Johnson was fantastic but how on earth do you make sense of England's batting? 136 all-out was feeble

22 November 2013 8:43 AM

134 0

How on earth do you make sense of England’s collapse on the second afternoon? It was a combination of hostile bowling, good control from the off-spin of Nathan Lyon, smart captaincy from Michael Clarke, and a couple of very soft dismissals. Even so, 136 all out was pretty feeble.

Mitchell Johnson was fantastic. Australia’s seamers looked a capable bunch in the summer, but he adds that bit of X-factor, and there’s no doubt that England were spooked by the short stuff.

The way he worked over Michael Carberry was superb, changing his angle of attack from over the wicket, where Carberry had been lining him up nicely, to round the wicket, which meant he could dig it into his ribs. It was the kind of moment where Clarke’s imaginative captaincy pays dividends.

The two really soft dismissals for me were Ian Bell and Matt Prior, who went in successive deliveries to Lyon. Those were regulation off-breaks, so for two top-class batsmen to be caught at short leg was lame.

But I liked the way Australia dried up the runs to Kevin Pietersen. It’s why Peter Siddle has had some success against him in the past: he gives him nothing to hit, and plays on his ego. The Aussie seamers gave him nothing to hit, so he was felt forced to try to manufacture something, and ended up picking out short midwicket.

That left Carberry not knowing whether to stick or twist in his first Ashes Test, and England were suddenly going nowhere.

But the key at the moment is Jonathan Trott. When he’s in form and scoring runs, as he has been for most of his Test career, he has this calming influence. He also gets under the skin of the opposition, so the bowlers start to lose their control.

Right now, though, he’s got a problem. He knows it and Australia know it. He’ll have spent hours in the nets at Edgbaston trying to sort out his issues against the short ball, but it’s very difficult to change your batting technique when it’s part of your identity as a batsman.

Trott’s initial movement is towards the bowler, which is why he’s been getting into trouble against the short stuff. As a result, he’s moving across to the off-side instead, which is one way of staying out of the line of fire.

But he’s going too far, and this was the third time in the last few Tests that he has been caught behind down the leg side. When it happens so often, it’s not a case of being unlucky – it’s a technical flaw.

He’s either got to stop getting so far across his stumps, or duck under the bouncers – something my old England team-mate Mark Butcher used to be very good at.

Whatever method he chooses, he needs to sort it out, because he is the England batsman most capable of spreading calm. I’ve been in dressing-rooms before when a collapse is on, and it’s not a good place to be. People are falling over each other to find their kit and a kind of self-perpetuating panic takes over.

Joe Root would never have played the shot he played here, driving loosely at a wide one, if it had been 289 for 6 rather than 89 for 6. It messes with the mind.

There are also concerns for Alastair Cook, who keeps being drawn into drives outside off without properly transferring his weight. Carberry actually left the ball better than Cook.

Beyond that, England have to kick this habit of beginning overseas Tests like this. But, like technical flaws, these things can become ingrained. They’ve bounced back before. And they’re going to have to do the same yet again.


To category page