The first two tests of the Investec Test series between England and Australia have been a study in contrasts . The first was a pulsating contest with fortunes shifting constantly . England’s modest first innings total of 215 loomed ever larger as Australia collapsed to 117 for 9. Then 19- year old Test debutant Ashton Agar joined Philip Hughes in an improbable last wicket stand that not only surpassed England’s total but gave the Aussies a first innings lead of 65 . Australia appeared in the ascendant when the first two English wickets fell for only 11 but resolute batting by Cook and Pietersen stemmed the rot and then Ian Bell and Stuart Broad took them to 375. Needing 311 for a win , Australia were well set at 84 for 1 but then wickets fell steadily and at 231 for 9 with 80 runs still needed for victory , I and most others wouldn’t have given tuppence for Australia’s chances . I must admit I tuned out at this moment . Somehow , Brad Haddin and last man James Pattinson chipped away at the deficit before Haddin fell just 15 runs short of victory. It was surely one of the greatest Tests in recent memory .
If the first Test represented the best in Test cricket , the second Test surely was among the worst . Honors were even at the end of the first day’s play with England at 289 for 7 but things soured quickly for Australia on the second day. First the English tail wagged yet again as England were all out for 361. Then Australia were shot out for 128 in the space of three hours . At this point , the result was a foregone conclusion but England prolonged the agony by not enforcing the follow-on. We were forced to wait another two days before Australia finally succumbed , giving England a 347 run victory. It cannot have been much fun even for the most rabid English supporters. The cricket humorist , Andy Zaltzman, spoke for a lot of us cricket fans when he wrote “…this Test match reignited my smouldering concerns about the future of Test cricket. The five-day game has been scarred for too long by one-sided hammerings, ….Like most fans of Test cricket, I want to see contests, not crushings.”
What I also found reprehensible was England’s decision to bat again and not make Australia follow on . At that point , they had a huge first innings lead of 233 and their bowlers were still fresh after having skittled the Aussies out for 128. There can have been only one reason for their action : to crush the Australians spirits , to grind them into the dust , to demoralize them completely . Perhaps this is good cricket strategy , but it is not cricket. I’m not sure whose decision this was ( Cook ? Flower? both ?) but whoever it was should be ashamed of themselves because it was mean-spirited. I expect better from England. Certainly , the Baggy Green have been guilty of similar actions in the years of their dominance and that is why they were so hated . England should not emulate them .
As it stands now , the five Test series in England is over for all intents and purposes. Aussie weaknesses have been thoroughly exposed . Shane Watson regularly throws away his wicket and the rest of the top order batting is brittle beyond belief. They just don’t seem to apply themselves and dig in . One is forced to agree with Graham Gooch when he opines that T20 is ” chipping away at batting skills”. The bowling , except for one brief spell from Siddle in the first Test , has not been able to dislodge the English batsmen and now James Pattinson is out for the series ( not that he was doing that well ). As for the captaincy , Michael Clarke is just not up to it ; he is a great batsman but an uninspiring leader. It is difficult to see how Australia can bounce back and make a series of it . Still , I hope their stinging defeat in the second Test riles them up and makes them a more resolute team for the remaining matches . If they are able to draw one of the remaining three Tests , it will be a huge improvement . Right now , it looks like a 5-0 whitewash is in the cards but one can always hope.