Sunday 18 March 2018

Magic Johnson the star for rampant Aussies

Mitchell Johnson of Australia looks on during a press conference after winning the Ashes series 5-0 during day three of the Fifth Ashes Test match between Australia and Englad
Mitchell Johnson of Australia looks on during a press conference after winning the Ashes series 5-0 during day three of the Fifth Ashes Test match between Australia and Englad


The unexpected 5-0 whitewash dished out by Australia over the past month and a half can be summed up in the performances of one man - Mitchell Johnson.

A figure of fun for his entire Ashes existence until this winter, Johnson silenced the English chortling in a whirlwind of moustached pyrotechnics.

The left-armer returned 37 wickets at 13.97. His performances were even more devastating than those numbers indicate.

Johnson not only destroyed Alastair Cook's side, he fast-tracked the end of one of the most glorious eras of English cricket.

Graeme Swann failed to see the series out while the careers of Matt Prior, Kevin Pietersen, Monty Panesar, Tim Bresnan, Jonathan Trott and Jimmy Anderson - the spine of recent English success and variously at the torment of Johnson - were cast into some question.

Even the futures of skipper Cook and coach Andy Flower were debated.

When England collapsed it was Johnson orchestrating the carnage with his thunderbolts.

Six for nine at the Gabba, four for six in Adelaide and then the match-turning second innings collapses at the MCG - of three for one and then five for six - damned England to wide-margin defeats and disillusionment before the final embarrassment of five for 23 in Sydney.

The tourists could not recover from those moments and, when Australia's top order itself regularly spluttered, Brad Haddin swept in as the rescue act.

Johnson was deservedly the man of the series, but Haddin's batting was no less integral.

The wicketkeeper hit half-centuries in every first innings and - Adelaide aside - when Australia's top five had failed to progress the score beyond 150.

Haddin's front-foot defiance put into perspective the ills of England's tail. England's last five batsmen contributed, on average, just 56.9 runs between them. Haddin averaged 61.62 on his own from seven.

It was, of course, Johnson who made the English tail virtually redundant with a bloody-minded determination - so often missing throughout his flummoxing career - to inflict maximum damage.

The sight of Stuart Broad scrambling away towards point as his leg-stump was pinned back in Adelaide will be an enduring memory of how curdled English minds became.

The knock-on effects irretrievably damaged everything else the tourists tried.

With their tail lifeless it heaped more pressure on a top order to score the runs Australia's rehearsed bowling plans prevented them from making.

For that Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, Nathan Lyon and Shane Watson are due much credit.

Their discipline was the key to their success, but an ability also to chip away at England's weak spots for long periods made the tourists vulnerable to their moments of self implosion.

Johnson's co-conspirators were hardly side-acts though with Siddle continuing his hoodoo over Pietersen, Harris continued his late-career blossom and Lyon's stock as a spinner rising further still.

Bowling coach Craig McDermott's claim that it is the best bowling attack in the world is getting harder to ignore.

With England failing to muster enough runs - they passed 200 just four times in 10 innings - their bowlers were left with no scoreboard pressure and, worst still, little rest time.

England did not bat through an entire day's play until Boxing Day - when the series was already lost - and the constant workload told on Broad, Anderson and Swann.

In Swann's case he failed to last the series, retiring after Perth, as Australia brutally targeted him. Swann's seven wickets cost 80 runs at a tick under four an over.

Broad and Anderson - who took 14 wickets at 43.92 - were therefore left with too much of the workload and with England's preferred third-choice seamer Tim Bresnan not available until his rusty return at the WACA Ground, Australia's batsmen were able to take charge despite their own frailty.

It was a plan perfectly executed.

Skipper Michael Clarke took the lead role with centuries in Brisbane and Adelaide to set up the series. David Warner, Shane Watson, Steve Smith and Chris Rogers all reached three figures where all-rounder Ben Stokes provided England's sole ton in a forlorn chase in Perth.

When Australia coach Darren Lehmann took charge 16 days before the summer's 3-0 humbling he demanded his side make more centuries.

At the end of the series the century count was 10-1 to Australia.

Amid the hysteria of an Ashes victory - Australia's first since their home whitwash seven years ago - there is reason for the home side to remain firmly grounded though.

The batting is the obvious worry. Haddin helped paper over the cracks of a top order that still too regularly relied on the tail to bail them out.

Australia's best moments with the bat usually came in the second innings - against a weary England attack - with six of their centuries coming second time around. The five centuries from the top three of Warner, Rogers and Watson all came in the second innings too.

The number six position also remains a troubling spot with George Bailey failing to fully convince.

An ageing team would also argue against any notion of a new Baggy Green dynasty.

Clarke, Rogers, Watson, Bailey, Haddin, Harris and Johnson are all over 30 and it is debatable whether most of them will still be around when Australia defend the urn in 18 months' time.

In the afterglow of an Ashes success - and the task of facing world number one South Africa in just a month's time - Australia are unlikely to address the issue any time soon.

The Proteas will provide a litmus test of their long-term ambitions and, with England having begun their regeneration in the series with four debutants, Cook's side may at least be ahead in that respect.

Although, it is hard to imagine that many Down Under are too fussed about that just yet.

Press Association

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