You can argue over replays and chastise umpires for mistakes but the real truths were clear for all without green and gold coloured glasses to see over the past five days at Lords.
England outplayed Australia and right from the first call of “play” on day one – perhaps even before that when Ponting called incorrectly. By lunch, the game was virtually gone as Strauss and Cook flogged the Australian opening attack so badly that Hauritz had to bowl before the tucker break. From there, the Lions controlled the game with Strauss’ first innings hundred setting the game up for his side. When Australia had its turn, not even a suggestion of a return to form from Hussey was enough to save them from a large deficit which only got impossibly larger when England batted again.
The fifth day started with a majority of Australians believing that miracles can be performed by their cricketers after Haddin and Clarke had batted heroically on the fourth afternoon. Instead, we were privileged to watch one of the truly great modern sportsmen this noble game has seen. Andrew Flintoff, like all heroes do, stood tall and accepted the burden of his countrymen and bent his back into one of the best spells of fast bowling I can remember. For a hundred minutes, this man with a knee so badly injured it requires constant pain killing injections, steamed in and bowled consistently in the high-speed bracket. He was fast, he made the ball swing and cut and no one was happy to be facing him. Hauitz watched his fate with his bat resting on his shoulder and others ducked and weaved to avoid the red leather missiles he was still delivering at ninety plus mph an hour and a half after the start.
All of it – fire and brimstone, swerve and swing – delivered with a smile, a smirk and a laugh with his opponents. I liked this guy in 2005 as he took the time over a valiant opponent and crouched with Brett Lee and consoled him before going to celebrate with team mates. I liked him when he was overawed and out of his depth as England captain in Australia 18 months later. Tonight, with England leading 1-0, I like him even more. Here is a man for our kids to examine and emulate. We’ve been missing his type since the late 1970’s.
Swann bowled as was expected of him. Don’t swallow this guff about Clarke missing a full toss to end the Australian charge. He was duped by a dipping ball, bowled with more air and a lot of swerve created by spin on the ball in much the same way as Warne often achieved. His four wickets were deserved and for those paying attention, expected.
We could continue to quibble about umpiring decisions but that would be to miss the point. Umpires have had no hand in the form of Johnson or the non-selection of Stuart Clark or our Jekyl and Hyde batting line up which scored 600 plus at Cardiff but took twice as many innings to do the same at Lords. England are getting starts against our attack in which only Hilfenhaus has been threatening but in the reverse, we are losing early wickets as Phil Hughes has been worked out and over by an English attack which will hope he keeps being selected. If he’s to be dropped – he probably has the third Test left – who opens? Two choices from where I sit in my lounge room: Watson, whose only attempts in first class cricket at the top of the order were a long walks separated by short spaces of time; or Hussey, still struggling for the form that made him the Wonderkind in his first twelve months under the Baggy Green he had waited for and deserved for such a long time.
Umpires don’t captain England or Australia. Pity – we couldn’t be any worse off. This is our biggest problem and one we won’t fix until Ponting retires. I have said many times, he is a genius of a batsman, a brilliant fielder probably only outdone by Andrew Symonds and Mark Waugh in the last fifty years ... but, he is a stiff-necked, one dimensional captain who plays the game plan well past the point where it is exhausted by the real action on the field. He has no instinct, a by-product of the over management of the modern player from all quarters off the field. He can’t think for himself and even his talk is clichéd and straight-lined. Pity, because it will take the gloss off what has been a sparkling career.
In the preliminaries of the series, I called on England to win 2-1. Now, I can’t see where or how Australia can win a Test.
Probably a good thing for cricket.