PARTAB RAMCHAND | 13 AUGUST, 2019
First Test Result an Aberration: Keen Ashes Contest on the Cards
England Vs Australia
Glenn McGrath is at it again. The former Aussie pace bowling great has again spoken of the possibility of Australia winning the Ashes series 5-0, his favourite prediction time and again. It doesn’t matter that it has gone awry every time in England though Down Under the Aussies have won two contests in quick succession by that margin and the last one in 2017-18 by 4-0.
This time the contest is in England and Australia have never won a Test series in this country by a clean sweep. The closest they have come is 4-0 twice – first by Don Bradman’s Invincibles in 1948 a feat emulated by Allan Border’s unheralded side 41 years later which dominated a six- Test series.
The point to note is that this English side is not bad enough to lose by a wide margin and this Aussie side is not good enough to win by a wide margin. Despite what happened in the first Test the teams are evenly matched and that result can be taken as an aberration. It must not be forgotten that it was England who dominated at Edgbaston for lengthy phases and it was largely one man’s brilliance that turned the tide Australia’s way. But then Steve Smith is in a different league altogether. One cannot say the same thing about the other players of both the sides. And if anything England can take heart from what happened in the first Test of that epic contest in 2005. On that occasion heavy favourites Australia won the first Test by 239 runs, England won the second Test by two runs and proceeded to regain the Ashes after losing the previous eight contests. The margin at Edgbaston was almost similar – Australia winning by 251 runs.
In any case England have done what could be done while preparing for the second Test at Lord’s starting on Wednesday. One obvious change was left arm spinner Jack Leach replacing the hopelessly out of sorts Moeen Ali. The other replacement has been a forced one with the injured Jimmy Anderson being replaced by Jofra Archer who himself has continued to work back to full fitness after a side strain suffered during the World Cup. To prove his readiness for what should be his Test debut Archer played for Sussex 2nd XI in a three day game last week taking seven for 106 and scoring a century so by all accounts he should be ready for Lord’s unless the team management prefers the all round skills of Sam Curren.
A cursory glance at the England side and it will be easy to conclude that this is not a side that should lose a Test by 251 runs. The big difference in the ultimate analysis was perhaps not even Smith’s sublime skills with the bat but the absence of Anderson from the bowling crease. Reduced to four bowlers in the absence of their pace spearhead England lost control on more than one occasion. The batting collapse in the second innings can also be taken as an aberration and one cannot see it happening again.
Despite their seemingly emphatic victory at Edgbaston Australia too are not without their problems. Their batting is over dependent on Smith and their four man bowling attack was struggling in the England first innings. They were clearly a bowler short in the absence of all rounders Mitch Marsh and Marnus Labuschagne and one of them should play at Lord’s. Either Mitchell Starc or Josh Hazelwood could also find a place. It was Australia’s good fortune that Nathan Lyon lived up to his reputation the second time around otherwise their pace attack was struggling as much as England’s in the absence of Anderson. The England bowling however will be strengthened by the inclusion of Archer and Australia too will do well in going in for a fifth bowler.
In the ultimate analysis I would like to differ from McGrath’s opinion and stand by my initial forecast that a closely fought series is on the cards.