Photo by: Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber
It was a haunted house. A derelict mental institution. An ancient tomb. An abandoned playground. A castle on a stormy night. There were bats. Monsters. Zombies. Flesh-eating slugs. There was a handprint of blood on the mirror. A hoofprint near the bed. Something dark in the corner.
They ran up the stairs. They ran into the woods. They tripped. They batted first.
That’s if it can be called batting, batting is an endeavour that takes time, that requires hand-eye coordination, control, reflexes and patience. It can be done for days. When done properly, it often feels like weeks.
Australia didn’t last a session. Sorry. Australia didn’t last a slightly shortened session. Australia didn’t bat. They slashed their Ashes away in a 93-minute video nasty.
There is always a monster, a force or a reason for death in a horror film. But the victims are often the cause of their own demise. Look in the back seat, don’t go into that cabin in the woods, and don’t hitchhike.
Batting is taking on a monster by making a series of important decisions based on all the available information in front of you. You read the bowler, the pitch, the conditions and the ball. And then you make what you hope is the correct split-second decision. That’s batting.
That’s not what Australia did.
That’s not even what it looked like they attempted to do. They didn’t read that Stuart Broad was pitching up, or that he was bowling outside off. They didn’t realise the pitch needed late play and soft hands. They didn’t adjust or play for the swinging conditions. And they played the wrong shots to the wrong balls. Every time.
Even to the balls they didn’t get dismissed on (which was roughly seven) there were one-handed back-foot cover drives, nonsensical wafts, fidgety pulls, sliced drives and noncommittal crease-bound hard-handed prods of nothingness. It wasn’t batting; it wasn’t even a semi-decent imitation of batting. It was self-immolation with bats.
The first batsman to leave the ball well was Mitchell Johnson, their number eight. The worst leaver of a cricket ball in international cricket. A man who in the last Test left a ball that he thought was missing off stump, and it ended up hitting his pads outside leg stump. That was the first person who left the ball well. Or often, or virtually at all.
Had the rest not played any shots, at all, it’s hard to believe they would have made less than 60. Had they not taken their bats out, come to the ground, got on the plane in the first place, they could have beaten 60. Had Cricket Australia taken a last-minute choice to replace the entire team with plush toy platypuses, they still could have scored 60. And probably almost made it to lunch.
Anyone with an Australia passport in the ground had this defeated painful face. Every couple of minutes, when the latest moment of idiocy led to the next occasion of calamity, that face. That combination of disbelief, not at the ineptitude, but at the magnitude of the ineptitude. This was their grand final, and it wasn’t grand, it was gratuitous.
They didn’t lose the Ashes, they murdered them. They hacked them into tiny little pieces. They then dipped those pieces into poison, and force fed them into the shocked, gaping mouths of the next batsman. They were fast-moving zombies who were eating each other. Intent on their own destruction, as quickly as possible.
It was gornography, a hardcore slasher grindhouse bloodfest. Ninety-three minutes of humiliating decisions and self-harm pretending to be an Ashes innings. They might as well have just walked the ball over to slips rapped in a gold bow. They should have offered to carry Broad into the crease, sing him a lullaby, buy him a boat and then placed each one of their heads on a platter made of gold. He was as brilliant as they were terrible, but they were terrible.
They tied themselves to the train tracks. They started the chainsaw. They handed Broad the rusty knife and handcuffed themselves to a radiator.
The only good news is that it was over so quick: 111 balls, 93 minutes, 60 runs. Of horror. Of misery.
But even once it was over, Sky kept showing the slow motion of Michael Clarke in pain. It was the same look as every other Australia batsman had already shown. This time it was just slowed down for effect, repeated for torture and will be etched into his Ashes tombstone. The whole shot was behind the dressing room glass, he looked ghostly. He was ghostly.
Clarke is the ghost in the haunted house who looks out the window reliving the gory final moments of their life. Haunting and haunted.
Australia had lost five wickets. They hadn’t crossed a hundred. In both innings. Australia’s biggest demon was back again.
The man who usually strode out was this little nugget of Australian. A hero to his team-mates. A villain to the opposition. A man who chews gum and abuses the opposition in the finest tradition of masculine Australian cricket. A man who once claimed a bowled when his hands took off the bails. A man who once saved Australia four out of five Tests in one Ashes. A World Cup winner. An Ashes winner. A member of the world’s No. 1 Test team. Their vice-captain. Their team man. The gravel in their gut, the spit in their eye. Brad Haddin.
But instead came out a little known man. Many called him Phil. They used a superfluous ‘e’ when writing down his surname. He barely has a Wikipedia page, and it’s full of Brad Haddin mentions. If it was properly updated, it would have been even more.
Peter Nevill made his debut at Lord’s, in an Ashes Test, with Australia 1-0 down after coming in as favourites. Then, his second Test came as Australia A selected a younger wicketkeeper with two Test centuries to his name, and amid calls from Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Ian Healy for him not to be in the side.
The Australian website Mamamia said Nevill was in the side at Edgbaston because “an Australian legend has been fired for being a good father.” That kind of ignores the fact that Haddin has not been dropped because he left the team to tend to his family, he had been dropped because he had made one fifty since winning Australia the Ashes 18 months ago. And maybe even because he had dropped Root at Cardiff.
But when Nevill batted on the third and final morning of the Edgbaston Test, all that was going on behind him, whispers at his back, in front of him was a giant Steven Finn and a tiny Australian lead.
It could have been Mark Wood. Wood had shown enthusiasm, freshness and raw pace in his Tests this summer. His 14 wickets have come at 39, but often he has made an English attack look more potent, even when not getting the wickets himself. But Wood was overbowled, and his ankle couldn’t stand up. They had always said that might happen.
With two allrounders, that makes the third bowling position even more important.
Moeen Ali has been attacked badly and then milked well. After playing a huge part with the ball at Cardiff, he is still taking his eight wickets this series at 45. He has the spin, but not always the control. As Nathan Lyon looks more and more like a Test bowler, even willing to stare down David Warner for over 10 seconds for a fielding error, Mooen still looks like he is learning, and that he doesn’t quite believe yet.
But his biggest problem isn’t belief; it’s pressure, maintaining it. He can’t maintain pressure for long enough to be a frontline bowler. But with the bat, at No. 8, twice he has played innings that have sapped and ruined Australia’s chances. Higher up the order he had struggled, and he still doesn’t always seem to know how to bat at No. 8, but his two fifties are very important. If Moeen makes runs, doesn’t make runs, takes wickets, doesn’t take wickets, someone will say he isn’t good enough.
There were many who thought this would be Ben Stokes’ Ashes, at the moment he has as many fifties as he does wickets. But when Stokes makes an impact, everyone feels it. His fifty at Cardiff was like a series of punches; his fifty at Lord’s was the only time England looked like a quality Test team.
When Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc had put on 28, there were English nerves just starting to twitch when Stokes came on. Stokes is not yet a consistent Test match performer. He averages less than 40 with the bat, more than 40 with the ball. But, he has moments. When things aren’t going well for England, it always feels like he could change that. When he took Hazlewood’s wicket, it was one of those moments. Without James Anderson, with Finn and Stuart Broad overbowled, Stokes had to do something.
Stokes bowled as quickly as he could, threw himself through the crease and took the edge of Hazlewood. Then he hit Lyon’s pads for two huge shouts and threw himself into the appeals. Later a drive is clocked back at him, he throws himself at that. He is throwing himself at this Ashes. Mitchell Marsh is the same player slightly earlier in his career. Both can change games through sheer force of personality, both have had troubled off-field beginnings, that they are trying to put behind them as they play in Test cricket while they are still developing their game.
Either could end as legends or punchlines. Test allrounders, sadly, seem to only have those two options in cricket mythology.
The man that Marsh replaced is destined to remain in the second bracket, despite having all the skills required to be in the first. Shane Watson was often a tragi-comic player, and now out of the team, it’s more tragic. How could someone so naturally gifted be a batsman who couldn’t make big scores and a bowler who barely bowled? How could he end up so derided, so unliked, so humiliated? So out of an important series. Is that it, has Watto walked that sad trudge off the field for the last time? That’s what they say.
And is he even the only one. Ryan Harris never even made it out on the field. Haddin might never play again. And Michael Clarke.
There seems to be more talk about whether he will retain his place than his stats suggest there should be. With Clarke, there has always been more talk. Since the Ashes he has made two magnificent Test hundreds, one with a broken arm, one with a broken heart. They are also his only two scores over 50 since he last won the Ashes. The whisper mill has it that the team is not happy, that Cricket Australia is not happy, that there is something amiss with Clarke’s leadership. This talk occurred before, during and after their World Cup win. Then there is his back, which has hounded him as much as Australian public opinion, and now seems to have now changed his actual technique.
And that drop. Clarke is a brilliant fielder. That drop of Ian Bell might not have cost the match. Or the Ashes. It does make the rumoured divisions louder, it makes his form seem worse, and it all adds to the normal pressure of being 2-1 down in an Ashes you were favoured to win.
Alastair Cook was once a 50-50 chance in the slips. Those days are long gone, he has made himself a better catcher the same way he has made himself a better batsman, by refusing not to be. He has done the same with his captaincy. Cook was a lead-from-the-front captain. He made runs, set defensive fields and waited for things to happen. Everyone had an opinion on his captaincy. They always have. Winning in India didn’t change it. Winning an Ashes didn’t change it.
In this series Cook’s only runs have come when England needed them the most, but when they counted the least. But he has led this team. More than he has ever led before. He has spent months under pressure, losing the ODI role, losing a coach, having his friend and former captain back in charge of him, drawing with the “mediocre” West Indies, and then drawing from in front with the New Zealanders. He’s been barely floating in a sea of negativity, and yet now, even with a top four that has for most of this series, been extremely flammable, has a lead.
Cook’s opening partner Adam Lyth made a hundred in his second Test, Edgbaston was his fifth Test, his career average is 22. His second-highest score is 37. His average in the Ashes is 12. He is only 27. He might be dropped. He might be back.
Adam Voges made a hundred in his first Test, and in his fifth he is averaging 40. His top score in this series is 31. In this Ashes he is averaging 14. He might be dropped. He probably won’t ever come back.
Voges has spent his whole career not being the chosen one. Being a fill in. Not being rated. Then he finally had his golden summer. He forced his way into this team without media hype or flashiness, just by being so much better than the other middle-order contenders. Nothing has come easy to him. His international career has been paved with potholes, when paved at all.
But then, this old man, this discarded ODI specialist, strides to the wicket for the first time in whites for his country. The team is in trouble, he bats on, the batsmen all go, he bats on. The tail stay with him, he bats on. And then the tail go out, and he stands unbeaten on 130. A match-winning innings in his first Test.
He has played four Tests since, he has not scored over 37 since. And the worst number is his age, 35. The only number that matters is the 2-1. But at 35, you have less time, Voges knows this every time he walks out to bat, and every time he walks back. His career might finish with a golden duck.
Chris Rogers is the other side of Voges. He came in when Australia was desperate, and now he might be leaving while they still are. He started the tour with an embarrassing ticket scandal and also had some speculating on his place. This was because he had missed the Tests in the West Indies after being hit in the head. With Shaun Marsh making runs, and in form, suddenly Rogers was barely holding onto his place. All this while in the middle of a world record run of scores over 50. So Rogers did what he has always done, went about making runs any way he had too.
Rogers, 37 and 334 days, of Australia, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Northamptonshire, Victoria and Western Australia, is the leading run scorer in this Ashes. The same Chris Rogers who thought the Lord’s pavilion was moving, who sat mid-pitch staring into a void none of us could see. Who retired hurt on the verge of another half-century. Who almost missed this Test because of his inner ear. Who will, in two Tests time, be entering a permanent Test cricket void, while in the greatest form of his life. His long life. His 24,365 first-class runs life.
Ian Bell’s form seems to rage between effortless grace, style and time, and looking back at the pitch in a confused mess, trying to work out how it all went wrong, again. His fifty at Cardiff was important, his fifty at the end of Edgbaston iced the game. At times his 33 years of age have been discussed like he is 43, has a limp, and hands made of cheese. At his best he can drive Starc down the ground like the world was invented just so that can exist. Then he can slap through point like he’s painting the world’s prettiest picture. And then he can play an angled shot straight to second slip. As England won at Edgbaston, he rested on his bat handle as Joe Root hit the winning runs. He could have been just as easily in a corporate suit watching on.
Beautiful and frustrating, like a significant other that is too damn sexy to give up, and too damn infuriating to stay with. They will be talking about his beauty, and his failures, until they stop talking.
Starc is much the same. There is so much upside. If you close your eyes and think of Starc you see hooping inswingers smacking into stumps. If you open them you see him failing to maintain line or length. The difference between his best and worst is as wide as some of his deliveries. There is a world beating force of nature in ODIs, and there is a lost guy trying to work out how to bowl consistently in Tests.
If he wants a role model, Mitchell Johnson is right there. Johnson has travelled every road Test cricket can offer. He’s lost a Test, at the WACA, with Shaun Tait and Brett Lee beside him. He’s burned through South Africa as much as any modern bowler, and he’s trashed the Ashes, for good and bad.
Few cricketers make as many demons as Mitchell Johnson. Few cricketers have as many demons as Mitchell Johnson. At Cardiff the demon whispered in his ear. At Lord’s he became a demon. At Edgbaston the demons howled at him.
Can he do this in England? Can he handle their mouth? Can he handle their pressure?
At one stage he fumbled a simple single, and he jumped back to get the ball and flung it back in with panic. He was worried about letting through a run, but he look terrified of giving the crowd more to abuse him for. When he came on, that was all they needed.
By the time his last over was in full flow, and he was trying to get a wicket caught at leg slip, the Hollies stand was at full growl. There was no holding back, they had already stood up, as they were, in their words, 2-1 up. They had already sung the Mitchell Johnson is s***e song. They had already chanted Mitchell, Mitchell. Johnson’s second last ball was a low full toss outside off stump. It was a horrible ball. No one in the crowd didn’t remind him of it.
The crowd was at full bark. Johnson abandoned the next ball as he got to the crease. When he delivered the next ball, among the hooting and hollering, he did it from next to the umpire and well behind the crease. Perhaps he thought it was funny, or a prank. But the crowd had produced that, whatever it was. The bad demons were 2-1 up in Johnson’s mind. It will be his last competitive ball before Trent Bridge.
Steven Finn went for a while without bowling competitive balls not long ago. On Friday he bowled an hour of them unchanged. Working over Nevill. Looking for that one more wicket. To make up for the wickets he lost. To make up for all the talk about him being finished. To erase the word unselectable from the front of his name.
In Alice Springs, Finn had run in like a man worried the crease might explode had he got there. Now, with run-up kinks and psychological scars, he ran like a man trying to take his sixth wicket, to close Australia down.
Stuart Broad is in the middle of another quality spell of wicketless bowling. James Anderson is off the ground with people guessing whether his side is actually Glenn McGrath’s ankle.
Finn has to take the wicket. If he doesn’t, Australia’s controversial gamble on Nevill might pay off. Finn proved to himself he was ready earlier this season. He proved to the selectors he was ready before this Test. He proved to his captain in the first innings. He proved to the world in the second innings. But, with his leader down, this was his time.
Finn could have bowled one of those occasional hoopers he had produced. He could have got one up off a length as he sometimes does. He could have replicated one of his many unplayable seamers from earlier in the Test. Instead he sprayed one down the leg side.
Nevill could have missed it, he could have glanced it to fine leg, and he could have flicked it for four. Instead, the man who batted like he was validating the faith in him, just found an edge. Perhaps one so fine that he didn’t even feel it.
Finn took his sixth wicket of the innings. Nevill walked off with Australia’s last chance of a defendable lead. Steven Finn left the field with his head held by, the same one he had in his hands so often the last time he was in a Test squad. This time Edgbaston stood for him.
His demons were quiet.
Australia have lost two Tests. They haven’t lost the series. But their demons are whispering.
We started in Wales. We went to Lord’s. Now we’re in England.
The crowd were chanting before play started. They didn’t need the flag ceremonies and triple national anthems of Cardiff. No one rang a historically significant bell like at Lord’s. And even the PA trying to blast out the parochial Jerusalem couldn’t be heard. This was Birmingham, cheering for their cricketers as they entered the ground.
This was England.
The clouds were low. Genuine honest-to-God middle England summer clouds. The pitch didn’t look CEO brown, or devoid of grass. Even at a glance it looked like a proper English wicket. There was actual rain. It was properly gloomy. It was a proper England winter summer’s day.
The throbbing masses came in from every gate Edgbaston has, and even then they seemed to have to open up more. Almost none of them was dressed in egg-and-bacon ties, they weren’t part of corporate bonding days, they were English cricket fans, and they were loud. They had opinions, and laughs.
The 6000 singing, laughing, drinking, screamers in the Hollies stand were ready before the day started. A stand named after a man who once said: “Best f***ing ball I’ve bowled all season, and they’re clapping him!” as the world stopped to bid farewell to Don Bradman. The stand is well named. They screamed before and after the first ball.
When the first ball was bowled, it just wobbled a bit. Oh, that English wobble. It didn’t hoop, it didn’t veer off the surface dramatically, it just did enough. Chris Rogers missed it. The crowd erupted. It was just a simple play-and-miss. It wasn’t that close but it didn’t matter. It was a ball, moving sideways, beating the bat. Jimmy was back, England was back, English cricket was alive.
Next ball the crowd, and England, exploded. Rogers bunted one wide of mid-on, he took off (sort of) Warner took off (sort of) then Broad took the ball and hit the stumps as Warner dived to save himself. The Hollies stand screamed, the rest of Edgbaston screamed, the team on the ground screamed, it felt like all of England was celebrating the wicket. In the end it was just a single. It shouldn’t have even been referred upstairs. But the noise levels were set.
Edgbaston would scream. England would scream.
They screamed when Warner missed a wobble-seamed ball from Jimmy Anderson. They screamed when the finger went up. They screamed when the big screen showed the ball pitching in line. They screamed when it was hitting in line as well. And when that digital ball was shown to be hitting those digital stumps, they screamed again.
When Smith nibbled at a Finn ball, they screamed. When he went through Clarke, they were at it again. Later, when Finn came back on, they cheered his arrival. When Jimmy was brought back on, the “Jimmy, Jimmy” chant was brought back with him. When Finn bowled a maiden, one that did included balls jagging away from outside edges at serious pace, he got an ovation from the crowd. So did a diving stop. So did everything.
England were so fired up, on and off the field, that when Jimmy Anderson sledged Michael Clarke he didn’t even bother putting his hand over his mouth. No need to be polite here. This is Birmingham. There was nothing polite about the way they went at Clarke. The only thing coarser than the frequent conversations between Broad, Clarke and Anderson was Clarke’s form. And Finn, who had been laughed at, mocked and ignored, didn’t need words when balls would do – just straight, fast and full.
Then it was Jimmy, Jimmy Anderson’s turn. There are whole parts of the Australian population who don’t believe in James Anderson. They think he is overrated. That he goes missing. That his 400 Test wickets are an ode to English mediocrity. But even if you believe all that, no one in the world thinks James Anderson in these conditions is the same James Anderson who went wicketless at Lord’s.
With just a bit of wobble, and a batting order looking uncertain, you get pure liquid Anderson. He has bowled better than today. He’s been more consistent. Swung the ball more. Hit the seam harder. Bowled the ball faster. But today almost everything he did went right – the almost accidental one that came back to Warner, the wide tempter to Marsh, the round-the-wicket line to Johnson, the nipbacker to Lyon, the one that Voges nicked off the toe of his bat, and the one that held its line to take out Nevill’s off stump.
The Australians produced a typical overseas batting collapse that merely provoked more screams, more laughs, more cheers. Chris Rogers played English cricket and survived, the rest seemed confused at being confronted by a ball moving sideways. When they played shots, their shots were poor; when they left the ball, their leaves were poor. What were these foreign conditions? This strange custom? What happened to dry and dull, slow and low, Cardiff and Lord’s?
Australia had one day of England, and they failed it. They first failed it with the bat. But then their bowlers failed with the ball. They obtained the same movement, but they couldn’t keep the ball in those hallowed right areas. Whereas England hadn’t needed a single over of spin, Australia took two of their three wickets with it. One from a freak occurrence, and the other from an Ian Bellism.
By this point, the crowd was entertained, and sufficiently intoxicated, to laugh as Adam Voges’ belly kept Australia in the game.
They also went after Mitchell Johnson. The same Johnson whom their batsmen had played with horror in their eyes a week ago. The same Johnson Mk 13/14. And they weren’t toying with him as at Cardiff, they were mocking his every move. As he moved from fine leg to fine leg, the stereo of jeers went with him. And to show his masculine superiority, he hurled in a throw as hard as he could. The problem was it went over Nevill’s head, and they laughed at him again. He went back at them, and played them the world’s smallest violin.
He did this as England ambled close to a first-day lead despite losing the toss and bowling. He did this after making two errors in the field in almost as many balls. He did this as Australia wasted the same conditions England used.
The crowd screamed, with laughter. It rained. It was dark. They loved it.
The crowd beat Australia. The conditions beat Australia. England beat Australia.
Been told it will be on itunes. But we’ll see.
Michael Clarke walks onto the Cardiff ground the day before the Investec Ashes starts. He stops halfway to talk to the assistant groundsmen. Soon Darren Lehmann joins him. They get down on their hands and knees, they really look at the pitch. Both ends. Clarke jumps up and down at times. Lehmann limps along, puts his coffee down, and gets as low as his body allows him.
Clarke walks down and talks to the head groundsman, Keith Exton. They chat for a bit, before Clarke rejoins his coach. There is a clear worry about the pitch.
Joe Root did not play a pretty innings at Cardiff. He was not in control. His innings could have veered off the road at any time. But it did not. The Brad Haddin drop almost gave him a license to counterattack, and he threw everything he had at Australia. It was ugly and gutsy, and he ended up as the one hundred of the match. He ended up as the Man of the Match.
Who needs a top order when Root will save the day, Ben Stokes slapped like a kid in a fairytale, and Moeen Ali is laughing it up with the tail. England made over 400, at over four an over, and turned Australia’s monstrous quicks into plush toys.
Then they just needed to be clever, and patient, with the ball. They watched Australia walk the plank against Moeen while being aggressive to the point of self-parody and get trapped in a 17-38 middling score of mediocrity. England just needed to execute their plans and rack up Australia’s errors.
With a lead, they were always in charge, and with Root saving them again, they were more in charge. Counterattacking again. Saving the day again. Ian Bell, one of their most misfiring members of the tragic top order, stood up as well. It gave them a total that Australia could only ever fail at.
At nearly one hundred with only one wicket down, was the only time that Australia ever had a realistic chance of winning, and it was no real chance at all. Alastair Cook discovered his inner Mike Brearley and every single move he made seemed to work. This was not England sitting back and waiting for a win, this was a proactive captain rocking team funky with their new England magic.
Australia might have dropped an important catch; they might have been nullified by a dead pitch. They could have lost Mitchell Starc, lost faith in Shane Watson, lost control from Mitchell Johnson, gifted wickets to a bowler they do not rate, and even given up their many starts, but they could not argue that they had been smashed in the face in every single way it mattered. The slow pitch and England had destroyed them.
The cheer of the full Cardiff crowd at the last wicket was louder than any complaining about the pitch.
England had played their perfect ‘New England’ Test. They had upset the favourites. They had attacked. Their five-man bowling attack was working as a team. Their eight batsmen line up looked freakishly long. It was a golden Test of new England. They were not expected to win, they were not expected to be this perfect. Cardiff was bathed in the golden light of their magnificence.
England lost the toss at Lord’s. But when David Warner lost his mind, they knew that patience would work against this Australian line-up. The Australian batting line-up had been misfiring on or off for over ten years. One wicket would bring in the comically out of form Clarke. Two and it was Adam Voges in his fifth Test. Three was Mitchell Marsh on his comeback and in his first Ashes Test. Four and Peter Nevill was playing his first Test, in an Ashes, at Lord’s. There was no reason to panic.
After tea on the first, Smith was still there.
Cook tries Broad. Then Moeen. Then Root. Then Anderson. Smith is on 82 for Broad’s over, one ball into Anderson’s over he has his hundred.
Cook had placed eight men on the off side, there is only a mid-on. Anderson drops short outside off stump and Smith shuffles over to the off side and hoicks a pull shot into the turf to the right of mid-on to bring up his hundred. Cook watches on as Smith swings his bat in celebration, points at the crowd and receives a bear hug from Chris Rogers.
England could suggest that Smith has still not succeeded in English type conditions, but until they prepare some, it means very little.
It was Stokes in a quality Ben Stokesian spell of aggression and intent that forced the error from Smith that went to Bell. But Bell did not take it. There was not another chance until the next day.
Broad was the only one of their bowling pack who bowled well, and Australia showed patience against him. Root was the only other multi wicket-taker. Their five-man attack suddenly looked like a tired James Anderson, a fully functioning Stuart Broad, a lost Mark Wood, a desperate Ben Stokes and an easily milked Moeen Ali. There were no obvious four frontline bowlers, and at times, it was hard to remember how they did well in the previous Test.
They could not maintain pressure, they could not take their chances, they could not hit their spots, they could not rely on Australia, they could not, they could not.
566 was the final total. It could have been a million.
When Adam Lyth jerked himself at his second ball, England’s second ball, England’s second ball of the second Test, England’s weakness was opened up again. Gary Ballance was blown away. Bell played a bad shot to a super ball. Root tried to counterpunch again, this time Australia caught him. That was a big difference. Root was not there to make the bad start fade away.
The Australian bowlers who had been stuck in treacle at Cardiff were suddenly dangerous. The two main Mitchs were not leaking runs, they were taking wickets. Six years on from Johnson’s last time at Lord’s he was exorcising his demons and reheating England’s. Together with Starc and Josh Hazlewood they bowled, fast, full and swung the ball. It woke up Lord’s, it terrified England. England did not have a top order, they had a topless order. Bare, naked, afraid.
There was calm, and a rearguard, as Stokes attacked while Cook defended, their assured batting mocked their top order on this still flaccid wicket. With some luck, they could have batted to until tea, set up Jos Buttler and Moeen, frustrated the short fuse Australians. Instead there were two inside edges.
The inside edge is a peculiar thing as it comes from a technical mistake, but it always feels unlucky. Inside edges can go anywhere. But Stokes and Cook both found their stumps. Maybe it was unlucky, maybe it was a technical mistake, maybe it was the pitch just slightly deteriorating.
It was also one of Australia’s changes. In Cardiff, Watson’s bowling lacked his usual tightness, and had his normal lack of wicket-taking. By the time Marsh had Cook out, he had taken as many wickets in away Ashes Test as Watson ever had. With him bowling well, and Nevill taking his chances, Australia just looked like a better team.
And when Stokes went just before lunch, England lost their seventh straight session of cricket. They lost their eighth just after that when their long batting order batted much like their soft top order, and the follow-on was never even properly flirted with.
Then they bowled again. The million-behind-third-innings bowling trudge. If Anderson was not tired already, he was tired of this. He was tired when another catch went down in his now inconsistent slip cordon. He was tired as he watched the other bowlers bowl these pointless overs as England rested him as best he could. He looked very tired for a man with no wickets to his name.
Cook and his new found flair was trying to find ways to stop Smith. With an atom bomb not at his disposal, Cook could not even stop Smith from doing a draw shot. Rogers got dizzy from counting his own runs. Warner bashed third-innings runs. Marsh seemed to hit Moeen into the stand with the back of his bat. And even Clarke found form.
And then England had to bat again. It might have been a flat pitch, but it was anything but a flat attack. Five sessions is a long time. It is longer without a top order. It is a long time against a team with Mitchell Johnson in it. Or with Starc. Or with five bowlers.
It turned out two sessions was a long time.
In the last innings it didn’t matter that England batted until No. 8, as they never actually batted. It didn’t matter that Moeen had taken regular wickets. It didn’t matter they had a five-man attack. It didn’t matter how positive they were. It didn’t matter that Australia had a debutant at Lord’s. It didn’t matter that Cook had improved as a captain. It didn’t matter that they had come in unchanged. It didn’t matter that they won the last Test. It didn’t matter that Australia’s middle order was untested. It didn’t matter that the pitch was slow. It didn’t matter that Australia still had flaws. None of it mattered in this innings, or in this Test.
England had been to the mountain top in Cardiff, and without even enjoying the view they toppled straight back down at Lord’s. If Cardiff was perfect and golden, Lord’s was violent and bloody.
It turned out two Tests was a long time.