“Need a new Johnson Rod”

by Andrew Gigacz

The knives were out before the start of Day 5. The general thrust was that Australia do not have an attack capable of taking 20 wickets in a match, and therefore can’t win the series. And I think there’s a fair bit of truth in that. But as the players took the field with England at 1/309, I wanted to reserve my judgement.

Tim Ivins had made a good observation at the close of the fourth day: “Days 1 and 3, advantage Australia. Days 2 and 4, advantage England.” And, as I said to time, what that indicated to me was that the ODDS were still EVEN.

I “watched” the first session of the last day via Cricinfo from my desk at work. (Heeding the advice from those who have read some of my previous Almanac missives, I haven’t given up my day job.)

Reading the online commentary, it didn’t take long for me to make my own first observation. Cook was getting a lot of runs through the slip and gully areas. Ponting was employing two slips. Hardly attacking. Why? To me, all this does is convey to England that he has a defensive mindset, and limit the chances of taking wickets through uncontrolled shots. Shots going between slip at gully at catchable height is one of my bugbears from a fielding perspective. Leaving that gap doesn’t invite players to play through that area. It just frustrates bowlers when a thick edge goes through the gap. PLUG THE GAP, PUNTER!

And he did. Sort of. Cricinfo: “Marcus North has moved in to the cordon now, floating around fourth slip, where that edge from Cook flew in Siddle’s previous over. Two regular slips are also in.” That’s better, but not best. It still left a gap. And worse, when it got through that gap, it was going for four because there was no third man. In effect, the batsmen (particularly Cook) were being rewarded for a false shot.  I say plug the gap and invite the batsman to drive through a vacant mid off or cover area. At least if he gets four through there he’ll have deserved it.

A lot of good things have flowed from limited overs cricket into Test cricket. Vastly improved fielding and innovative batting, for example. But I reckon one of the bad things that’s come across is a defensive fielding mindset. Captains turn to this too early and too often in Test matches. In the end, against good sides, it doesn’t work because it allows the scoring of easy singles, which in turn reduces pressure on batsmen who, suitably freed, begin to attack with confidence.

The England innings meandered on, Cook and Trott accumulating runs comfortably, despite the odd false shot. Clarke dropped a sitter and the gap was never plugged. And occasionally the Australian team just had bad luck.

As frustration mounted the Aussies got their heads together. Cricinfo: “Another conference now, between Siddle, Ponting and Johnson. Perhaps Johnson is trying to learn something, I can’t imagine what he’d be contributing given his lack of impact in this match.”

Let’s just make something clear here.  That wasn’t ME saying that. But it’s hard to disagree with the sentiment. Thinking about Mitchell throughout this match, I kept thinking of George’s famous quote from an episode of Seinfeld: “You’re gonna need a new Johnson Rod”. And, indeed, Johnson has given every impression of impotence in this match.

A couple of comparisons I’d made on the first day of this Test had highlighted this. After 14 overs in the first innings, Johnson had taken 0/62. Peter Siddle’s figures at the same point were 6/44. Perhaps more enlightening was a comparison of Johnson’s figures between the early and latter stages of his career: in his first 40 Tests, he took 90 wickets at 23.5 with an economy rate of 2.5 runs per over. Since then, in 36 Tests, he’s taken 76 wickets at 31.3, economy rate 3.72 rpo.

Later in the day I got to see some of Johnson’s bowling live and it reflected a player sapped of direction (literally) and confidence. 

With England’s score approaching 400 I still thought that one wicket could set up a collapse and an Australian win. But I’d forgotten that this Australian team doesn’t have the match-turners they had five years ago. Warne and McGrath with the ball; Gilchrist and, to a lesser degree, Hayden with the bat. There are no obvious 2010 equivalents to those guys.

Lunch came and went and England ground on, knocking over records as they went. In the end they declared at an amazing 1/517. While this would have been a demoralising scoreline for the Australians, I would have preferred to see Strauss declare earlier and give his side some chance of bowling Australia out. It’s true Australia need to win this series and by extension Test matches to regain the Ashes but the task is much harder at 0-1 behind than from 0-0 with four Tests to play.

Australia lost a predictable early wicket in Katich before Ponting and Watson saw off any danger of a miracle English victory. The captains called time with an hour to play with Australia at 1/107.

So we head to Adelaide with effectively a four game series ahead. The Australians have some legitimate concerns, particularly with their attack. Outside of Siddle’s burst, they hardly looked like getting regular breakthroughs. And Clarke and North are a middle-order concern.

But on the other hand, despite all these negatives, Australia hung on for a draw. If I were a person of influence in the Aussie dressing rooms, I’d be pressing this point home to the players. Not unlike an AFL coach might do after his team has put in an ordinary effort but still come away with the points. To me it seems Australia has more room for improvement than England does.

The weaknesses are a concern but can be addressed. Ponting, Tim Nielsen and the selectors can tackle them without the stress of being one behind in the series. In fact they can take a lead from the letters of the name of England’s skipper Andrew Strauss: “A DRAW? UNSTRESS!”

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Peter Flynn says:

    Agree with your early declaration call and your comments re field placing.

    Ponting doesn’t really believe in slips.

    He is not good tactically and has to marshal Shield bowlers in a Test match.

    Who is coaching Johnson? A scrambled seam, brain, radar etc.

    “Australia hung on for a draw”. We’re talking like Poms now.

    Cheers,

    Peking Peter

  2. Peking Peter, have you escaped the country to avoid the Big Ted ticker tape parade?

    ‘“Australia hung on for a draw”. We’re talking like Poms now.’ I take your point. But I thought there were positives that could be taken from this result given the number of non-contributors Australia had.

  3. John Butler says:

    PF, “what are the coaches doing re Johnson” is an excellent question. Has been for 12 months.

    Gigs, dead right re field placements. Too many smart-arse short midwickets, not enough slips.

    KISS should apply.

    But it is still 0-0

    Roll on Adelaide. Hopefully a livelier deck.

  4. No Shit Sherlock statement of the week goes to Ricky Ponting – “I don’t think Mitchell was at his best during this test”

  5. I have to say I agree with Peter Roebuck in The Age – (test) cricket can’t afford to have matches end like this. England v Australia is still the pinnacle of test cricket. If this game represents the pinnacle then test cricket is in trouble. The first few days were great and set up a wonderful finish, then…………As the game came to a close the Poms refused to declare and perhaps force a result (gutless) and Australia was incapable of breaking through (skill-less and leaderless).

    I sincerely hope Adelaide improves things, but it too is renowned for flat tracks and long batting. As for Alistair Cook – we thought Boycott was boring.

    Have ago ya mugs.

  6. Peter Flynn says:

    Gigs,

    I wasn’t having a go at you. It’s a role reversal for supporters of both outfits.

    Given that he is such a poor starter and that this trait is supported by conservative part-time selector and full-time lawyer Hilditch, I’d bat North at 11 and make him the spinner. He can then be removed from the middle-order-collapse equation of which he is the current lynchpin.

    Johnson needs a spell to rediscover form that would warrant selection in a Grade match let alone Shield cricket.

    In a perverse way, the worst thing that happened was that Hussey and Haddin got runs.

    From what I saw, Haddin’s keeping was poor and Hussey may have just bought himself another Ashes tour to the Old Dart in 2013.

    Australia get themselves into winning positions and can’t seal the deal. Why?

    Shield bowlers
    Captaincy issues
    Confidence levels
    Lack of togetherness. I’m not entirely sure that this team is tight. I smell trouble in the ranks. Perhaps this is because I’m reading one of the best cricket books ever written. Golden Boy by Christian Ryan.

  7. #5. Dips, I agree. Many a potential great Test has been spoiled by last day, even last session, trepidation. Captains are going to lose more friends by NOT having a go than the other way around.

    And if I was the fielding captain in the 4th innings, I wouldn’t give up until there were less balls remaining than wickets required. (And I haven’t even mentioned the possibility of getting a run out on a no-ball. Ok, well now I have.)

  8. The best Test matches in recent years have been played between India and Australia.

  9. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    A fair and reasonable assessment Gigs.

    Australia got a draw with only 3 players performing well. If Clarke and Johnson can fire up we can win the series. Doherty needs time and confidence. Our catching was crap. Very “un-Australian”. The English attack isn’t penetrating.

    I enjoyed watching most of this test as it was a good contest between bat and ball for the first three and a half days. I would definitely replace North with Cameron White as the only change for Adelaide.

  10. Series betting suggests the bookies and the punters think it is an even contest so the Ivins thesis stands up in pubs end elsewhere. I cannot remember a cricket match where draw has begun favourite, even when weather has looked like playing a role.

    Before a ball was bowled I thought the Australians had an advantage, and would win the series. I have changed my mind. Too many issues for the Australians now: skipper’s captaincy, Clarke, Johnson, spinner’s position, North,and so on. I think Finn will improve quickly. His spell to Clarke was pretty good for a novice.

    One of the keys will be pressure. Who feels it? And who takes their chances? The POms had a terrible run of it at the Gabba. Nothing went their way.

    Delicious situation again.

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