Genuine fast bowling can change a game or a series quicker than any other skill in cricket. However, I didn’t envisage the enormous psychological swing that Mitchell Johnson’s express deliveries wrought at the Gabba.
England are in trouble and their chances of retaining the Ashes will depend on their response to the threat in Adelaide. Australia are the more adaptable squad while England tend towards one-dimensional; Adelaide will provide more clues. England’s first priority is to dent Johnson’s confidence. If they allow him to continue in his rampant Brisbane form then the confrontation at the WACA in the third Test can only go one way – Australia’s. Johnson is more accurate when he pitches short. Therefore, England have to find a way to change his length because when he pitches full and tries to swing the ball, he often sprays his deliveries.
While the departure of Jonathan Trott is sad, it may have delivered England the ideal opportunity. Ian Bell is a born number three and now is the time to promote him and, along with captain Alistair Cook, this pair are best equipped to tackle Johnson. Both batsmen handle the short-pitched delivery well and also hook and pull securely. This is the perfect combination to slow Johnson’s progress and the time is right in Adelaide where the pitch is more placid than the Gabba or the WACA.
England’s other priority is what to do with their attack? The onslaught that was supposedly going to be visited on Michael Clarke to test his aptitude for the short-pitched delivery was more like an attack with a handbag than a hand grenade.
David Warner did his part in dampening English enthusiasm for intimidation by ferociously hooking the very first ball he received from Stuart Broad. England have to decide whether they maintain their policy of trying to make Australia’s runs hard-earned or whether they want to make life uncomfortable. If they decide on the latter it’ll require the promotion of a faster bowler and a drastic change in philosophy with Cook more aggressively seeking wickets.
In this situation, England could easily be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Australia, on the other hand, are suddenly well placed to regain the urn. One nil up is a good spot with Adelaide, a potential draw venue, being followed by a trip to Perth where a fast bouncy pitch favours the home side.
Australia are far from home as the batting is still vulnerable. The bowling however, which always appeared to be the best chance of providing victory, now has greater depth with Nathan Lyon’s improved form and Johnson’s resurgence.
So often, once a genuine fast bowler stamps his authority on a series, the mental damage inflicted can carry over even on the most benign of surfaces. Fast bowling has changed Ashes series quickly in the past, with the likes of Harold Larwood, Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson and Jeff Thomson. And judging by the way he bowled at the Gabba, Johnson could add his name to that illustrious list if England don’t show plenty of imagination at Adelaide.