England vs Australia | Thursday 16 July - Monday 20 July | Lord’s | 12:00
Well, we certainly have a series on our hands. Australia’s bid to win their first Ashes series in England since 2001 took a massive blow last week as the hosts secured a 169-run victory in Cardiff to take an early lead. Bookmakers and pundits, including yours truly, had given England little chance prior to the match but perhaps this was rather shortsighted. Australia have lost eleven of their last seventeen Tests away from home, mostly on slow or sluggish pitches. Lord’s should have a bit more pace in the strip - not difficult considering the lack of juice in Cardiff - but don’t expect the ground staff to prepare anything green or wicked.
To Win Match
England’s attacking mindset has received praise in all corners and while their new approach was on display against a New Zealand side possessing the same qualities, it was truly evidenced in the first Ashes Test. Michael Clarke has long been considered a sort of captaincy pioneer in the Test arena but Alastair Cook outmaneuvered his Australian counterpart at every turn. It’s rather disconcerting watching an England side with such pomp and vigour; one simply expects them to hunker down when under pressure and play the percentages. Boring old England is no more. England coach Trevor Bayliss is certainly pleased, not only at the outcome of the first Test but the manner in which his side played it. Cook certainly kept an eager eye trained on Brendon McCullum during New Zealand’s tour; he has learned to take risks on attack rather than contain and understands the value of a calculated gamble. In doing so, the England captain states that the team have learnt from past mistakes to make improvements. But I feel that their victory in Cardiff - although secured by virtue of a ruthless approach - had more to do with studying Australia’s recipe for failure.
It was a largely complete Test for England. The entire side contributed to the victory and took complete ownership of their individual roles. The Man of the Match award went to prodigy Joe Root for his century in the first innings to rescue England from certain trouble and his fifty in the second to set a trying chase. A mention must also be made of Moeen Ali who came into the first Test with a question mark next to his name. He responded as a frontline spinner by picking up five wickets in the match and scored a valuable 77 in the first innings from number eight. He provides the side with the kind of balance that a successful team needs and his performances throughout the series will come under close scrutiny. Stuart Broad looked rejuvenated by the contest against the most despised of opposition while Mark Wood bowled straight and with purpose. England’s bowlers adapted far quicker to the challenges of the slow wicket, adjusting their line accordingly to bring the stumps into play and keeping a fuller length. Despite the change in venue, the same length will remain the key to taking twenty wickets.
Michael Clarke admitted that his side will be forced to adapt if the pitches continue in the same vein as the one in Cardiff. A low, slow, lifeless surface is the pet peeve of all Australian cricketers. Coach Darren Lehmann could barely restrain himself in his comments after the match and it is clear that he does not consider such a pitch worthy of an Ashes series. Australia will be praying for a Lord’s strip similar to those of the recent past; a tinge of green, a bit of swing in the air and movement off the seam assisted by the slope. While one can expect that some of those qualities will be on display, it unlikely that the Australian seam battalion will be assisted by pace off the surface. Mitchell Johnson in particular has struggled on pitches that offer little speed and that’s the way that England like it. Australia’s batsmen also prefer the ball coming on to the bat and seem to lose their focus when forced to nudge and nurdle the ball into space. They were outclassed in all departments in Cardiff and the suggestions of an aging squad looked apparent in their languid surrender of the first Test.
Shane Watson’s place in the side is under threat following two LBW dismissals in Cardiff. Watson has been plagued by the dismissal over the years, especially against England, and it was a talking point the last time that Australia toured the country. To make matters worse, Watson seems unable to accept that fact that he’s plumb in front and wastes an awful lot of reviews arguing the case. Despite this, I don’t think Australia will drop him. As stated, this happened on their last visit. They shifted him up and down the order before he finally stopped planting his front foot and promptly scored 176 from number three in the final Test. His style of bowling will suit Lord’s and I suspect Australia to persist with him. But Australia have problems. The tourists lost five wickets in twelve overs in their second innings to hand England the victory and fail to take the Test into a fifth day forecast for rain. Steve Smith’s technical deficiencies outside off stump were exposed while a defiant half-century from Mitchell Johnson late on day four highlighted the failings of the middle-order. Mitchell Starc is suffering from an ankle injury and is a doubt for Lord’s. If unfit, it is likely that Peter Siddle will take his place.
Much has already been said about the Home of Cricket leading into this important second Test. It’s not likely to be as slow as Cardiff and the slope will offer something extra for the seamers, but picking the correct side will leave Australia food for thought. They need to pick an attack that will get the most out of the surface instead of one geared towards fearsome pace. Lord’s usually produces a fascinating contest between bat and ball and Australia will feel they have a better chance of making an impact here. England have won three of the last five Tests at the ground, including hammering Australia by 347 runs in 2013.
VERDICT: England 18/10
The momentum is with the hosts and judging by the success they have had in home Ashes contests, I feel they will make life very difficult for a previously overconfident Australian unit. Make no mistake about it, Australia will come out firing as they look to prove a point. But one now has to feel that this English side has the right personnel to deal with it. There are still concerns regarding the English top order but should they find some runs, Australia will find it very tough to respond. Back England to continue their startling comeback.