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The hosts shuffled their quick-bowling pack before the second Test but so far it has made little difference and Ricky Ponting has nowhere left to turn
December 4, 2010
Residents in the Adelaide Hills know lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice, but the Australians are quickly learning that the concept doesn't apply to this Ashes series. For the second time in two innings the local attack has been burnt by English batsmen who are at home in conditions that were once so demanding.
In three sessions in Adelaide, Australia have been twice as successful as during the second innings in Brisbane, where the riot finished at 1 for 517. There is nothing else to be cheerful about after the revamped attack failed to melt their opponents in the hot, dry conditions. There was no relief from the storms that were visible in the hills as the visitors skipped to 2 for 317, and another dose of punishment is due for day three.
England, who have had more cases of heatstroke than series wins here over the past 20 years, are lining up for retribution. The Australian team is unrecognisable from four summers ago except for their leader and the colour of the caps. In times past they could bring in a replacement knowing that the original man could be covered without weakening the chain.
Australia entered this match with a new bowling hand, but have done nothing more than swap a pair of 3s for a couple of 4s. No amount of bluffing on a flat pitch can turn that collection into a pot-grabbing success, especially against such in-form batsmen.
Ryan Harris and Doug Bollinger have joined Peter Siddle and are on the way to suffering the same damage that broke Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson at the Gabba. Having already been let down by the batsmen, who fell over for 245 on the most run-friendly pitch in the land, the fast men were already well behind.
The effort of the trio cannot be mocked because they charged in throughout a day that peaked at 37 degrees. Bollinger collected a third-ball breakthrough with a teasing in-swinger and chances were created early and not taken. Once England overcame those difficulties they raced ahead, taking 54 runs in the first hour. They didn't need to brake for long over the remainder of the day.
While the batting was first-class, the collective standard of the bowling was much lower. Australia are ranked No.5 for good reason, with the side unable to make consistent runs or rely on regular wickets. The current crop isn't sure what to do because it has never known such regular, helpless positions, and the leader's requests keep changing.
All are trying in unison with Ponting, who trials inventive fields and then regularly re-sets them. If he was winning he would be compared to Mike Brearley for his brilliance, but in this tinkering mood he looks like a mad professor. The complex demands aren't working for a team of relative newcomers.
|Ponting felt Doherty could follow the team plan, but he has been severely outclassed and unable to build pressure|
In the first session, the bowlers were asked to target the leg stump of Jonathan Trott, who aimed successfully at the boundaries and ensured the momentum from day one remained with England. Before the new ball came, Siddle briefly attacked Cook with short balls, while having three men on the rope on the legside, but that burst passed without incident. Ponting was playing chess and not realising England were enjoying a simple game of draughts. Harris was the best performer and his only success came when Trott popped a catch to the regulation position of midwicket.
Whenever Xavier Doherty, the left-arm spinner, was employed the batsmen were able to relax and wait to latch on to his short balls. Cook cut three boundaries in consecutive deliveries and the rest were untroubled by a man Ponting wanted in the side. Ponting felt Doherty could follow the team plan, but he has been severely outclassed and unable to build pressure.
So far Doherty has given up 70 runs in 15 overs - ten fours came from short offerings outside off stump - in what could be his last Test innings. Nathan Hauritz, who took career-best figures for New South Wales this week, must come back to provide some confidence and control, even though he was cut so severely two weeks ago. What to do about the rest is as cloudy as the forecast for the latter stages of the game.
In seven days, Ponting has used eight bowlers and nothing good has happened for them after Siddle's six-wicket flicker when the curtain raised at the Gabba. The three specialist fast men in this match have been honest and committed, but not dangerous. Just like the second innings at the Gabba.
These are unfamiliar times for Australia and they have to change direction to alter the course of the series. Toning down the test-tube fields and focusing on one line outside off stump is a starting point. It goes against Australia's attacking philosophy to be so narrow, but the current tactics are failing and some disciplined boredom is required to stay in the contest. Without a quality spinner and an elite strike bowler, they have no choice but to grind.
What they really need is some lightning but Johnson, the man most capable of those bolts, is out of the side and horribly out of form. On the second day all the flashes came from the dark clouds in the hills east of Adelaide, and the England batsmen in the middle.
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