Well, well, that was unexpected. I have to admit….I didn’t see that coming. I was pretty sure that Australia would fail to win any of the tests in the remainder of the series, after Adelaide. Like many, I have been proved wrong, and like a few, I am pleased.
I say that I am pleased, because as much as I love to see Australia getting thrashed, it is no fun, when there is barely a contest between two sides. The reason why I hated the Australian team of the late 90s and early 2000s in the first place, is that they barely allowed the opposition to compete with them on the same level. When one side dominates the other, so often, it can be off-putting, most times.
That’s why I am glad to see the return of Mitchy’s Australia; because that’s who I associate a contemporary dominant Australian team with. When Johnson is in the right frame of mind, with the bat or ball, everything falls in place. We got the first glimpses of the return to form, on day 1 of the Test, when he was batting. Unlike most batsmen before him, his head was still, he stroked the ball confidently, and when he decided that the ball had to go, there were no half measures with the swing of his blade.
Then came, his turn with the ball. After enduring months of scorn and ridicule from the press and public alike, justifiably, for his inconsistencies, he roared back to deliver one of the best spells of swing and pace. The English batsmen, who haven’t been troubled since the first day at Brisbane, suddenly found themselves unsure of whether to go back or forward; and before they could make up their mind, they were either trapped in front of the wicket, or had to parry the ball somwhere into the slip cordon.
And just like that, Australia were back in the game. Johnson’s performance was so typically Aussie, that when the team realized that he was back to his best, they started to resemble the team of old. Testosterone levels gradually increased throughout the day, and the verbals started to fly, with even an invitation for an after-game joust, extended to (or by) Prior. The balls started to find the fielders, boundaries were contained, and even Mr Grumpy (Ponting) began to smile more and more.
Just to prove, that this was not an one-innings or one-bowler miracle, Ryan Harris joined the party in the second innings. Bowling with sustained pace and bounce, he skittled out the middle order, who very strangely, gave up the fight easily. After all the talk of preventing complacency, they still seemed to be surprised by the fightback shown by the Aussies, and resembled a pale imitation of the team which played in Adelaide.
This is not to say, that Australia’s problems are solved. Their batting, with the exception of Watson, Hussey and Haddin, still seem to be iffy, and Ponting’s participation for the rest of the series seems to be doubtful. It also remains to be seen, if the bowlers can sustain the improved performance for the next two games. And finally, there is the small matter of deciding, if they want to keep going with the 4 man pace attack, or introduce a spinner to mix things up a bit.
England will still remain favorites to retain the Ashes, for the simple reason, that bad games like the Perth Test, have been very rare for them over the last 18 months. They will be hurting, and the likes of Swann and Collingwood, will have lots to prove, after their disappointing performaces. Its unlikely that England, with the likes of Flower at the helm, will make the same mistakes again. They will come to Melbourne with a fresh game plan and stronger mental attitude.
All in all, it will make for a riveting last leg of the series; because, finally, we have two teams competing on the same level. For that, we have to thank Mitchy…for reminding his team-mates – that there is the Ashes at stake, and more importantly, what the Australian fighting spirit is all about.