Oz may be thrashed now

2013-07-16 23:20
Michael Clarke (AFP)
Cape Town - As engrossing a Test match as you will see ... but bad result, I’m afraid, for neutrals desiring an unrelentingly tense, thrill-a-minute Ashes series.

That is my verdict on the first England-Australia Test at Trent Bridge, clearly watched on television by plenty of supporters of the No 1-ranked Proteas if weight of domestic comments traffic in the various forms of media is any gauge.

Sunday’s final day, played before a full house in welcome ongoing, sparkling weather in Nottingham, kept Test lovers everywhere on the edges of their seats.

If not always characterised by most competent, consistent or resilient specialist batting by either side, the clash nevertheless lacked absolutely nothing in entertainment value, topsy-turvy fortunes and gritty fightbacks, particularly of the tail-end kind by several Australians.

There was a bag-load of technological and etiquette-related controversy, too, which ... well, isn’t altogether bad in terms of keeping the endangered five-day format suitably high among the headlines, eh?

When the Test was eventually concluded (some might say appropriately) by the decision review system, I imagine I wasn’t the only South African hugely relieved that our own, George-born Marais Erasmus got the crucial nick verdict against Brad Haddin correct from "upstairs".

Amidst the accolades for both teams after a humdinger of a contest, which England edged by 14 runs, there was some sentiment that the Trent Bridge classic may have served notice of a ding-dong tussle now for the duration of the series.

I beg to differ.

My gut feeling is that Michael Clarke’s underdogs have missed possibly their best opportunity to grab some kind of initiative: had they, instead, been the ones going 1-0 to the good, it might have sent a few unexpected butterflies through English team stomachs and truly set the series alight.

But with the host nation squeezing over the line in the first Test, and buoyed by a wave of general sporting patriotism at present – I sampled a dose of that while in the balmy south of England just a few days ago, en route from a holiday in France – it only reinforces my belief that England, actually, are the likelier improvers henceforth.

Set high standards under the regime of Andy Flower, they may well feel that they got out of jail in the Midlands Test to some degree, and can now push on more forcefully to underline their superiority (for that they have, on paper), starting anew at Lord’s from Thursday.

Certainly at the symbolic home of cricket you may reasonably anticipate weightier showings from staple England figures like Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann and also third paceman Steven Fynn, assuming he keeps his place after an erratic showing at Nottingham.

Cohesive and tenacious in most other departments at Trent Bridge, the Aussies only underlined once more the rare – for them – and near-frightening frailty of their supposed top six batting "cream", with the undoubtedly top-drawer "Pup" Clarke even showing one or two signs of buckling under the weight of responsibility to come off in a big way every time.

Given the desperately limited quality at their disposal, there has been inevitable speculation and urging in the Trent Bridge post mortem of a recall for someone like Simon Katich, a slightly fringe character from their most recent era of greatness (he is almost 38 and hasn’t played a Test since December 2010).

Indeed, I recall reading this week of some excitement Down Under because new coach Darren Lehmann had been seen 'having a meal' with Ricky Ponting, and people somehow linking it rather hopefully to the veteran’s 169 not out for Surrey (in supposedly his swansong first-class innings, mind!).

Whatever the whispers of additions or reinforcements, Lehmann, to his credit, seems to be doing his damndest to extract in a hurry the very best he can out of a moderate Aussie Test bunch.

But his cause may not be helped by the defiant, compensation-seeking salvoes this week from his sacked predecessor Mickey Arthur, who reportedly alleges that Clarke had spoken of senior colleague Shane Watson as being a 'cancer' in the team.

However true or untrue, that is less than ideal for squad spirit.

Sorry, any Australian friends, I’m going for 4-0 England from here, with perhaps one draw somewhere along the line.

That said, I certainly won’t mind in the slightest if the slowly regrouping Baggy Greens prove me well wide of the mark.

World cricket traditionally fears and sometimes grudgingly respects a strong Australia, and at some stage that phenomenon is bound to take root again.

Just not yet, I’m afraid. Not nearly ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    the ashes  |  michael clarke  |  cricket

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