Third Ashes Test: Johnson Swings It For Australia

Australia v England 3rd Test by John Stern at Perth

AND ON the second day he rose again. The man England thought they had banished from the series at Brisbane returned to pummel them at Perth. Myth no more, Magic Johnson was back. And more importantly so were Australia in an explosive and electric match in the Wild West. Their all-pace attack, argued for by Ricky Ponting against the wishes of the selectors who wanted another new spinner in Michael Beer, probed and pounded England into submission. Damned and dismissed by press and public alike before the Test, they revived the country’s wavering belief in their team and reignited the series.

What was this? Mind-set, mechanics or mysticism? All three, probably. Mitchell Johnson, after his devastating spell of fast, swing bowling that yielded 3 for 4 in 12 balls on the second morning and effectively decided the match, said he had not even been trying to swing it. Either he was lying or, more likely, given that he did not swing it nearly as much in the second innings, he has no idea what he is doing with the ball.

Ponting called his spell “unbelievable”. One imagines he did not mean it literally. “One of the all-time great Ashes spells,” Ponting added. He definitely meant that literally.

According to Johnson himself, it was the hours spent in the Adelaide nets with Troy Cooley, the Australian bowling coach, and Stuart Karppinen, the strength-and-conditioning coach, that relocated the mojo. He also reckoned that top-scoring in Australia’s first innings might have helped improve his fragile self-esteem.

The purpose of the training, Johnson claimed, was physical as much as technical, an attempt to toughen up his hip and pelvic region to get him driving hard through the crease and stop the falling-away that causes his low bowling arm to drop and the ball to spray. Experienced Johnson watchers reckoned that his approach to the crease was slower, more measured, javelin-thrower rather than sprinter – reminiscent of Simon Jones – with most of the power generated in the delivery stride.

As England licked their wounds after their swift demise on the fourth morning, they would cling to the hope that technically Johnson is an ingenu, that control of the seam position, so vital for swing, is beyond his ken. And swing it was, allied to 85mph-plus pace, that did for England. Once the right-handers were exposed after Alastair Cook’s dismissal, the strong easterly breeze helped him deliver unplayable inswingers and the Ashes tide was turning once more.

What if…

On the second morning, another warm one at the Waca, Andrew Strauss and Cook were taking control as Australia continued to flounder. Ryan Harris, Australia’s most consistently threatening bowler since being introduced at Adelaide, had found Strauss’s edge only to see it pass unmolested between Brad Haddin, the keeper, and Shane Watson at slip. Two overs later Strauss pulled a Harris long-hop for four. Ponting’s numbskull response was to post a man to the square-leg boundary. “He must be about to bowl another bad one,” was Ian Healy’s tart comment on Channel 9. Harris did exactly that and Strauss pulled in front of square. The last ball of the over was on-driven for four. Twelve off the over and Harris was removed from the attack. There was a palpable sense in the ground that England had one hand on the urn.

If Cook and Strauss had held firm for only a handful of overs the course of the match might have been different. The ball that got Cook caught in the gully, with England on 78, was decent and swung slightly but the shot was loose and Cook’s self-flagellatory response as he returned to the dressing room was indicative.

The balls that did for Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen were high-class: full, fast and swinging late into the pads. Three Johnson lbws ripped out the heart of the batting and sowed doubt in minds previously uncluttered and decisive. In the second innings the same players chased wide balls that did not swing, proving the mental infestation that Johnson’s bowling had generated. Ian Bell admitted that, overall, England had been surprised that Johnson got the ball swinging again. He was not the only one.

“You can call me Mike”

A painful TV advert for one of Cricket Australia’s sponsors has Mike Hussey saying: “Some call me Mr Cricket, some call me the Huss, you might think I’m a cricket encyclopedia but you can call me Mike.” England would just like to get him out for under 50.

Hussey has been batting at the Waca for 16 years and it shows. His first-innings fifty kept Australia from sinking without trace, his second-innings 116 was almost blemish-free and steered his side into clear water ahead of England. He played and missed at only two of 172 deliveries and left alone almost a quarter. That self-denial, mostly against the excellent Chris Tremlett, prompted England to try the short stuff but his local knowledge of the Waca’s true bounce meant he could pull for four or one much as he chose.

Pity Tremlett, put up for the press on the third evening with England’s second innings at 81 for 5. It was, he said, the greatest day of his life – his second-innings five-for giving him eight for the match – but mostly he had to field questions about how and why England had cocked things up.

Graeme Swann bowled only nine overs in Australia’s second innings, due mostly to Hussey’s decisive footwork and inch-perfect driving against his former Northamptonshire team-mate.

Sledging season

It was manna for the British tabloids, confronted by England failure for the first time since the early stages at the Gabba. Jimmy Anderson had a word with Mitch, who called KP a “smart-arse” for asking for Johnson’s phone number; Matt Prior offered to take Peter Siddle outside after being bounced out; and there was a lot of football-style, finger-to-mouth shushing from England bowlers when they took a wicket. And Stuart Broad was not even playing, ruled out by a stomach injury. It was hardly Beefy and Chappelli squaring up in a car park but all part of the Ashes soap opera.

The truth was that England had been merrily chirping away at the Aussies through Brisbane and Adelaide. Now Australia had something to shout about, England players could not resist arguing back. In the circumstances it made them look foolish and rattled.

The way they capitulated in the second innings implied they had written the game off and were looking to Melbourne. There is a fine line between ruthlessness and arrogance. England were on the wrong side of that line here.

Scorecard

Ratings

ENGLAND

8 Tremlett Perfect comeback: pace, bounce, accuracy and smart tactics.

7 Anderson Definitely wearied by his baby dash but still excellent.

6 Bell England’s best languishing with the tail.

5 Strauss Oddly skittish second innings, moderate captaincy.

4 Collingwood Marked this high because of sensational slip catch.

Cook Key dismissal in first innings, beaten for pace in second.

Prior Keeping well but got sucked into sledging war with Siddle.

Finn Five wickets but going at five an over.

3 Pietersen Lowest two-innings aggregate in his Test career.

Swann Not his conditions but dropped catch too.

Trott Top-scored in second innings but chased wide one from Johnson.

AUSTRALIA

9 Johnson, Hussey; 8 Harris; 7 Watson; 6 Haddin, Hilfenhaus, Siddle; 5 Smith; 4 Ponting; 3 Clarke, Hughes

Milestones

·      Australia’s first win in six Tests since beating Pakistan at Lord’s in July and only their second victory in 11 games in all formats.

·      England’s sixth successive Test defeat at the Waca and their eighth in 12 there.

·      England’s match aggregate of 310 was their lowest against Australia since the Perth Test of 1998-99 (303).

·      Hussey became the first batsman to score six successive Ashes scores of 50 or more, stretching back to his hundred at The Oval in 2009.

·      Anderson’s second-innings dismissal of Siddle was his 200th Test wicket.

·      Ponting’s 99th Test win in his 151st Test achieved on his 36th birthday.

·      Ryan Harris’ 6 for 47 were his best Test figures.

·      Hilfenhaus’ second-innings dismissal of Pietersen was his 50th Test wicket and his first at the Waca.

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