Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide December 4, 2013

Painful memories keep Australia on guard


Over the course of a largely triumphal Test match dinner in Adelaide Oval's new and sumptuously appointed southern stand, one moment stood out for its incongruity.

By way of an introduction to Australia's coach Darren Lehmann, the big screens aired footage of a Test match. This was not a game to feature Lehmann, nor an Australian Ashes victory, nor even a past match at the oval. Instead, the 500 guests were subjected to highlights of Australia's traumatising defeat in the fourth Test at Durham in August. Every one of Stuart Broad's wickets were replayed in all their gory detail.

By the time he reached the stage for a pre-dinner interview, Lehmann was as nonplussed as the rest of the room. All had been reminded that Australia's conquerors of Brisbane had been humiliated by England only months before. Another such collapse is all that separates the hosts from giving up the precious ground gained at the Gabba.

In recent times, Australia's responses to Ashes victory have been just as poor as England's capacity to rebound from a defeat has been strong. In 2009, Ricky Ponting's team needed only a draw at the Oval to retain the urn after clambering all over England at Headingley, but declined to choose a spinner on a turning pitch then succumbed meekly to Broad in the first innings. Jonathan Trott's debut hundred and Ponting's run-out closed the final avenues of escape.

Two years later and a rampant victory in Perth, like Brisbane achieved principally through the mercurial speed of Mitchell Johnson, had Australia's players speaking boldly about going on to take hold of the series on Boxing Day. Heads full of big ideas, feet lined with lead, the batsmen proceeded to self-destruct to the tune of 98 all out on a day of infamy. In addition to the Durham scenes, such history gives Lehmann and the captain Michael Clarke strong reason to be cautious.

"I'm obviously excited by the way we played in Brisbane but if you look at our results over the past 12 months, we have no reason to brag or gloat or be over the top," Clarke said. "We have got a lot of work to do in trying to become a better team, and winning one Test match doesn't do that. I can guarantee you, every single player in that team, their feet are well and truly on the ground.

"Our celebration after Brisbane wasn't anything like I have seen Australian teams celebrate when we have had big wins like that and I think that is because everybody knows that we're a long way from being the team we want to be, it's only one Test win and we have got some work to do in this second Test, that is for sure, and throughout the rest of the series."

Australia's sense that they cannot afford to get ahead of themselves is underlined by a team selection that pays less attention to the prospect of back-to-back Tests than the imperative of performing staunchly in this one. James Faulkner's inclusion at the expense of George Bailey would have bolstered the bowling in a way that might have saved Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle from burning themselves out before the WACA ground. But his omission is a sign that the selectors are thinking less keenly about next week than they are pondering tomorrow.

Adelaide's pitch looks brimful of runs, and despite the efforts of the groundstaff to dry the Athelstone clay in the pitch, its drop-in tray is likely to have more say in whether or not the surface deigns to break up in the ground's time-honoured manner. In this there is a mental challenge for Clarke's batsmen. They need only bat sensibly and patiently at the required times over five days to push England to the brink. As at the Oval in 2009, such tasks can often become more elusive due to their straightforward nature.

"It doesn't matter what pitch you play on, you still have to face the ball that's bowled at the time," Clarke said. "If you have an expectation to go out there and make a hundred, or the team make 500, I think you're kidding yourself. You need to work exceptionally hard at the start of your innings.

"Both teams are very good bowling attacks, a combination of fast and spin, and there'll be enough in this pitch batting first or reverse swing or spin. It's important once you get in to go on and make a big score, but it's about batting your best."

Back on Test-match dinner night, Lehmann warmed slowly into his work, shrugging off the unexpected effrontery of his Durham introduction. Pondering the likelihood of a friendly batting pitch and the possibility of a five-day draw, he noted sagely that even on a blameless surface the pressure of the Ashes can do strange things to batsmen.

For once trying to capitalise on a win rather than rebound from a loss, Australia must hope their willow-wielders can avoid the pitfalls of the recent past.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dale on December 5, 2013, 1:44 GMT

    chitti_cricket once again you display a complete lack of cricket knowledge.

    Brett Lee was hardly a line and legth bowler, he sprayed them more than Johnson. Ryan Harris has a better average than McGrath!

    I'm not saying our current attack is better than the old one, of course it isn't but to say we're lacking bowlers who can hit a good line and length is ludicrous.

    Also Shane Warne is a one of a kind player that we probably will never see again. Just like Bradman. Lyon is a quality spinner and has continued to develop and improve.

    You do also realise that great Australian side lost more than a few test matches and a few series as well. They lost all but once in India and lost the ashes in 05. All countries have the potential to produce a special team. All of the cricketing nations have produced players as good (some better) as the guys you mentioned but only WI have produced a whole team of them at the same time

  • rob on December 4, 2013, 22:12 GMT

    @ LegSpinBowlr: Nice post, just one question though. What the hell are you talking about? The team is unchanged from Brisbane. No-one is hiding anywhere.

  • KUMARAVEL on December 4, 2013, 21:57 GMT

    Australia must think of it like a chess game, they must play coolly and strengthen the position of advantage that they have achieved in this Ashes instead of going the all out aggression route.3 general guidelines are -Avoid batting last,under bowl Mitch Johnson with short spells, do not leak easy runs like 5 an over as they did against South Africans Amla and Smith. Come out of this with a draw and Perth test beckons the poms.

  • Nathan on December 4, 2013, 21:51 GMT

    If Hunger has much to do with it, then I think the Aussies are way ahead in that department. You can sense their hunger, passion and determination.

  • David on December 4, 2013, 20:36 GMT

    In Adelaide Aus went from absolutely confident of taking a lead in the 2012 series against SA, to absolutely debilitated & demoralized: bowled to a standstill only to see SA literally "win" a draw. That transition happened over one day. They started it at the top of the world, and ended it slumped on their knees.

    It was in Adelaide Aus lost the series. Perth was always going to be SA's best venue. At the WACA they have never lost - that is where they chased 414 for 4 & ended Aus' dominance. SA left Adelaide primed for success. They had watched Aus crucify themselves, & knew that the series was there to be taken.

    Aus start this test in the same position they started the last day of that test vs SA: on top, the advantage with them, and yet still fragile enough that a reversal of fortune could prove disastrous. A pitch that offers no assistance, offers the real chance of implosion - for either team.

    Adelaide may again be a cruel mistress. She lost her treasured pitch, & is sulking!

  • disco on December 4, 2013, 19:33 GMT

    Excellent report that captures the common sentiment that this Ashes Test more so than Perth, or Melbourne, is going to be the pivotal moment that defines this team as the moment when the real ascent to the no. 1 position begins as we gradually get the next generation, of Pattinson, Cummins et al, back.

    A loss in Adelaide would be devastating and I am not expecting it. A draw though just doesn't feel right. I think we have to win here and to do so there can be none of these all too prevalent collapses.

    Time to get the job done lads.

  • M on December 4, 2013, 16:05 GMT

    How funny aussies talk about intimidation and at the same time try to hide their best bowler from getting beaten in a flat pitch. Wonder if they Lillee and thommo were also used only in few matches. I'm pretty sure Lillee would never back down whether its flat or bouncy pitch, thats why johnson is not a premier fast bowler

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2013, 13:09 GMT

    England will need to put on a spirited plus devoted performance when it comes to play against Australia tomorrow at the Adelaide Oval where the home team has good performance against every test team. The guest team needs to depend both on luck and chance along with becoming laborious as the home team's confidence has gone really high after getting victory in the Brisbane test. What the Barmy Army team needs to do is believe on these four things-dedication, determination, effort and motivation very strictly.

  • Gopalakrishna on December 4, 2013, 12:49 GMT

    There are three things that this Australian side missing from previous dominant Aussie teams. 1. A very good spinner who can win them matches and bamboozle oppositions on any pitch (Shane W). 2. Consistent opening batsmen (Mathew H and Justin L kind).3.Very accurate and line and length pace bowlers who can bowl consistently at decent pace (like Glen M, Bret L and Jason G). Imagine the team possessed all the above qualities and a strong middle order like Ricky P, Michael H, Steve W, Mark W can do to other teams. I don't think an opposition that has Don B and Garry S or double Chappels also can win against them..!. That kind of teams come and go once in generation like WI 1980s, and this team is no way near them. I don't think current #1 team also is nearer to that. That is why the #1 tag changed these many times in recent past. In my opinion Australia again may produce one such dominant team but may be in future not now.Other cricket nations are hopeless in that per-suite.

  • Izmi on December 4, 2013, 11:38 GMT

    Australia has to continue playing with the same momentum as in the first test in Brisbane if they are to win this ashes series and not allow England to bounce back after their defeat at the Gabba. This is how Australia used to play when they were dominating world cricket for over 15 years against their opposition. I reckon they are beginning to show glimpses of their superiority at the moment and have to continue in the same vein if they are to get the better of the opposition from now on. They have the right combination of players to do the job. They have a good batting line up and the bowlers to win matches. Though an injury to Ryan Harris or Mitchell Johnson could be a disaster. With the Perth test to follow soon after I reckon James Faulkner should have played instead of Bailey to shoulder the bowling so that they would have enough stamina left to bowl on the bouncy wicket at the WACA.

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