A surprisingly straightforward victory for England in the opening Test has suddenly got a lot of Australians doing something they don’t often do. And while ‘wash’ may be the cheap and easy joke to make, the real answer is ‘thinking they may not actually be as good as they once reckoned’.
The aftermath of the Cardiff Test left the Baggy Greens with very few positives to desperately cling to. The much-hyped bowling attack looked about as lethal as largely melted Malteaser. There were more silver linings with the bat, but with a number of senior players failing to deliver despite being considered in reasonable form, there are serious questions about the line-up.
One of the main players to come under pressure was all-rounder and sometime opening batsman, Shane Watson. His first three Ashes innings results in three 50s but he hasn’t now crossed that threshold in his last four Ashes innings and since scoring 81 against India back in January, his highest score has been 30 in five innings, two of which were against the West Indies.
One of the key areas of concern is Watson’s tendency to get out LBW, something the English team seem to have exploited effectively. Watson already gets out leg before wicket a chunky 27% of the time in Test matches (in contrast to Michael Clarke who gets out via the same method just 11% of the time), but the English bowlers seem particularly good at finding the weakness, sending Watson on his way via a poorly placed pad 40% of the time.
But in conversation with the Paddy Power Blog, former England batsmen, Kevin Pietersen stepped in to defend his former Hampshire team-mate and frequent opponent. Kind of. While acknowledging that Watson needs to deliver more for his team, he feels that the habit of scapegoating the 34-year-old all-rounder is unhelpful and won’t improve Australia’s chances of turning things around.
“Every time the Australians get beaten, it’s always Shane Watson who takes the heat and surprise, surprise, this time it’s no different. Let’s make no bones about it, he’s got to stop getting out LBW and start scoring some big runs, no-one is un-droppable after all, but he’s a match winner. I’ve seen first-hand what damage he can do and for me, talk of dropping him is massively premature. He needs to be backed by the Aussies, not hounded.”
Rather than engage in a Watson witch-hunt, KP says looking at the reasons for vice-captain, Steve Smith’s poor couple of performances with the batwould be a more fruitful way of inspiring an improved Aussie showing at Lord’s.
“My concern, if I was an Australian fan, would be the performance of Steve Smith. Smith only scored a handful more runs than Watson, yet he’s supposed to be their dangerman and the form player in the world.”
Coming into the series, Smith was ranked the 2nd best batsman in Test cricket right now, but he was left trailing in the wake of Root, a player ranked two places below him but provided 128 more runs to his team’s charge to victory. According to KP;
“Stevie was totally overshadowed by Joe Root, who looked on a different level to him. Rooty showed just what a class act he is and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if at Lord’s he picked up right where he finished off in Cardiff.”
Pietersen didn’t just focus on the patchy batting performances. With ball in hand, the Australian bowlers often failed to provide the pace and precision that was predicted resulting in the English batsman doing as they pleased for large parts of their innings.
“Just as vital for the Aussies as their batting woes, is their misfiring bowling attack. Contrast their performance to that of the England attack, who bowled beautifully. It was great to see all of our bowlers putting the Aussie batsmen under sustained pressure and thankfully they got the rewards they deserved. Fingers crossed the guys can replicate it again at Lord’s and build on what was an exceptional start to the series!”