Cricket: England’s Bell tolls for poor Australia

THE opening skirmish of this summer’s Ashes series has been fought and it augurs well for England. They won comprehensively, by 48 runs, but really nothing in their performance suggested they are likely to win the Champions Trophy.

England's wicket keeper Jos Buttler tries to stump Australia's Mitchell Johnson. Picture: Getty

The truth is Australia were poor. That was always the fear since their touring squads were announced two months ago but they were hampered further when the news broke midweek that the captain, Michael Clarke, was injured again. His bad back is the biggest worry they have for the next ten months. In that time they have two Ashes series and the question is how will he manage ten Tests?

His absence removes far more than just their best batsman and leader. His form in the past 18 months has been extraordinary – he is not only a potential match-winner but also allows other, less gifted and less experienced players to bat around him.

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Without him and under pressure to play the big innings themselves, they failed.

The target after England had won the toss and batted was 270, a good total but not a daunting one. The pitch was good, the ground baked in sunshine and as England proved, shot-making was possible.

Ian Bell top scored with 91 off 115 balls. It was a typical Bell innings, full of classical drives and elegant cuts and yet on further analysis a tad unfulfilling. It promised to be a dominant innings, a 130 or so, but instead he did what he does far too often, got out when well set with plenty of overs left. He was dismissed in the 38th over with the score 189. If he had remained a total much nearer 300 was likely and against sterner opponents England will need the extra runs. Indeed the only reason they amassed as many as they did was a spritely cameo by Ravi Bopara and some shoddy late innings bowling by Mitchell Johnson.

Bopara’s was a lovely innings, injecting momentum after Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler had been dismissed within five overs.

There is a concern that the top order is a tad slow. Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, and Bell all got in but not one of them had a strike rate of 80 runs per 100 balls.

When they bat well they set a platform but it is somewhat pedestrian, meaning England are reliant on something special from the likes of Morgan, Buttler or as it was this time, Bopara. It puts a lot of pressure on the final ten overs and if they as a group stutter, the total will be too small.

At least it would be against anyone other than this lamentable Australian side, for there should be no excusing the fact they were abject with the bat.

The top order of David Warner, Shane Watson and Phil Hughes are like a schizophrenic gambler – they don’t know whether to stick or twist. Scared of the criticism if they get out playing bold shots, they are trapped in a stultifying torpor. Three runs an over? Goodness, it was turgid stuff.

It was so slow they made Trott seem a quick scorer. Maybe it is time for the mongrel in Australia to make a re-appearance and to come out scrapping hard and damn the consequences.

For England the pleasing aspect was the excellent seam bowling of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan. England need these to fire to win matches and when Anderson did for Mitchell Marsh and Matthew Wade he became England’s highest wicket-taker in one-day cricket. His 237 wickets took him past Darren Gough and when added to his 300 Test wickets state clearly how important a cricketer he has been for England.

James Tredwell has over 200 fewer wickets than Anderson but his flat off-spin was equally important. Deputising for Graeme Swann, who was resting a sore back, he bowled cleverly and with great control. He is a very able performer and could easily play in partnership with Swann and against some sides it may be a worthwhile ploy.

Overall though not too much should be gleaned from this easy victory. Australia are scraping along the bottom, England can beat mediocrity and the final Champions Trophy is proving to be the best yet.