When I turned on the radio on the Monday morning after the Cardiff Test and heard "... ran out of time as Monty Panesar and James Anderson hung on for a dramatic draw", the sick feeling that washed over me was as acute as any I have experienced in a long time. I'd say I was "gutted" but I hate the term and the way it has gained currency here. John Howard might be our official Cricket Tragic, but I suspect he doesn't feel the game like your dyed-in-the-wool obsessed cricket idiots, of which I am one. It didn't help that the result was semi-expected. The half-chance Collingwood gave early in his innings which lobbed almost exactly between Haddin and Katich (don't forget: Pies was the only English batsman to stick around on the last day in Adelaide in 2006), Broad being given not out LB first ball, our lack of a Warne-like cutting edge, and the generally placid nature of the pitch all pointed to England hanging on. Further details emerging through the day - North bowling at the close - only served to rub in the result. This was a chance wasted.
Australia cannot afford to cough up results like Cardiff. NGASAEB is the catch-cry around here, even when Warne and McGrath were in full flight, and its significance has been acutely magnified over the last 18 months.
So it came to pass. The Lords result was on the cards the moment the Cardiff Test ended. Forget the bullshit about 75 years of Aussie domination at the home of cricket. Ignore the flannel about how Aussies rise to the occasion within the hallowed confines of the august stadium. The run was a statistical blip, a fluke, and bound to break eventually. Every time we won at Lords we were a Test closer to losing there. (You didn't know the AGB did sophistry, did you?) Every time I heard or read about it leading into last weekend, the more convinced I was we would lose. Fact: we are not very good. Yes, we can play good cricket, but in the wrong circus-pants - a flat pitch is very much the wrong circs - with players off their game and with an unhealthy emphasis on Our Phil Hughes, we were more than vulnerable.
At our best we would probably beat England, but we didn't play at our best. We didn't even play near our best. Lords was the worst performance I have seen from an Aussie side ever. Basically, we fell apart.
I wrote in the lead-up to Lords that "if Australia are, as they say at the track, 'better for the run' (especially Johnson)" then we would win, but we weren't, we were much worse for the run (especially Johnson). It defies belief that Johnson is bowling poorly because of his mum. Warnie could have all the trouble in the world off the pitch, but as soon as he was in a match, his troubles would vanish. Johnson's trouble is not his mum, it's quite evidently his action and rhythm. The flat pitches can't help, either.
The strange thing is, we were dreadful, but we weren't that far off the pace. Brian at LP:
Well the cricket’s not over yet. Strauss’s best move, apart from claiming a catch that clearly hit the ground in front of him was to win the toss – twice. In the second test for the first four days when the Poms batted the sun shone and when the Aussies batted there were clouds and the ball swung.
In the Aussies second innings they lost 3 of their top 6 to bad umpiring and still scored over 400. How many teams have scored over 400 in the last innings of a test match? Not many at all I’d reckon.
Overall so far we’ve taken 35 wickets and the Poms 26.
And yet, even without KP England will be hard to beat because we will struggle to bowl them out twice. Bell, the mooted replacement, has a poor record against Australia, but his poor record is against Warne and McGrath. Will he end up with a poor record against our current attack? KP was almost a by-stander in the first two Tests, Bell has been knocking up runs in the counties. KP's injury may well be the piece of luck that re-invigorates Bell's career, a-la Slatts to Gnome B.N. Unless Australia can improve their bowling, Bell will not be easy to get out. And the Englands are no longer six-out, all-out, they bat deep.
Can't work out if our batting is a problem or not. Hughes is an obvious worry. I was under the impression that we had a truck-load of batsmen tooling around the counties, but every time someone mentions Hughes' name it is accompanied by a criticism that there are no spare batsmen in the touring party. Wasn't local back-up the reason we picked one less batsman? Have we suddenly no replacements in England? Despite misgivings about the rest of the top six, they have all got runs. What does help the batting, though, is a sense that no matter what the batsmen score, the bowlers will run through the opposition for less. That gives the batsmen confidence and releases pressure. Unless we get our bowling right, it's hard to see us breaking through at Edgbaston. (Anyone for jelly?)
Starting tonight at Wantage Road it's imperative our bowlers get their act together, both individually and collectively. (Please, enough with the "Aussies sweating on Lee fitness" headlines. That reeks of desperation.) When we won in SA, our bowling was team-tight, each bowler contributing to the overall impact. Here in the UK, our bowling has been team-sloppy. Individual bowlers have managed good spells, even Johnson in the second innings at Lords, but too often we have gone through sessions where our lines and lengths were appalling.
It's hard to see us getting back on top in this series. Yet England on paper, even with Freddy supposedly running amok, are not the vastly superior side a big win at Lords would superficially indicate. Surely, this fact was reflected in the English media's over-reaction to the result, which probably stemmed more from relief than any great sense that their boys are better. I mean, five hundred ahead, and they were still worried Australia might win?
Catches, the toss, a better performed and organised attack, and - fingers crossed - luck, could easily see momentum swing the other way.