If the Ashes returned to Planet Earth on days one and two of this enthralling Adelaide Test Match, their visit was only fleeting. Saturday saw a return to light speed as the reborn Mitchell Johnson once again blew England’s meek batting line-up away with a memorable spell of fast bowling that provided a throwback to the heady days of Lillee and Thomson, an age when speed ruled. On a pitch that looked full of runs, not wickets, Johnson was the protagonist of a remarkable day’s cricket that leaves England staring down the barrel of another defeat.
Make no mistake, these are dark, dark days for followers of English cricket. The troubled tourists failed to pass 200 for the third consecutive innings, with the top order giving their wickets away with loose strokes and the lower half destroyed by Johnson’s sheer pace. After Michael Clarke chose not to enforce the follow on, David Warner batted with a rare maturity to reach the close unbeaten on 83 and a commanding 530-run lead for his team.
Joe Root set the tone for England’s dismal display with a reckless sweep shot to the first ball he received from Nathan Lyon after 40 minutes of stubborn resistance alongside Michael Carberry. Chris Rogers, running in from the deep, took a simple catch. Root had done the hard work, surviving last night’s onslaught and rapid spells from Johnson and Ryan Harris this morning, and will rightly be very disappointed with a shot that showed little regard for the situation his team found themselves in.
Kevin Pietersen, full of fond memories of benign Adelaide tracks, never looked settled and fell in even more frustrating fashion than the fresh-faced Yorkshireman. Clarke deployed two midwickets to counter Pietersen’s strength in the region and immediately called for an unsuccessful review as the batsmen played and missed outside off when still scoreless. After a pair of scratchy twos courtesy of a leading edge and a miscue through gully, Pietersen handed his wicket to Clarke on a plate, advancing down the track to Peter Siddle, who has dismissed him eight times in 14 recent innings, and planting it in to the welcoming hands of George Bailey, one of the well-placed midwickets.
That brought Ian Bell to the crease, who began at an uncharacteristically frenetic pace, twice depositing Lyon into the Southern Stand before Carberry, who left well and punished the bad ball reached his maiden Test 50. England sat on 111 for five overs as Siddle and Shane Watson built pressure; this pressure eventually told as Carberry fell to a brilliant catch from David Warner at square leg. With the hosts all over them, the lunch break provided England with momentary respite at 4-116.
When play resumed, however, the barrage continued as Johnson produced one of the most ruthless spells in recent memory. Regularly clocking upwards of 150km/h, his pace was too much for Ben Stokes, who perished on review, receiving his first ball from the once-ridiculed speedster. Matt Prior, hopelessly out of form, was softened up by a short delivery and edged behind without scoring, bringing out Stuart Broad, to a chorus of boos from the previously dormant crowd. A sightscreen issue brought a brief delay but this merely allowed Johnson time to refuel. He charged in and sent Broad’s leg stump backwards, as the batsman played all around it. Johnson had a triple-wicket maiden and England had lost 3-1 since tea.
At this stage, England were provided not only with uncomfortable reminders of their two pathetic collapses in Brisbane, but of days gone by when they headed to Australia for a ritual slaughtering at the hands of fearsome pacemen. Soon after, Johnson had his second hat-trick ball of the day as Swann fell to a brilliant Clarke catch and Anderson’s middle stump went tumbling, like a child rolling down a hill.
Johnson’s spell was electric and brought a knowledgeable Adelaide crowd, who knew they were seeing something special, to life. A spell of quick bowling like this provides the leading man to dominate the match in a manner not seen in any other team sport. England’s batsmen were hapless and Australia were flying to a 2-0 lead.
A period of relative calm followed as Australia were unable to uproot the brave resistance of Monty Panesar, who wore a number of blows, and the dash and élan of Bell, who was left stranded 72 not out. Bell took 18 from a Harris over and protected Panesar, who eventually became Johnson’s fifth victim, ably. The calls for Bell’s promotion to first drop will no doubt now become more vocal.
Clarke chose not to enforce the follow-on, looking to ease the workload of his fearsome quicks. He soon found himself batting as Rogers was caught behind and Watson poked a one-day waft to point, both to Anderson. Warner looked in superb touch, however, and coasted to the close, finding able partners in his captain, who was bowled by a Panesar beauty, and Steve Smith. They closed on 3-132, a position of dominance that appeared unthinkable just 10 hours earlier.
Bell was rightly damning at the close of play, saying “it’s just not good enough, we have an opportunity in the second innings and we have to show some fight”. They do indeed.
A good day for: The rejuvenation of Mitchell Johnson is fast becoming one of cricket’s great comebacks. Having won the match for his team in Brisbane, he’s gone a long way to doing so here, too. Bowlers dream of hat-trick balls and such is Mitch’s domination over England’s batsmen, he had two today. As only the fastest bowlers are able to do, he has reinvigorated his team and is ripping through their opponents with pace that are simply unable to fathom.
A bad day for: Graham Gooch. England’s performances with the stick will have given their batting coach plenty of sleepless nights of late but tonight will surely be one of the most unsettled of them all. Bell and Carberry aside, there was nothing for Gooch to cheer as his numbers three and four gave their wickets away with dire leg-side stokes. It’s now 19 innings since the tourists posted 400 and when Carberry fell to leave England 4-111, 16 of the 24 wickets they had lost this series were to catches on the leg side. This suggests Gooch’s charges are not in control of their blades.
Key Moment: You cannot keep Davey Warner out of them game and with the score on Nelson he turned the game on its head to dismiss Carberry, who had middled a pull, at square leg. Diving low to his left, the pint sized rocket plucked a ball from the air that could barely be called a half-chance. Carberry, who batted bravely, stood stock still, unable to believe his eyes.
Shot of the Day: Amid all that middle order chaos, Ian Bell showed his colleagues how to play the short ball, opening his face and angling the blade to uppercut over the baying slip cordon.
Ball of the Day: Take your pick. Johnson charged in from the Cathedral End, rearranging the stumps of England’s tail. The pick was the single delivery Jimmy Anderson received. With his tail up and blood pumping through his veins, Magic Mitch found a delivery simply too sharp for the hapless tail-ender. Johnson’s was a simple ploy: full, straight and the stump goes cartwheeling. It was perfectly executed, the middle peg obliged and the bowler eye-balled the batsman all the way back to the pavilion.
Stat of the day: England have managed just 487 runs in their three Ashes Innings thus far. Only Carberry (100) and Bell have managed an aggregate century. Matt Prior has just 4.
What Sunday holds: More of the same one-way traffic, one would think. England have a notional target to negotiate and must show some fight if the series is to remain a spectacle. This flat Adelaide Oval track is hardly like Day 5 in Nagpur and they must show the application, technique and fight that has deserted them in recent times. Don’t bet against a starring role for their mustachioed menace though.