Friday, December 17, 2010

WACA Test: Day Two

Day Two at the WACA was an absolute treat for those who enjoy Test cricket at it's best, though Australian fans would do well not to get over-excited as their team's failings have not disappeared, rather they were papered over by a tremendous spell of bowling by Mitchell Johnson.

Johnson was at his mercurial best today - running in and bowling with a high(ish) arm action, getting the ball to dart back in to the right-handers, and most importantly, bowling quicker than the radar gun implied. He was sharp, and was beating batsmen with sheer pace at times.

On a track that continues to be fine for batting, England paid a big price for failing to prise out the Australian tail on Day One, and then for some loose cricket today. Ian Bell was the only one to emerge with any credit as he showed himself once more to be probably the best batsman (in terms of current form) on either side. His footwork was decisive, his strokemaking crisp, and his shot selection flawless - until his dismissal, which can probably be attributed to lack of faith in the tail.

Outside of Johnson, the Australian bowlers looked largely toothless. Hilfenhaus swung the ball appreciably, but none of them looked more than honest triers. Siddle's experiment with modern day Bodyline, in which he had no fielders in front of square on either side of the wicket, would have been laughable had Matt Prior not somehow contrived to fall victim to it.

The concern for England will be that they looked a little deflated, and more crucially, their bowlers looked tired second time around. The wickets may have continued to fall, but Finn bowled a lot worse than his figures imply, Tremlett wasn't hitting the lines of the first innings, and Anderson can't buy his 200th Test wicket. Even flying First Class on Emirates doesn't prevent jetlag.

Australia are effectively 200-3, and will back themselves to set England something in excess of the 414 South Africa chased down in 2008. However, they would be wise not to get ahead of themselves. Shane Watson continues to look the part - a throwback to openers of time gone by, with a remarkable ability to leave the ball (including when fielding in the slips). Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin can do little wrong either, and Hussey extracted some very classy revenge on Graeme Swann late in the day. But Philip Hughes looked ill-equipped once again, Ricky Ponting doesn't know where he's going to find a run, and Michael Clarke appears to be a complete mental basket case. Steve Smith isn't yet a Test #6, and England won't bowl so poorly to the tail again, so while this Test may seem won, once we get back to flatter pitches, England will feel very confident.

Speaking of pitches, what we're seeing here really says a lot, too much even, about the modern cricketer. This is decidedly not the WACA of old, it's simply a pitch with good bounce and carry. Absolutely nothing alarming about it. What is very obvious is that batsman have been so well mollycoddled that once the pitch does anything other than help the ball sit up and beg to be hit, the batsmen really don't know quite what to do. Only those with strong technique, strong minds, or both, have made runs thus far.

The first 60-90 minutes tomorrow will probably decide the game. England will want 2 or 3 quick wickets and to bowl Australia out for under 225. Australia will want to bat the day, and I don't see why they can't if they put their minds to it.

The series should go to the MCG standing at 1-1, at which time I expect England to regain the ascendancy.