Whilst most Ashes ruminations have centred on the born again Johnson and Warner as being the catalysts for Australia’s triumph, it’s fair to say the host’s brilliant fielding has flown under the radar.
Unlike chatty men Anderson and Prior, the Aussies to a man backed their frank exchanges with a catching prowess which galvanised the side. Despite cricket being an individual sport, of sorts, the Aussies’ reversal of fortune owes much to a rediscovered spirit and unity on the ground.
Australia’s fielding, which had also fallen dramatically off the chart in recent times, is once again a bona fide strength. It’s no coincidence that fielding guru Mike Young has returned to the fold, who (along with coach Darren Lehmann) must take some credit for the settled squad’s burgeoning confidence.
England’s fielding has not been shocking per se, bar Carberry’s costly whoopsie in Brisbane (though not a patch on this) and a few Prior boo-boos; more so the Aussies have been outstanding. Not since the halcyon days of Taylor, Ponting, Hussey and the Waughs et al can one recall as many match defining efforts in one summer. And just as McGrath pulled off the seemingly impossible all those years ago in Adelaide, the bowlers have shown skills well above their station.
To illustrate the importance of the Aussies’ clean hands, 19 of the English wickets to fall in Brisbane were caught, 14 in Adelaide and 15 in Perth. Damning for the visitors was how many were snaffled in the outfield, pointing to a lack of commitment at the crease. Consequently, not only were England’s partnerships consistently stymied and collapses compounded, the hard toiling Aussie bowlers’ shoulders never had cause to slump, the strong, supportive vibe in the field keeping spirits high in trying conditions. Even the likes of sub fielder and future trivia question Chris Sabburg bought into the act.
Of the 48 green and golden catches in the series to date, here are ten of the more memorable;
1. Carberry c Warner b Watson 60 (1st innings, 2nd Test) Viv Richards’ talented
doppelgänger promised much until his well compiled half century typically expired prematurely, having navigated the Mitch Johnson whirlwinds. Whipping the ball off his legs, Carberry’s only imagined outcome was surely umpire Dharmasena waiving four. Even by Warner’s lofty standards this one hander was sublime. Poor Carberry looked as if he’d been told his lucky Darth Vader skid lid was stolen.
2. Pieterson c Harris b Lyon 45 (2nd innings, 3rd Test)
Straining for a breakthrough in the heat, and having just been smashed over the fence by Pietersen, Lyon bowled a brave tempter knowing there was now coverage in the deep. The batsman certainly had a decent hold of it, the ball swirling in the air for an eternity to add to the degree of difficulty. At the psychological moment Harris was calm and composed, KP full of hubris.
3. Bresnan c Rogers b Johnson 12 (2nd innings, 3rd Test)
It was party time by now, the obstinate Stokes gone and the urn’s return just a matter of time. This was one seriously classic catch, Bresnan middling a drive to mid off where a determined Rogers dived full length to pull off a ripper. Rogers has form in Perth – on his 2008 debut he also took a blinder to remove Anil Kumble.
4. Root c Haddin b Johnson 19 (2nd innings, 3rd Test)
Haddin’s superb keeping and batting vindicated selectors and silenced his critics. The pinnacle was this full stretch attempt gloved inches above the turf in front of Watson at first slip. Conversely, Prior’s confidence was such that he stood idly by as Cook at slip was left to grass a more gettable keeper’s catch off Rogers’ edge.
5. Pietersen c Johnson b Siddle 19 (1st innings 3rd Test)
In energy sapping conditions Mitch Johnson found the energy to pull off a spectacular grab at mid on to once again earn Siddle the prized wicket of a reckless Pietersen. It wasn’t quite John Dyson Premier Division but it was at least an A-League goalkeeping feat.
6. Carberry c Lyon b Siddle 14 (2nd innings, 2nd Test)
Lyon reasserted himself as the most dependable spinning option and his all round game also rose a notch with some handy batting at number 11 and assured outfield catching. Here, Lyon on the move grasped a well-timed pull by Carberry just above the deck in front of the boundary rope – no easy feat.
7. Cook c Harris b Johnson 1 (2nd innings, 2nd Test)
With the innings in its infancy, an ill-advised, if not well struck hook by Cook demanded Harris make some quick yards before pouching the ball down low. As momentum carried the burly opening bowler forward, a deftly executed dive roll ensured the ball remained safe in his big tradesman’s mitts.
8. Prior c Warner b Lyon 4 (2nd innings, 1st Test)
Any catch at the seldom deployed leg slip is a bonus. Warner’s clever take was a goodun that sent back the luckless Prior who found an inventive way to get out.
9. Swann c Smith b Johnson 7 (2nd innings, 1st Test)
Johnson’s edges always take some catching and Smith’s hot chance a couple feet to his right at third slip was no exception.
10. Pieterson c Bailey b Harris 18 (1st innings, 1st Test)
Whether Bailey is a long term middle order proposition will be tested in coming series however this catch, when Australia was setting the tone of the match, was Test class.