Johnson was down and on the verge of fresh humiliation, but Trott committed a deadly sin... he gave a sucker an even break

22 November 2013 5:58 PM

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McGargle was played, of course, by WC Fields, whose advice became so famous that he ended up repeating it in You Can't Cheat An Honest Man and using it wholly as the title of his final film. That contains another memorable line. 'This script is an insult to a man's intelligence,' cries the film's producer. 'It's impossible, inconceivable, incomprehensible, and besides that, it's no good. And as for the continuity, it's terrible.' He could have been talking about Friday's reversal at The Gabba.

England's batting was inconceivable and incomprehensible and, certainly, it was - Stuart Broad and Michael Carberry aside - no good. And having skittled Australia for a very ordinary 295, there was precious little continuity in the way the tourists worked themselves into a position of extreme vulnerability having first put Australia in a corner.

Basically, they gave a sucker an even break. And the sucker in question was Mitchell Johnson. He may well be the fastest bowler in the world right now, but he is also one of the most fragile. Mentally shot by the end of the 2010 Ashes tour here he must have feared the worst once more after his first six overs yielded 32 runs. Johnson plays on confidence and had he sat down at lunch with no wickets and going for five runs each over the old demons may have crowded in on him. Instead, England gave a sucker an even break. Specifically, Jonathan Trott did.

Trott hadn't look particularly comfortable all morning, shuffling across, leaving his leg stump exposed. The flaws were recognisable from the summer. Trott had spoken of having worked on this aspect of his game, but there has been a lot of talk around this Ashes series and little of it has meant much judging by the action so far.

Trott's assurances most definitely did not. He committed the same deadly sin that had harmed him so in the home series and, in the over before lunch, feathered a fateful catch to Brad Haddin off his legs. From sitting down to eat full of self-doubt, Johnson was suddenly the hero and taker of a crucial wicket. He never looked back from that moment. 'Pivotal,' wicketkeeper Brad Haddin called it.

This really was careless stuff from Trott. The timing around the decision to bowl a final over was as tight as it could be. The clock moved from 11.59 to 12.00 as Aleem Dar returned a cap to Peter Siddle. Had Trott done a little mid-wicket gardening, fiddled with a boot, taken issue with a glove mid-over, he could have made it up the steps untroubled. Instead he chose to face a last over that was laden with tension, even if Johnson's figures to that point had not suggested much of a threat.

It was a mistake. Trott should have taken time out of the game and simply allowed the psychological pressure to rest on Johnson's shoulders, left him to think about the way his plans fell apart in 2010, the humiliation, the mockery of the Barmy Army.

On the final day in Sydney, when England captain Alastair Cook went up to collect one of many prizes, he was asked if there was a single factor that could explain the tourists' superiority. From the other side of the stadium, where the English supporters remained came a familiar cry: 'He bowls to the left, he bowls to the ri-ii-ight...' Johnson should have been left to revisit those memories as he pushed his lunch around the plate.

Instead, he got the even break, and turned it into a giant ego trip. He finished the day with four wickets for 61 runs, his afternoon spell was fearsome and fast and more than one Englishman was made to look hugely ill at ease out there. He could have been a punchline; Trott turned him into Jeff Thomson. England were embroiled in a serious bouncer barrage after lunch, old-fashioned in its simplicity but stunningly effective.

Johnson bullied, spinner Nathan Lyon crafted and England's batsmen simply capitulated in the day's second session. You will know the numbers by now, how six wickets fell for nine runs in 58 balls, how 82-2 became 91-8. This was England's lowest total for the fall of six wickets since 1990 and a middle order collapse only exceeded by a Test against the West Indies in 1954, when the fourth to eighth wickets fell for six runs.

It isn't the first time this has happened in recent memory either. For all the improvements made in English Test cricket, giving some real suckers an even break in the first Test is pretty much what England have travelled the world doing for the best part of decade now.

Since 2005, only in Bangladesh have England won the opening Test of a tour. From dramatic second innings collapses in Jamaica, to batting lessons in Ahmedabad, and pure carnage in the desert against Pakistan, England come out of the traps like a greyhound that has been slipped a Mars bar two minutes before the race.

The last time England were in Brisbane, they took pity on a slow left-armer from Tasmania, Xavier Doherty, one of any number of failed Australian attempts to find the next Shane Warne. Doherty's even break came with two cheap first innings wickets, including that of Ian Bell.

So there are consistencies, just not ones that make for pleasant consideration. At The Gabba three years ago, England batted for ten and a half hours in the second innings for the loss of one wicket, to rewrite record books and save the Test. If anything, the effort required to retrieve the match here must be greater. Australia ended the day 224 ahead, with England's bowlers looking spent - and also rather irritated at being placed in this exhausting position - and the home team in the unlikeliest cocksure ascendancy.

He was equally affronted by speculation about the dressing-room mood. 'Shell-shocked?' he said. 'I wouldn't say shell-shocked. A bad session can happen to any team.' Indeed it can, but following on so very quickly from four good ones made it a bit of a head-scratcher.

'Start every day with a smile,' said Fields, 'and get it over with.' If he hadn't died in 1946 he could have been reading from England's script.


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