It’s suffice to say that there hasn’t been this dramatic a role reversal since the release of 1997 action thriller masterpiece Face/Off.
Rarely have test one and two of the Ashes had such blaringly different results in such an incredibly short space of time. Where Australia were dire in the first game, they lead every single passage of play at Lords, from the toss through to Josh Hazlewood crashing the Duke into Jimmy Anderson’s brittle middle stump to claim game two. In the space of less than eight days, the Aussies had transformed a devastating loss in Wales into the second-biggest defeat that England have suffered at the Home of Cricket.
It was not only a great team victory but also astonishing results-wise for individual players, as they ran up stats that tore pages from the record books. Based on runs alone, the pairing of Steve Smith and Chris Rogers themselves defeated England, with 495 runs for the game easily outscoring their opposition’s combined two innings total of 415. Meanwhile, as a team Australia almost doubled their score – 820 vs 415, and doubled their wicket tally – 20 vs 10. There’s going to be some gritted teeth engraving on the Lord’s Honour Boards this week.
And no name will feature more prominently than Steve Smith, who officially erased the purple and underlined his name in black as the best batsmen on the planet. He now moves 28 points clear of A.B. De Villiers in the ICC world player rankings, and no-one would have the guile to posit he isn’t the best man padding up with a willow in his hand. At times during the match he had the ball on a string – playing glances so perfectly they sailed between his legs and the stumps for four, or whipping the ball from near the wide crease on the offside past the square leg umpire, like he was making the rules of the game up as he went along. He might as well have been tossing himself up the ball and whacking it to fans in the crowd like it was a promotional appearance for Kanga Cricket. There are breathless whispers that he could be the second coming of Bradman. With games like that, those whispers will soon grow to roars.
And all that on a pitch widely reported to have been doctored to suit British conditions. It was supposed to tear the sting off our attack, not leave their own pacemen looking flat and bewildered. Not only did Australia’s batting force have all the remedies, their bowlers surprised everyone by turning up with a prescription pad lined with four doses of pace and an injection of spin to counter even the harshest of turf symptoms.
Mitchell Johnson didn’t just shake the monkey from his back, he drop punted it out of the stadium. For the first time in all his efforts on English soil we saw MJ the conqueror, the man that has travelled from continent to continent imposing his brutal pace on quivering batsmen at will. Bolting in like a thoroughbred and catapulting cherries that either sailed like sidewinders past the bat, or exploded from the pitch like claymore mines blasting shrapnel into the batsmen’s grill, his second innings was something the English were terrified of happening – Mitchell Johnson remembered he was Mitchell Johnson.
And at his sides stood the two giants of Australian pace – Hazlewood and Starc. Rarely has a an Australian attack had such a genuine offensive trident, all three capable of grazing edges, toppling stumps and shattering helmets. Mitchell Marsh’s stinging pace was also a revelation, while Nathan Lyon’s looping offies buzzed through the air like killer bees, searching for a weak spot to inject their poisonous tail.
Peter Nevill made a debut most keepers would genuinely have paid their match fee to make. He was almost perfect with the gloves and his opening effort of 45 was as commendable a knock as you could hope for a new comer that has the rare double pressure of a wicket keeper’s debut test. Whatever happens in the rest of the series with Brad Haddin, it must be comforting for the Aussies to know that the next generation’s wicket keeper is ready and waiting to take his permanent place.
England on the other hand had no answers. Joe Root’s super hero cape was left in the Cardiff change rooms. Mark Wood lost the pop he topped the charts with in the first game, leaving the critics to speculate he could be a one hit wonder. And although Broad bowled valiantly and even added a few cherries to his bat, Jimmy Anderson, well, he may as well not have turned up at all.
What’s most terrifying for England though is that this victory not only totally demoralised their team, but it allowed for players in the Australian team to build much needed confidence. Warner and Clarke in particular, who both stood shaky in the opening innings, will walk away from the second with more than a bit of fire in their bellies after getting solid starts in the pursuit of blowing the poms out of the water. And Mitchell Marsh, with his solid contribution with the ball and his walloping quick-fire second innings already feels more entrenched in the team that Shane Watson has in the previous three years.
Ben Stokes second innings runout arguably summed up England’s entire match effort. The sole renegade of the English capitulation in their first innings on day two, his hard fought 87 was a shining beacon of effort. Smash cut to day four and his pathetic, evasive jog down the pitch to the striker’s end – only to see his middle stump knocked clean by a brilliant fielding effort from Johnson, just as his sandshoes pranced above the crease, showed that by this stage England hadn’t just given up – they were scared to even be out there. And for any young kids reading this, remember this lesson – there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and slide your bat.
In nine days the two teams take to the Edgbaston pitch. Will England be able to reclaim the guile that served the Aussies up on a platter in Cardiff? Or will Australia continue to fuel their steam-rolling confidence and flatten the Poms – just like they’ve tried to flatten those bloody pitches. Either way, the Ashes are in full swing, and there’s no greater test competition on the planet.
Previously: Game 1 – Time For Change