England's attack missing Broad's mongrel
As at the Gabba, so at the WACA, the short ball worked in the end. The trouble is, by the time Michael Hussey hoisted Chris Tremlett to deep midwicket, he had already amassed 116 game-changing runs - to add to the 195 he made up in Brisbane before Steven Finn tempted him into one cross-bat too many. To claim it as a success would be to ignore the three sessions of failure that preceded it, a period of the game in which one man's absence was felt more keenly than at any stage of the series to date.
Throughout his career, the cry that has followed Stuart Broad all around the world is "pitch it up, son!" - a reflection of the success that he has enjoyed when he's nailed a full length and found some jag off the seam, never more devastatingly than at The Oval in August 2009, and at Durban four months later. But in between whiles, Broad has got carried away with the short stuff precisely because he is very good at dishing it out. And that is a claim that cannot be made of the three seamers at England's disposal in this match.
Tremlett has impressed in this contest, without a shadow of a doubt, claiming eight wickets in the match including his maiden five-for in the second innings. But as the man himself admitted on Thursday night, he is a gentle giant at heart, and there's no real way to change that.
His particular brand of menace comes from delivering the ball from a cloud-snagging, splice-rattling, trajectory. Forced aggression does not come naturally to him, especially against a batsman as good as Hussey, a WACA-trained cricketer for whom cross-batted shots come as standard.
The same is also true of Finn, whose game at this early stage of his career should be entirely devoted to line and length. Despite, by some distance, being the leading series wicket-taker, he has also disappeared at more than five an over in this Test - which is not the modus operandi of either of the men whom he seeks to model himself upon, Glenn McGrath and Angus Fraser. Before his stomach injury, Broad claimed two wickets in the series at 80.50, but those stats did not do justice to the control that offered England's bowlers. His economy rate of 2.30 remains the best, by a distance, of any bowler in the series to date.
And there's Anderson, who surely feels the absence of Broad more keenly than any of his colleagues. Full length is the only length that he should ever have to bowl, such is the success he has found with swing and lately movement off the seam. But the beauty of his partnership with Broad has been its good cop, bad cop dynamic. Broad drilled the batsmen back, deep into the crease; Anderson lured them forward again, and the slip cordon did the rest.
At the WACA, England have missed the mongrel that Broad brings to their game. He pushes the bounds of sportsmanship at times, and attracts a label for petulance when things do not go his way, but beneath the choirboy features there's a spiky-collared Rottweiler snarling to get out. From the moment he made his debut on a pancake-flat deck in Colombo in December 2007, Broad has known how to get ugly on demand. He bowled 36 overs in that stamina-sapping maiden innings, but charged in with demented intent from first ball to last, and claimed his maiden wicket with a bouncer to Chaminda Vaas.
It was later in the winter that Broad produced arguably his finest supporting role to date, at Napier in a must-win third Test against New Zealand, when he linked up superbly with Ryan Sidebottom, claiming a vital three-wicket haul that had the purists purring even though it went almost unnoticed against the backdrop of Sidebottom's 7 for 47. Michael Vaughan later stated that Broad was the most intelligent fast bowler he'd ever captained, because when issued with orders, he had the nous to follow them to the letter.
England's bowlers were not lackadaisical in their efforts at the WACA, but they lacked application in critical areas of the game; in the first innings, when Australia's tail were allowed to double their total from a flimsy 139 for 6, and then today, when Graeme Swann - on a wicket that made his natural length sit up and beg - was swatted out of the attack by Hussey and Brad Haddin. There was no-one with the intimidatory clout to bully him back in.
"At times we went with [a short-pitched] tactic, and we set the field accordingly, and the plans at times didn't work," admitted Tremlett. "But when we come up with a plan we try to stick to it 100%. Sometimes boring line and length doesn't always work so you have to come up with different plans. It was a pretty good wicket and the ball was pretty old and tired, so it was something we tried. It didn't come off today, but another day it will do."
The thinking wasn't exactly wrong, but the execution was awry, because it was carried out with neither the intent that Broad would have brought to the role, nor the accuracy, with Hussey's innings notable both for the number of balls he was able to leave alone, as well as the number that whistled away through the leg-side. There were too few purposeful, aggressive, into-the-armpit lifters that could really have hurried Hussey's innings, because there was no-one in the England attack who was sufficiently comfortable with the tactic.
Australia, on the other hand, had no such problem, with their very own Sid Vicious, Peter Siddle, producing a burst of bodyline to Matt Prior on Friday evening that proved in hindsight to have been a pivotal passage of play. By extracting England's last recognised batsman, Siddle hastened the moment that Ian Bell was forced to go for broke, and the prospect of first-innings parity receded there and then. It was a shock tactic that paid off, and could then be shelved, as Johnson returned after his breather to wreck the tail with his devastating full length.
"I think it depends on the players you bowl to, because it's definitely a wicket when you pitch the ball up you get your success," said Siddle. "Mike Hussey's not a player you want to bowl short to, you choose your batsman, but it helps having four quicks and everyone bowling well, with different roles for each of us. At that time [against Prior] it was my role to have a good go, and it brought along the wickets and opened it up there and kept us going.
"I don't think you want to hurt them, you want to get them out," added Siddle. "That's the main aim. You want to get the wickets, you want to get ten of them." But it helps if you don't care too much about collateral damage. Broad and Siddle share a bond in that regard. England's trio for this Test, however, simply lacked the necessary mean streak.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.