Australians find way to make it hard for tourists
Hosts' homework has paid rich dividends in this Ashes series, says Michael Vaughan
The way to beat a quality team is to target the strengths and Australia have done just that by dismantling the spine of England. The power of Alastair Cook, Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Matthew Prior has been nullified by some excellent plans executed by a team desperate to finally beat England.
In Kevin Pietersen's case, Australia have played on his talent and ego incredibly well. They stationed two men on the leg-side catching in the first four innings and his inability to say, "right I am going to play elsewhere", was his downfall. His ego told him to play the same way and he was caught out twice. Australia have restricted his scoring opportunities by bowling as many dots as possible and then tested his ego with the odd short ball or carrot outside off-stump to waft at. For a long time Peter Siddle has loved bowling at Pietersen. He bowls tight to the stumps and regularly lands the ball on the fourth stump (the imaginary extra wicket outside off). He prods him with a short ball knowing he will go for the shot. Whoever came up with that plan has cracked Pietersen.
Kevin is at the stage of his career when he has to ask if he still has the inner drive to carry on. He is too good to keep getting out the way he has in this series. We have not seen the KP I know or like to watch bat. I see him trying to fight but the dismissals have been soft for a senior player in an inexperienced line-up.
Cook showed on Friday that the most important part of a captain's armoury is the six inches in his head. I call it the Penthouse suite. His mind is tough, which he showed by the way he played yesterday. It was not pretty and he made it look difficult at times, but at least he went out there to fight.
You could tell he was trying to lead by example but, unfortunately, a score of 72, while a good effort, is not good enough. In 2010-11 he was making a big hundred or even a double century in the same situation. This time he is up against a better Australian team, he is under more pressure personally, he is carrying the knowledge his England team is not as good as it was and he is having to handle the pressure of being 2-0 down in the series. Australia have bowled well at him. They have held a nice line full on off-stump bringing him forward and mixing it up with the odd sharp bouncer.
He is in the situation of batting against a team who know how to bowl at him. It is a problem resulting from playing back-to-back series against the same opposition. Normally, you begin a series against an attack who have to find out how to bowl at you. But in back-to-back series it can be hard work if they find a method of getting you out. Australia have made it tough to score. The same applies to KP.
Watching England bowl on this tour has been a throwback to 10 years ago when they were always searching for pace and mystery spin. England needed to find someone who could bowl at 90-95mph to have penetration to blow away tailenders and put the fear of life into a batting line-up. England have been successful in recent years by swinging the ball around and creating opportunities bowling at pace of around 82-86mph. It has been lateral movement and the skill levels of Anderson and Broad that have created plenty of opportunities, particularly with the Duke ball in England.
In Australia, in 2010-11, the batsmen trusted their ability to play against a depleted Australia attack and that allowed an attritional approach with the ball because England's bowlers performed with the luxury of runs on the board. In this series, England have lost some important tosses and not managed to get enough runs against an Australian side with a different mindset. They have scored quicker, which has put Anderson and Swann under pressure. The ball has not been swinging around, so, when they have looked to bowl full, it has been easy for Australian batsmen to drive.
Yesterday England bowled a full length and it seamed a bit so they looked dangerous. It showed this attack is good when the ball is moving but, on flat decks against an Australian team looking to attack, they need an express bowler such as Mitchell Johnson to make any impression.
England's selection this week was right. They just got selection wrong for the tour squad. They picked three giants, Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin, and realised when arrived in Australia they are not right. Finn is struggling for technique and confidence, Rankin is not ready for Test cricket and Tremlett was a risk they felt worth taking, but Graham Onions should have been chosen for this tour.