The Ashes: England’s frailties cruelly exposed

Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates with team mates Steve Smith and David Warner after dismissing Jonathan Trott of England. Picture: Getty

Mitchell Johnson of Australia celebrates with team mates Steve Smith and David Warner after dismissing Jonathan Trott of England. Picture: Getty

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Reports of Australian cricket’s demise were greatly exaggerated and the Ashes is alive and well.

Cricket lovers should breathe a huge sigh of relief at that news and prepare for a thrilling five weeks because, my goodness, Australia have been good in this match and, unless the weather intervenes to a freakish level, should be 1-0 up.

Suddenly the whole country is confident about the next couple of months. Bravo for a team that had lost seven of their last nine matches and how they will relish England’s obvious distress. For believe none of the platitudes that will be muttered by the England camp, they have been well and truly thumped.

Brisbane has never been a happy ground for England and Australia consider it a bit of a fortress, but it is the manner of this dominance that is so worrying for England. Some heralded players have been exposed and unless they use the time before the next Test to rectify some clear technical issues, their participation should be cut short.

Jonathan Trott, pictured below, is the major worry. He averages 26 in the last six Test matches against Australia, with a top score of 59. That is simply not good enough. Australia claimed during the past summer to have worked him out and now they are proving it. It is ruthless, as they are targeting his body with fast, short-pitched bowling and his method of moving across his stumps and flailing with the bat at the ball down the leg side is almost an embarrassment for a top-order batter.

The shot he played to be caught in the second innings was a flick off the hip in the air towards two waiting catchers. He was on the move, so had no stable base and panicked as the ball came to him. If he had stood still and played it normally, it would have been a simple back-foot defensive or glance to fine leg.

What it shows is that comparison of records across generations is pointless. Many of this current crop average well above 40, but they have feasted on a diet of medium pace. The fear factor, that physical threat that they have experienced in this match, used to be a staple of many Test matches and quite a lot of domestic first-class cricket.

David Warner, a centurion in the match, was particularly damning of Trott, stating he had “scared eyes” and calling his dismissal “weak”.

He is correct, and how refreshing it is for a player to tell it like it is rather than stick to the bland script. Warner was of course commenting from a position of strength as his hundred was his finest Test innings and ensured the dominance earned by Australia’s bowlers was not wasted. He and captain Michael Clarke showed exactly how to play at Brisbane. Warner is short in stature, but two months of first-class cricket have meant he is in form and playing to a disciplined method. The short ball holds no fears for him.

Clarke had more concerns, especially after he himself was roughed up in the first innings, but his response was magnificent. He took the short stuff on, but not in panic. He pulled hard and, importantly, down and kept control of the shots. His 25th hundred has set him up for the series and as a team takes its lead from the captain, Australia is looking in good fettle.

They have plans worked out with both bat and ball and just needed some confidence to fully commit to them. They have that now, so Graeme Swann will have to work hard to influence this series. Australia will target him and try and hit him out of the attack as they did so successfully here, and therefore expose England’s third seamer. Similarly, with the ball they will target Trott with short stuff and attack Joe Root at six.

It is hostile, angry cricket and absolutely thrilling to watch. Not one England player will get an easy ride and every success, however small, will have to be earned the hard way. It is Australian cricket as it used to be and shows their recent travails have bottomed out and they are reconnecting with the first-class and longer form of international cricket.

Much of the resurgence is courtesy of Mitchell Johnson. He can be infuriating and insipid, but when he is on form, he is devastating. The warning signs were there. He excelled in the one-day series in India and scored runs in the first innings with a free and easy style. Now that he has batsman hopping about he could prove unstoppable. The fault-lines in England have been exposed. They need to correct them and quickly or this series is Australia’s. Forget the inflated personal records, this will be the real judgment on this England team.

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