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Ashes Game 1: Time For Change

Four days. That’s all the time Australia has to lick their wounds, refocus, adjust their game strategy, drop Shane Watson, and pray they can turn their fate around at Lords.

Four days.

That’s all the time Australia has to lick their wounds, refocus, adjust their game strategy, drop Shane Watson, and pray they can turn their fate around at Lords.

They were soundly outplayed across the park in game one of the Ashes series, as the English played to their strengths, stuck to their bowling plans and utilised their experience of playing on the Cardiff pitch to make the Aussies look like a second string outfit.

The Australians started promisingly. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood stormed in to the crease brandishing the confidence they’ve helmed as arguably the world’s best, two-pronged opening attack over the last few test series. They had England’s top order on the ropes early, hobbled at 3/43. But as much as you’d like to say an entire test match should never come down to one simple mistake on day one, it’s hard to look past Brad Haddin’s drop of Joe Root on zero as the defining moment of this game. As the cherry red Duke crashed to Earth below Haddin’s desperate, flailing gloves, so too did the Aussie’s confidence seem to plummet – never to recover. From that point on, Root was in control – his 134 knock proving the match winner – and by stumps on day one England had racked up 7/343. By the time they were all out for 430, their bowlers, spear-headed by Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood had essentially built an insurmountable lead to work with.

There were promising glimpses from the Aussies. Chris Rogers lead from the front in the first innings with a brilliant 95. As the eldest statesmen on the pitch in is his final UK series and he looks set to leave nothing on the pitch in his final UK trip in the Baggy Green.

Warner looked dangerous at points, but he needs laser focus to convert his extreme determination into game-changing impact. And both Lyon and Hazlewood had good spells with the ball. But they need their counterparts to lift and support them.

As a whole though, the Aussies were severely lacking in their approach at Sophia Gardens. Luckily their issues are identifiable and treatable but it will take some determination from the team, individual players and the selectors to overcome them.

To begin with, Shane Watson must be dropped for one of the Marsh brothers. Watson again provided clear evidence to his detractors that he no longer warrants a place in the test side. His continued attempts to use his legs as a bat and his insistence on calling on questionable DRS reviews for what have been plum LBW decisions, highlighted that he’s not just letting the side down, he’s actively working against them. Never has a player been given so many unjustified lifelines in one career. The Marsh brothers must finally be given their chance to shine.

Steve Smith, who’s been playing cricket like he’s been given a script of each game beforehand for the last 12 months, needs to prove to the world that the last year wasn’t just a Jeremy Lin-style purple patch. He’s undoubtedly earned the title as the world’s number one batsman, but it’s one thing to win the belt – it’s another to defend it and become the undisputed champ. This will be his toughest test yet and he needs to be the Australian’s rock.

Should Mitchell Starc be rested for the next match due to an ankle injury, the Australian selectors need to make an inspired choice to replace him. Mark Wood, in just his third test, proved to be a fire cracker for England. His deceptively quick pace rattled the Aussies and his energy invigorated the rest of the team. Perhaps Fawad Ahmed will finally get a chance to turn the ball and reignite our long lost love with leg spin. He was dominate in this year’s Sheffield Shield season, collecting 48 scalps at an average of just 24.85, so he’s in first class form. More than likely, however, they’ll go with a paceman. If so, Pat Cummins should finally be recalled to the test team. It’s been four years since his debut as an 18 year old, but his youthful exuberance could be just what the Aussies need to jump start their bowling attack. He has more X factor than Peter Siddle, whose line and length might be a safe bet, but his vegan-fuelled medium pacers aren’t what the team needs at a time when they’re looking for something explosive.

Michael Clarke needs to be sure of his captaincy. He chopped and changed his plans and gave his bowlers little structure to consistently work with. On the other hand, his counterpart Alistair Cook, although a failure with the bat, displayed one of his best captaincy stands. His aggressive field placings and team bowling strategies worked exceptionally well. At times he would make a field placing and you just knew a wicket was coming. Clarke needs to rediscover the courage and determination he displayed in the 2013 white wash.

Mitchell Johnson must break his British hoodoo. Despite being one of the most fearsome bowlers to play the modern game, he has continually come up a lame duck on English soil. He is simply unable to generate the same pace and sting he has as a stump seeking missile launcher across other continents. His tipping of his cap to the Balmy Army after scoring a century with the ball for no wickets in the first innings almost felt like a concession that he will never be able to get the hang of the northern hemisphere pitches. I’d give anything to see him return to the pitch this week brandishing his glorious, handle bar, biker moustache. His wife may not love it, but when he’s hirsute, he becomes a swashbuckling hero on the cricket field. He needs to dig deep, rediscover that intimidating identity and find the pace that’s terrified the English in the past.

And finally, with this series likely the final British Ashes campaign of Clarke, Haddin, Voges and possibly Johnson (with Chris Rogers’ retirement already impending) the old guard need to make a stand and prove that wisdom and experience can overcome youthful energy and fearlessness. Together as a team they have withstood the best and worst of times in Ashes campaigns and have the ability to bounce back. But they’re battling against a crack squad high on confidence and an easy victory under their belts.

Lords is once again prepped for a nail biter. Australia need to lift, while the British go in with supreme confidence. But the underdog tag is a label Australia wears proudly.