who had batted so well in the first innings. Marsh was bowling to Root, who clipped firmly wide of mid-on and scampered through for a quick, safe single. Stokes, too, would have been comfortably home had he bothered to ground his bat rather than skip gaily into the crease. He was in mid stride, beyond the crease but with both feet in the air when Johnson’s direct hit struck the middle stump. It is a matter of record that Stokes’s dismissal in a one-day international in Barbados caused him to punch a dressing room locker so hard in his anger that he broke a hand that kept him out of the game and the England side for some time. Even as he was stomping from the field, the dressing room would have been battening down the hatches.
The single dark moment to spoil Australia’s day was the unfortunate departure of Chris Rogers while batting first thing. Rogers had made 49 and was non-striker when he sank to his knees. The Australian medical team rushed on to the field and helped him groggily off. He is said to have suffered dizziness, which must be of great concern given that three times in the past 10 months he has suffered blows to the head either while fielding at short leg against India in Brisbane, batting in the nets in Dominica or at the start of the second day here against Jimmy Anderson. The second occasion so concussed him that he was forced to miss the next two Test matches, only returning in Cardiff. He is 37 and was planning to retire from Test cricket after this series. If it is the case, it would be a sad end to a late-flowering career.
Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace will have their work cut out now before the third Test at Edgbaston on Wednesday week. There are all-round concerns. The bowling proved utterly inadequate on the type of slow, unresponsive surface that Mick Hunt had produced, lacking the extra pace of the Australia attack that made the difference. To succeed it is paramount that England have pitches that offer some lateral movement, and if it negates Australia’s attack so much the better. But the movement is crucial. The top order is a shambles now (at risk of repeating, since the start of the West Indies series England innings have seen scores of 34 for three, 52 for three, 104 for three, 38 for three, 18 for three, 30 for four, 74 for three, 238 for three, 62 for four, 43 for three, 73 for three, 30 for four and now 64 for seven, during which time Cook averages high 50s). It is simply not sustainable if the team are win consistently no matter what brand of cricket they choose to play.
Lyth did get a snorter from Starc but is no more looking the long-term answer as Cook’s opening partner than his predecessors since Andrew Strauss retired while Gary Ballance is hamstrung by a faulty technique that has been rumbled. As for Ian Bell, it is already pertinent to ask given the run of very low scores, whether he is reaching that point in his career where it is taking more effort to pick up line and particularly length early on. The conundrum, though, lies in the lack of credible alternatives as opener or first wicket down where England are now coming to realise the extraordinary contribution of Jonathan Trott.
The only batsman making a strong case is Jonny Bairstow, who has just made yet another hundred for Yorkshire and cannot be ignored. It will require a rejigging of the order – Bell or Root to three and, probably, no Ballance – but after this, the status quo is not acceptable.
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