x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

That false start doomed Australia

As Ricky Ponting's team drifted through the first session in an apparent fit of absent-mindedness, England's openers, Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook, redeemed failures at Cardiff with no fewer than 22 boundaries.

Test teams enter matches these days amply prepared, intimately aware of their opponents' techniques and the anticipated conditions. Australia's plan of battle for the second Ashes Test at Lord's contained one notable omission: an awareness of the start time of 11am. As Ricky Ponting's team drifted through the first session in an apparent fit of absent-mindedness, England's openers, Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook, redeemed failures at Cardiff with no fewer than 22 boundaries. In particular, Mitchell Johnson perpetrated a spell of bowling that would have had a village cricket club insisting he refund the cost of the new ball.

The price Australia paid for their late start can be judged from the correlation of the lunch score of 126-0 and England's eventual 115-run winning margin. The strength of England's beginnings allowed them to drift at other stages of the game - after tea on that first day, for instance, and on the third afternoon - without coming to great harm. It isn't necessarily the number of sessions you win in a Test match that counts, it is by how far you win them. Australia's opening two hours were almost a plea of nolo contendere.

England's first Ashes victory at Lord's in four monarchs and 15 prime ministers leaves Australia with several issues to address, some of them legacies of the original selection. On the face of it, Australia's batting has done the business in the first two Tests: in just three innings, seven of their top eight have made half centuries, five of them hundreds. But the exception is the highly rated Phillip Hughes and, while the squad contains a second keeper, there is no reserve opener. Australia are committed to persevering with the 20-year-old, and he faces a runs-or-bust Test at Birmingham.

It is the Australian way, the conviction that talent will out, to persist with Johnson despite his Lord's figures of three for 200. Ponting's post-Test remarks suggest that he remains a believer. Trouble is that the wickets can be expected to be more of the same: nothing to make a fast bowler's sap rise. The risk is also that a bowler blowing out in a four-man attack, as Johnson did at Lord's, asks much of the other three. The all-rounder Shane Watson, now fit, or at least as close to it as he comes, could be seen as offering a reserve pace-bowling option at Edgbaston, especially if Marcus North's two soft dismissals at Lord's are held against him.

From being a trivial diversion, meanwhile, Australia's game against Northants beginning on Friday looms almost as a sixth Test, with other players in acute need of cricket being the seamer Stuart Clark and the all-rounder Andrew McDonald. Injuries and indispositions have taken their toll on Clark, and he struggled palpably in the preliminary games. But his experience of Lord's would have been hugely useful in a callow attack, and it's hard to imagine that he would not have at least curtailed that boundary flow on the first day.

The other lesson Australia learnt at Lord's is the degree to which they depend on their captain, who made two and 38. Without his stabilising influence at the top of the order with the ball moving around, their batting was like a boat without a keel. Simon Katich and Mike Hussey showed their long-term county experience, but they are batsmen too naturally introspective to turn resistance into retribution.

Given that 2005 parallels are de rigueur, Australia can take encouragement from the fact that the team that suffered the first Test loss won the series, That team, of course, was England. It's not beyond Australia to do the same - but they had better make an early start. sports@thenational.ae