The injury sustained to wunderkind Pat Cummins ought to have almost done Australia a favour. At best, they could have introduced Ben Hilfenhaus, a stock bowler who hits a good line and length and nibbles the ball either way. Bowling accurate, wicket-to-wicket stuff in the low 80mph region has certainly done ok for Clint McKay so far this tour, and Hilfenhaus provides this with a bit of extra bounce to boot. The other obvious option was that they could have introduced James Pattinson and given a second quick protege the chance to rip through the England order. Instead, they went for Mitchell Johnson.
I’ll repeat: they went for Mitchell Johnson! The problem with Mitch, apart from that wispy ’Souvarov’ moustache, is that he is a liability in 4 of out 5 games he plays in. He is a pretty good strike bowler when on top of his game as England found out at the WACA in 2011, but he is wayward and hittable otherwise, as also they found out at the MCG, SCG, Adelaide Oval and the Gabba. Given the fact that he’s just come back from a pretty length injury, though, it is surprising that Australia thought him a good bet to hit the ’20%’ of his peak performance. He rewarded the selector’s faith with a flurry of no-balls, and the resulting free-hits let Alastair Cook and Ian Bell get England off to a vital good start.
Australia were not alone in picking an ‘all-sort’ and hoping it came off. England’s dilemma in replacing one of the world’s premier quicks in Anderson was never going to be an easy one, but Jade Dernbach has done little to convince me he is of any use outside the T20 format. It will take a lot to convince me that Dernbach’s slower variations are worth perservering with when he arrantly adorns such hideous tattoos and earrings, and his current average (just below 40) and strike rate (over 6) leave a fair amount to be desired. It was a huge surprise that he was bowled out when some of his colleagues, I’m looking principally at Finn and Swann, didn’t complete their 10 overs. Finn in particular has been the standout quick so far this series, and one imagines it will only be an injury until he cements his place in the Test side too.
In terms of batsmen, I maintain that there is too little between the two sides with the willow to determine the series, and it was an important knock for Bopara who did what Clarke and Forrest couldn’t and rotated the strike nicely at a run a ball. There is something ostentatious in his free strokeplay, but like IRon Bell of 5 years ago he lacks a certain conjecture and conviction in himself just yet. His knock should see him cement the number 6 role in the forthcoming Tests against South Africa, and one feels it is sink or swim with a crop of younger men breathing down his neck.
On the other hand I expect Australia to improve. I expect one of Watson, Warner, Clarke or Hussey to hit a game-changing 70 from 45 balls in at least one of the remaining games. For the moment though, 2-0 is the score and the whispers about a series whitewash to become the first side to reach Number One In The Universe Across All Three Formats (NOITUAATF) begin. Hopefully the Australian selectors persevere with Mitch, and the rain holds out, to make this a reality.