Sunday 19 November 2017

Cricket: Australia left in ruins by Strauss destroyers

Graeme Swann appeals for the wicket of Marcus North during the final day of the second Ashes Test match in Adelaide.
Graeme Swann appeals for the wicket of Marcus North during the final day of the second Ashes Test match in Adelaide.

Mike Atherton

THERE was glory to be had in Adelaide yesterday and it belonged to England.

Four years to the week after being hung, drawn and quartered on this ground by one of the greatest teams in history, they brought Australia to their knees; this was a hammering, nothing less.

It is 17 years since Australia were beaten by an innings at home: that by West Indies in Perth. These two dates may become significant in the years to come: before that defeat at the Waca, Australia suffered some barren years and if the evidence of this game is anything to go by, there may be some pain ahead.

Ricky Ponting, as ever, cut a dignified figure after the defeat, acknowledging the outstanding cricket that Andrew Strauss' side had played and admitting his team's and his own shortcomings.

He must have been hurting deep inside, but he looked chipper enough when he suggested that things can turn around quickly. Recent Ashes history offers him some succour in that regard.

But over five days in Adelaide, there was no hiding the gulf between the sides. What Australia's reaction to this shock will be remains to be seen, but there is a chance that they could implode. The selectors, already under huge pressure having presided over a rapid decline with seeming insouciance, may cave in to the demands for youth and change.

In all probability, one change will be enforced on them, given that Simon Katich has a serious Achilles tendon problem. Marcus North may be the first casualty, given that he failed to seize, on the final day, what most people thought to be his last chance.

It was North who walked to the crease with Mike Hussey on the final morning in the knowledge that a failure stood between him and obscurity.

To be fair to North, he tried to play positively as he saw off Swann's initial offerings. The new ball was available immediately to Strauss and Australia might have thought they had jumped the first hurdle of many when the captain withdrew the off spinner and called for the new cherry after four overs.


This despite a close leg-before appeal against North and a dropped catch by Matt Prior when Hussey edged a sharply-spun off break. But Strauss was sure-footed throughout this match, with the victory margin, for example, the perfect illustration of the timeliness of his declaration on the fourth morning, when 69 runs were added in quick time.

Steven Finn cramped Hussey into spooning an attempted pull to mid-on – a big wicket. Then, once Brad Haddin had edged James Anderson behind, the floodgates were always likely to open. Eighteen runs and nine overs later it was all done. They used to say of England in these parts “Six out, all out” – one more illustration as to how the wheel has come full circle.

Ryan Harris bagged a king pair, leg before as he had been in the first innings, albeit to Anderson this time, and was given out after review. Two balls in the match for Australia's No 8, two balls in which he had effectively been given out four times: surely a record of sorts.

Swann had returned now in place of Finn, his fingers refreshed and with a harder ball to cause problems. North pushed forward with his pad on the line of the ball and paid the penalty, further illustration this of how the Decision Review System helps finger spinners. Doherty was castled by a straight ball, and Peter Siddle was bowled between bat and pad. Five wickets for Swann for the 10th time in Tests.

For England, this was a perfect performance: tigerish, fast bowling and fielding on the first day; greedy, skilful batting on the second and third; a web weaved by the world’s top spinner on the fourth and then what play there was on the fifth. Cricket's perfect 10.

The rain came eventually, great shuddering waves of it at about 2.0 local time, with thunder and lightning, too. Adelaide got a drenching then. The England players got one, too, but of the sweet variety that comes from too much wasted champagne. This was, undeniably, a great victory by a potentially great team. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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