- Scorecard / As it happened
- Clarke fuming after howler costs Australia
- Stuart Broad should have walked
- Errors embarrass the ICC
It may not be apparent from the scorecard, but if Australia's bowlers continue to maintain the discipline and control of their long hot Friday at Trent Bridge, they will soon be winning Test series against England.
To pinpoint the day as a turning of the tide would be premature; reversing England's current cycle of superiority takes more than one day or one Test match, and sooner or later it needs the nourishment of victory that is material, not just moral. But there were things happening, almost beneath the surface, that felt like a shift.
First, the Australian seam bowlers showed a great advancement in their understanding and practice of reverse swing. James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and Shane Watson all achieved radical swing with the old ball. Sometimes too much: Pattinson's bent-like-a-pin inswinger to Jonny Bairstow deceived Australia into asking for a video review of a ball that would have gone well clear of leg stump. Watson suffered a similar disappointment, warping the ball's flight enough to deceive Ian Bell and umpire Kumar Dharmasena and miss the pegs. There were many other instances of savage reverse swing that didn't result in any excitement. The point is that two years ago, Australian bowlers didn't have this skill. They're nowhere near the James Anderson class yet in execution, but they have shown here that they are on the right track.
Second, there was a Teutonic discipline to Australia's adherence to bowling plans. Siddle neutralised Alastair Cook by feeding his non-existent offdrive. Cook refused to take the bait and play it. But Siddle also refused to lose patience and bowl short. Cook looked strangely unsettled. Siddle also followed a yorker plan to Kevin Pietersen, and dropped ball after ball in the blockhole like Waqar Younis. Starc and Pattinson dangled temptation outside Pietersen's offstump, keeping the ball so far on one side of the wicket that he walked towards point trying to hit it through mid-wicket. He got some boundaries, but eventually gave them what they wanted, his wicket through a slash that oozed frustration.
Third, Ashton Agar's bowling was as significant a revelation as his batting. Strategically, more so. Since his first ball on Wednesday, a jittery full-toss, he scarcely bowled another bad one. He could have walked away with any number
of wickets, certainly three including Stuart Broad's, but more importantly he bowled with immaculate control, some turn, good variation, and the promise of vast improvement. For six and a half years opposing batsmen have set themselves to destroy the careers of Australian spin bowlers, with success. Some of the best in the business tried here, but none could get on top of Agar.
Two years ago in Australia, a day like Friday would have ended with an ugly scoreline. The sun beat down, the light had an Indian smokiness, and the bowlers were there for the taking. Even three months ago, this was the kind of day that was ending with a massacre. This time, England's best batsmen had to draw on all their reserves of patience and skill to survive. While lacking in fireworks, it was far higher quality Test cricket, on both sides, than we had seen on days one and two.
The next challenge for the Australians is to maintain that discipline and accuracy when they are tired and frustrated, and when pitch after pitch of this dryness is presented. The little things were going against the Australian bowlers:
nicks flying clear of the keeper's gloves, lofted tonks sailing just past the outfielders, mishits popping into vacant lots, and of course the poorness of the umpiring. They needed a freak wicket, such as one chance sticking in Ed Cowan's
or Brad Haddin's hand. Not only did that not happen, but the injustices began to pile up too. These things all accumulate and test a team's resolve more than anything, because players can start to interpret them not as isolated incidents but as part of a pattern of doom. Michael Clarke's coolness after the Broad incident, and his subsequent zest in pepping his bowlers up and carrying on as if nothing had happened, suggested that he recognised the danger and set about quashing it. In the same circumstances, Ricky Ponting would have been kicking the turf and, later, destroying the dressing room. Steve Waugh would be on report and up before the match referee for speaking his mind. In his restraint, Clarke most resembled Mark Taylor. It was a good example when he had been asking his bowlers for total discipline all day.
But it's a long campaign, and this is the fourth reason for Australian optimism. Friday saw a day-long arm-wrestle between two teams. England might have emerged slightly ahead, on the scoreboard concerning this match, but England's champions have been up on the peak for many years. Australia's potential stars are young, hungry and learning. One day, after a few more efforts like this, that wall will collapse.