x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ponting's world is back on an even keel

This was, after all, an Australia side who were branded "spineless" and "clueless" and labelled as one of the worst teams to have represented one of the world's great cricketing nations.

Ricky Ponting, second left, congratulates his teammates on Australia's victory over England yesterday after he had missed the final day's play because of a broken little finger.
Ricky Ponting, second left, congratulates his teammates on Australia's victory over England yesterday after he had missed the final day's play because of a broken little finger.

Ricky Ponting could have been forgiven for thinking he was witnessing the apocalypse as the rain lashed down in Adelaide during the second Ashes Test.

The optimism and euphoria which had come with Peter Siddle's hat-trick in Brisbane was slowly washed away with the realisation that Australia were now swimming against the tide.

England were seemingly destined to end their 24-year wait for an Ashes series victory in Australia after reducing the home side to a laughing stock.

Suddenly, Ponting's position as captain was under threat and the selectors were fiercely criticised. One local tabloid printed a picture of the accused with eggs smeared all over their faces.

This was, after all, an Australia side who were branded "spineless" and "clueless" and labelled as one of the worst teams to have represented one of the world's great cricketing nations.

Yet, just under two weeks later, they have emerged a team reborn and with the momentum firmly in their favour thanks to a man who was discarded and, in some quarters, vilified.

In Mitchell Johnson, Australia possess one of cricket's greatest enigmas. Until his devastating spell at the Western Australian Cricket Association (Waca) ground, England had not witnessed anything to suggest the local hero would prove such a threat.

Banished from the squad following his dismal showing in the opening Test at Brisbane, Johnson was left out altogether in Adelaide in a bid to harness his energy towards Perth. Which he did.

When Johnson performs as he did in the third Test, he is unplayable, as England's hapless batsmen will testify following their dramatic first-innings collapse.

His ability to swing the ball at such high velocity not only pushed England's batsman towards the brink but also provided the spark which Australia so badly craved.

Johnson's six for 38 brought the series to life and gave the Australian public reason to believe when all their hopes and dreams appeared to have been dashed. Suddenly it was men wearing the famous baggy green caps who were congratulating and encouraging one another in the field.

The pace and bounce of Ryan Harris and Johnson's swing gave Australia an extra edge to an attack which had been so mercilessly hammered in the opening two Test matches.

Michael Hussey's determination to defy both his age and his critics and Johnson's raw ability have finally combined to do what Australian teams of old used to do - inflict brutal damage on the opposition.

While Australia bask in the glory of their achievement, the next few days will bring a period of introspection for an England side who will be shell-shocked following their meek capitulations: all out for 187 in the first innings, all out for an even more dismal 123 in the second, and beaten by a massive 267 runs.

The concern for Andy Flowers, the coach, and Andrew Strauss, the captain, will be their team's inability to produce consecutive match-winning performances.

Just as they did at Leeds in England in 2009 against Australia and at the Wanderers against South Africa earlier this year, they choked at the moment where they appeared set to claim a series victory.

Melbourne will at least provide Strauss's men with the chance to show they can fight back in the face of adversity and illustrate that they will not simply fold as previous England touring teams have done.

For now, one of the most pressing issues which England must consider is the position of Ian Bell, who remains wasted while batting at No 6.

Bell, who had scored five consecutive half-centuries on the tour before his second innings dismissal at Perth, has been one of England's outstanding players in recent weeks. So often derided by the Australians in the past, Bell has finally won over the sceptics with a number of impressive performances.

Should Bell be pushed up the order it would surely be at the expense of Paul Collingwood.

At 35, Collingwood is approaching the end of his Test career and his failure to score runs has left England's middle order woefully exposed.

His lack of runs and the absence of Stuart Broad at No 8 may encourage England to include Tim Bresnan in the side for the fourth Test.

Although by no means a world- class player, Bresnan's ability to score runs, and keep runs at a minimum when bowling, would give England a more solid look.

With Australia sticking with the same squad, England's team selection will remain the subject of much conjecture, but one thing remains constant for both sets of players: one victory for England and they will retain The Ashes.

The problem for them now is that Australia have just shown up.

sports@thenational.ae