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Mitch mash England order

For two days this has been Test cricket in the raw, a tooth-and-claw contest on a sporting pitch a world away from the vapid matches on surfaces that flatter mediocre batting and emasculate even the best bowlers. Mike Selvey reports.

cricket Updated: Dec 18, 2010 01:32 IST
Mike Selvey / The Guardian

For two days this has been Test cricket in the raw, a tooth-and-claw contest on a sporting pitch a world away from the vapid matches on surfaces that flatter mediocre batting and emasculate even the best bowlers. By the day's end, though, as Shane Watson's muscularity and Mike Hussey's surgical nous thwarted England's spirited riposte to what had been a desperate day for their batsmen, it was Australia, on 119 for three, with a 200-lead and seven second innings wickets in hand, who held the upper hand.

Thus, dramatically, either side of lunch, the momentum shifted, England cut down from a strengthening position, by a magnificent irresistible spell of fast inswing bowling from Mitchell Johnson. These have not been the happiest times for him, but it is his very unpredictability that makes him so dangerous. Maligned he may have been, mocked even, as he was offered sat-navs to help find the stumps, but it is not so long ago that he was regarded as the world's leading fast bowler. Until now, England had had the better of him for seven Ashes matches but for all that, never underestimated his potential.

On Friday he delivered, taking six for 38, single-handedly halting England's juggernaut and pushing it backwards. And with each wicket he took, Australians began to puff out their chests once more and strut. The fielding went up a notch, and Ricky Ponting was no longer the anxious nail-chewer but suddenly master of his domain. All because of one bowler.

In the 33 overs allowed them before the close, England managed the wickets of Phil Hughes, Ponting and a frenetic Michael Clarke, before the unbroken fourth wicket stand produced 55. But the new ball has long since been nullified and with Steve Finn a double wicket-taker but once more leaking runs at around a run-a-ball, and Graeme Swann off colour in the brief spell he had, it was only Jimmy Anderson and Chris Tremlett who allowed Andrew Strauss any control.

The Waca, it will have been drummed into the England bowlers from the moment they landed in Perth last month, seduces with its bounce. It requires discipline to substitute the macho intent of the short ball for the effectiveness of a fuller length. Pitch short, they will have been further told, and offer anything between waist and chest and Australian batsmen will hurt you square of the wicket. Watson is a powerful driver of the ball, but no one is faster on to the short ball than he, and he was murderous.

The day, though, belonged to Johnson, 0 for 170 in Brisbane, omitted in Adelaide, but returning with a mighty vengeance in Perth. He is, they say, a man of fragile confidence to go with a precarious technique, a potentially destructive combination. But boost one and it can feed the other. It was his runs, top score in the Australian innings which lifted them to what is proving a workable lead, and his wickets, during a remarkable spell, that drove home the advantage as he laid waste English batting.

He did it not with pace or steepling bounce, although judicious changes of length played their part, but with hooping inswing of full length to the right-handed batsmen, of a kind not seen since he ran roughshod over South Africa in Durban almost two years ago. It was an astonishing transformation for there has been little evidence that even when he has managed that most precious weapon in the armory of the left-arm pace bowler, he has had little idea of why or even how it happens. Once Alastair Cook had chased one that shaped away and sliced it low to the gully to end a 78 run opening stand, the floodgates opened. In the space of 12 deliveries both Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen were unseated and lbw, and Paul Collingwood followed shortly in similar vein, which with Strauss edging Ryan Harris in between times to end his excellent innings of 52, meant England were 98 for five. Only Ian Bell was able to hold things together but with only the tail for company he slashed away and was caught, leaving Johnson to clean up. A shade over 12 overs of mayhem had brought him six for 21 from his first wicket to his last.

Johnson speaks after the match

I didn't really get too down on being dropped. Obviously I was disappointed at the time when I found out but I knew I had to work on a few things and that's what I did

(The pitch) has sort of quickened up now and it's got a really nice bounce on it, so...look, hopefully it's going to favour us and we can perform well again on it. It's probably different to the last couple of years, so I'm not really sure

One thing that is key for me is getting my momentum going forward to the crease. In Brisbane I was getting off the wicket very quickly and my momentum was heading off towards square leg

I was disappointed (to miss Adelaide), you don't want to miss a Test but it has worked in my favour. I got to work on a few things and get the confidence back. I worked really well with other bowlers

I was a bit emotional at the time (Jonathan Trott's dismissal). There have been a few things said around the traps and I let the emotions get out, but in the end I got six wickets and that was the main thing for Australia.

The numbers game

First Published: Dec 18, 2010 00:13 IST