On the plane from Brisvegas to Adelaide I sat in front of someone reading Alan Sugar’s autobiography. Good timing, when all the Aussie press can talk about is who’s getting fired for Adelaide.
This remains a series between two average sides and it will come down to who can happen across 20 wickets in a match soonest. Sorry to report but it doesn’t look likely to happen in this Test. It’s a toss to win and bat, bat, bat. Even in victory in 2006 the Aussies only managed 16 wickets – it’s a good thing Adelaide is famous for its wine because another pitch like that and the bowlers are going to want to get very, very drunk on Tuesday evening.
Adelaide 2006-07 has been billed England’s not so friendly ghost. The press box has been full of stories of Geoffrey Boycott’s pacing of the room back then laughing manically while repeating, “They’re fuc$%£ this up properly”, as Warne played on a decade of doubt to spark England’s humiliating collapse.
In truth, the Australian press, so caught up in the problems of their own team, have barely mentioned last time round. If England do have deep-seated trauma from that match it will be concerning Warne, so perhaps they’d better avoid his new chat-show just in case. Anyone who thinks Xavier Doherty is likely to cause the same introspection has clearly spent too much time in the Barossa Valley already.
Australia have made that major call on Mitchell Johnson: he bowled with the control of a startled Kangaroo in Brisbane. He still remains a key player in this series because when he gets it right he is Australia’s best hope of getting 20 wickets. The problem for the selectors is he is a player he seems to have no concept of form with bat or ball – his 0 for 170 and 19-ball duck in Brissy followed a hundred and a five-for for Western Australia the previous week. So for Adelaide, the reports are that they’ve axed him.
An Australian journalist I spoke to last week praised the work Graham Gooch had done with England’s batters, and Ian Bell in particular, regarding leaving Johnson outside the off-stump, cutting off his regular wicket supply caught behind or in the slips. With his low, slingy arm, when he’s not bringing the ball back into the right-handed batsman, Johnson is not a problem when you make him bowl at you, but an action like that can correct quickly.
The selectors were patient in England last year and maybe should have been again, omitting Hilfenhaus and Doherty for Ryan Harris and Doug ‘the rug’ Bollinger, leaving Australia five seamers and Marcus North. As it is Doherty is almost certain to play as it is believed the Adelaide pitch will take spin.
England too have bowling concerns in Adelaide, even though they are likely to remain unchanged. Steven Finn took six wickets in Brisbane but was at times short and inconsistent. To take 20 wickets on flat pitches with a four-man attack you need bowlers who will bowl four good spells out of five and despite his promise Finn is not yet that man, while there is also the strain of subjecting him to the possibility of another 150 overs in the field to consider. Ajmal Shahzad would bring pace, skid and reverse-swing but the man who knows his game best is Chris Tremlett, invaluable in 30-degree heat on what looks likely to be a very flat pitch even with the rain that has been falling.
Even with a docile pitch, there promises to be some fascinating sub-plots this week. For Australia, there is the form of Michael Clarke and Marcus North, while Kevin Pietersen will be desperate for runs, and more runs for Ian Bell would make it very hard for England to leave him at No.6. In the Bradman state, the batsmen on both sides will be relishing the opportunity to impress.