No sympathy for careless Australia
There are times when natural games are not enough and attitudes must be altered to cope with certain bowlers and conditions. England swung the ball under heavy cloud cover at Lord's and the Australians were disrupted by a handful of rain breaks, but they played as if it was a risk-free, sunny day in Cardiff. This time a 600-plus total was not guaranteed.
The hosts are not carrying a spluttering fast man, a sick one and an injured offspinner, and they exposed the mental weakness in the visitors' attitude as they dropped them to 156 for 8, 70 short of the follow-on mark, when the weather intervened. It was the only relief the tourists received on a testing afternoon, but don't feel sorry for a side in which the young and old fell employing similarly destructive methods.
Phillip Hughes left before lunch to an ill-judged hook when a leave or sway were the safest options, while Simon Katich missed a half-century by pulling Graham Onions to fine-leg, a repeat of his dismissal in Worcester two weeks ago. Marcus North, failing for the first time in a crisis, pulled James Anderson on to his stumps, the third specialist to curse a horizontal bat.
After watching that trio fail Mitchell Johnson avoided hooking a couple of times to Stuart Broad, but quickly gave in and found deep-backward square. He slumped off in the gloom, wondering when the game became so hard following his troubles with the ball. Soon it was Brad Haddin proving it is impossible for him to use the brake, miscuing a similar stroke to midwicket.
"The pull shot is a very instinctive shot," Michael Hussey, who used it successfully in his half-century, said. "You try to pick up the length as quickly as you can and instinct takes over. Unfortunately we had a few dismissals with the cross-bat shots. Maybe that was a plan of theirs. They seemed to bowl a lot of short balls with two back and a short leg. It's something we're going to have to rectify."
The theory of playing straight and staying a long time was ignored universally. Ricky Ponting, unlucky to be caught at first slip when he should have been lbw, was attempting to hit across the line and Michael Clarke chipped Anderson to midwicket and Alastair Cook, the only man threatening to catch him on the legside. That the wickets fell in clumps was even worse: two were gone when they reached 10 and another six were lost as they tumbled from 103 for 2.
Batsmen exited at this speed here four years ago, when Australia were dismissed in the first innings for 190, but back then they were not starting 425 behind. Only when Hussey and Katich chipped away in a stand of 93 did Australia look like a team acting responsibly in reply. The visitors imploded instead of leaving, deflecting and crawling towards the total.
The atmosphere was bowler friendly and the stands shuddered with each breakthrough, but Australia still wanted to blast instead of out-last. The only person who deserves some sympathy is Hussey, who showed encouraging signs of emerging from his slump, particularly with his cover drives, until he lapsed against Andrew Flintoff and lost his off stump. Even after 51 runs and two hours and nine minutes in the middle, he couldn't depend on his previously impeccable judgment as the ball straightened with his bat raised to leave.
"I wasn't confused at all," Hussey said. "I felt very clear in my mind exactly how I wanted to get through. The ball I got out on, I can still see clearly in my mind. He gets quite a lot of bounce so I thought that the ball, if it did move, would move down the hill and away from the stumps, and his bounce would take it over them. Unfortunately I judged wrongly."
Teams can afford a couple of mistakes like that in a match, but salvaging an innings when every batsman has erred is impossible. England are on top and Australia can't to do anything about it.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo