Since the end of the Ashes series, there have been many excellent summaries and reviews written. In addition, we have seen and discussed the many iconic images and moments that summed up the domination of Australia over England.
From Clarke’s broken arm sledge to Anderson in Brisbane, to Carberry’s broken bat in Sydney, moments abound that seem to present Australia’s crushing of its traditional opponent in one neat package.
Johnson’s sandshoe crusher LBW of Broad, Bailey’s record equalling over against Swann, Johnson’s run out of Root, Harris’s golden duck delivery to Cook, even Carberry’s dropped catch of Haddin. All these could be used to encapsulate the 5-0 score line.
For me however, there was an unnoticed over, one that seemingly had little impact on the game at the time, that presented the varying fortunes and tactics of both teams and could tell the story of the series and how it played out.
Just as Seinfeld was a show about nothing that had many layers and pieces of brilliance within it, this particular over about nothing told a long and involved story.
On the morning of Day 3 of the Melbourne Test, Australia resumed at 9 for 164. For the first time in the series, England was in a dominating position. For once, the Australian tail hadn’t made a complete recovery after a top order misfire and England were one wicket away from holding a lead of about 90. With the forecast being for very warm conditions, England would have been hoping to capture the final Australian wicket and punish the Australian bowlers with a day in the sun and building a credibility restoring lead, despite the series having been lost.
England would have known the poor record of teams chasing much over 250 in the fourth innings of tests in Melbourne and would have thought that, eventually, their batting would click. So England, refreshed after a dominant day in the field on Day 2, and hopefully for them full of tactics to wrap things up, came out to tackle Haddin (again) and for Lyon to face his first ball.
Lyon has proven himself in his career, and through the first three tests of the series, to be no bunny and is not the worst No. 11 in world cricket, however is still very much a tailender. Australia through the series had clear plans for the England tail, who boasted in Broad, Swann and Bresnan some very handy lower order batsmen. However, Australia still set specific fields for each opponent, and delivered throat balls that they failed to keep down, searing yorkers that dismissed or injured them or the old faithful, teasing outswingers that they couldn’t resist. As a result, Australia’s tactics and plans for the England tail meant that once England were 5 or 6 down, they often collapsed.
After a couple of overs that morning, of nicked fours and good strike rotation, Australia move to 9 for 180. Anderson was to bowl over 78, his third of the morning. The first telling point of the over of nothing was that Haddin happily took a single of the first ball, exposing Lyon. Whilst not unusual, this for me was the first thing to note. The field had been spread but Haddin had no hesitation in turning the strike over to his No. 11 on the first ball of the over. He was focussed on taking every run that was there.
The second point to note was that the single took Haddin to 50, again a milestone score in the Australian first innings, as he had in the previous three matches. This contrast, not just with Prior, but with many of the players selected by the English as batsmen, was to sum up the batting differences in the sides. Haddin once again with leadership and experience, saved Australia’s blushes.
Anderson’s next three deliveries were to Lyon, and were short and sailed over middle and leg, about chest height . The third thing to note then was Anderson’s wasted deliveries. It is little wonder it took until the final test for an Australian to fall LBW, if the English refused to bowl at the stumps. Compare this to Johnson’s yorker deliveries.
The fourth thing is that Lyon attempted to play these two deliveries over slip to the vacant third man boundary. Here was Lyon chasing runs, not afraid to attempt shots, looking to reduce the English lead. Another feature of the series was Australia’s ability to chase runs, quickly, bat deep and back themselves.
The fifth thing is that the only tactic Anderson could have been looking to execute was to get Lyon playing that shot and being caught at third man. Only, Cook didn’t have a man down there until he took a man from extra-cover after delivery number 4. Again, poor field placings and a lack of pressure on tail-enders were a story of the series.
Anderson’s final two deliveries of the over were similar to the previous 3, short, going over the stumps, which by this stage seemed there clearly just for decoration, and Lyon missed them all. Lyon was by now stepping slightly towards square leg, and would have been a prime candidate for a yorker or at least a teasing ball outside off to slash at.
On the surface then, a non-descript over, a single from it, Australia still trailing by over 70 and the No. 11 plays and misses numerous times, attempting strange ramp shots. Hardly newsworthy.
However, in those six deliveries, in the context of the match, and as much for what didn’t happen as for what did, lay the chasm between the two sides.
Australia, full of confidence despite being down, has one of its senior leaders at the crease, making runs again. He is joined by a player not long since dropped from the side, but now a valued member with bat and ball. Australia chases runs, support each other and play their shots.
England, ahead for a change, are so shattered by their past experiences in the first three matches, that they can’t go for the jugular. Instead, they waste time, leak runs, have no plans to take wickets and miss the seemingly obvious.
What happens next? Broad is taken off after three overs, Stokes comes on for one, then Broad strangely returns. Australia make more runs, a last wicket partnership of 40, eventually being dismissed for 204, a deficit of just 51, which seemed unlikely at 6 for 122 the previous day. Haddin finished with 65, another half century and confidence in the book, Lyon not out 18, again showing his worth to the team.
Anderson’s over, number 78 of the Australia first innings, will not be seen as a turning point of the match. No wickets fell, no chances went down, no blazing cover drives or hooks for boundaries.
Over 78 had no iconic images or moments of the series and will not be replayed in years to come in a video montage of our summer of success.
But to me, over 78 summed up everything about why one side won so convincingly and how far the other had fallen.