There has been a good break now after the second test, and the build-up for the third is about accelerate.
Can England bounce back?
Has Mitchell Johnson re-opened wounds from 2013/14 or was it just a flash not to be seen again for the series?
What about Jimmy Anderson? He has gone three consecutive innings without a wicket. Are we watching his decline, or will he come out firing on what is hopefully ‘an English wicket’?
So many questions. So many answers coming over the next week.
I’ll start at the top.
I think it’s obvious that if Rogers is 100% fit, there is no question he is the man. I have never been a huge Marsh fan. I have struggled to understand how someone can score so few centuries in first class, yet stay so close to the Australian set up.
When having a look at his First Class record, it doesn’t inspire. After 108 matches his average of 39.18 is what I would consider to be below par, especially for someone who looks so elegant at the crease. There is no arguing that in both of his test centuries and some of his other notable higher scores, he moves so well. On style alone, he looks like a test player but there must have been something else going on for his inconsistencies. Injuries always are a stop-start on a professional athlete, but many before have overcome them. I will say though, if there was ever a time for him to step in and take ownership of a place in our top six, he is in the form to be judged truly right now. If Rogers gets through to the end of the series, I think it is expected that Marsh will get the whole summer in the job at the top, partnering David Warner.
I think England will bounce back, to an extent. There is little doubt they will not put in a performance that poor twice on English soil in the one series. Even if Johnson fires again, I think the English bowlers will be right back in the hunt. BUT if Johnson does repeat his Lords effort, I think that will set up a series win for Australia. The English will no doubt have some scars opening up.
Despite the new look English team, there is still Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes, Broad and Anderson that faced the music down under. Even with Root in spectacular form over the past 12 months, he can’t carry the team every week. Stokes doesn’t take a backward step and his century at the WACA will be one he can hang his hat on for a long time to come. However, he can get caught up in the fire of the game, which gives opportunities for false shots or ‘brain explosions’.
Broad and Anderson don’t want to be anywhere near Johnson with his tail up, and that is where the difference lays. Both Johnson and Mitchell Starc can literally finish the tail off in an over if they get it right. England fancy their tail, just as Australia fancy their own, but Starc and Johnson on fire is a different task.
Speaking of Anderson, can the Aussies hold him wicketless for a fourth straight innings? I think the English media pressure would magnify dramatically if so. Jimmy has an amazing international career but his average against Australia is down on his career stats. You would have to think this might even be his last Ashes. At 33 a tour to Australia at 35, for fast bowler, isn’t what keeps you sending them down. He has already won a series in Australia and personally I don’t think his fire will burn long enough to see him get on the plane.
The big one for me is whether Smith can make Broad eat his words? I’m such a big Smith fan, and I also love to hate Broad even if I think he would be a lad on the booze. I have to say though, that Smith hasn’t had to face a swinging, dipping ball on a seaming pitch in his purple patch. The closest he got was in South Africa, against a great bowling attack. The wickets in Australia for his India series were shocking for mind. They couldn’t have been flatter and the Indian attack wasn’t breathing fire and brimstone.
Smith has developed a patience in his game that is the cornerstone of every innings. He has realised that on the wickets prepared over the last 18 months, it’s only himself that gets him out. In his 192 against India he was in a rush to put the runs on the board. In his 199 against West Indies was a good ball, but he only had to get his bat in front of it. Finally, in his 215 at Lords. He was trying a reverse sweep to keep the runs flowing and was out by the smallest of margins.
I would love to see him get the chance to grind out an innings like that of a Steve Waugh or an Allan Border. While still very young, and plenty of time, if Smith can pull out a gutsy century in bowler perfect conditions to set up a win in the third test to break this deadlock, I think the questions disappear. Words are eaten, and the whole world scratches their heads collectively wondering how to get him out.
If I were a betting man, I would say this test, like the first two, will be over in four days or less. I’m expecting the wicket to bring the bowlers back into the game, which is obviously both good and bad for England. Cook is due to complete an innings and I get the feeling that this could be it. For the Aussie captain, I think Michael Clarke will continue to struggle. Despite his time in the middle during the tour game, I think a swinging Broad will have him in two minds again.
For the bowlers, Starc is the man this time for me. After a good break and his sixth consecutive test in the team, I think we will start to see the best of him from now and for the rest of the series. He has openly said he needs to play back to back so he can understand his role. He has proven that in the ODI team, and I think he is on the verge of that in the test arena.
For England, I can’t go past Broad. He always turns up to compete and he was bowling more intelligently than his team mates over the first two tests. I see him grabbing a five-fa including three of the top six.