Which Mitch will show up in Adelaide?
Can Mitchell Johnson reproduce his great performance in Brisbane for the second Test in Adelaide? Jesse Hogan and Greg Baum preview the Ashes clash at the redeveloped Adelaide Oval.PT4M52S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ynzb 620 349 December 3, 2013
The Ashes balance of power was reversed in Brisbane. How much was, for want of a better word, real - due to Australia's rising confidence and skill, and England's decline? How much was due to the one-off conditions of the Gabba's fast, bouncy wicket and bullring atmosphere?
Adelaide will minimise the second of those variables. Of all the Australian wickets, the Adelaide Oval's drop-in pitch is expected to most closely resemble the low, slow, abrasive surfaces that were cooked up in India - pardon, England - during the winter. There will be spin for Graeme Swann and reverse swing for James Anderson and company. Adelaide's genteel crowds will be as close to English as can be found here. If England cannot take this chance - the type of hospitality Australia never received - they will be unable to keep telling themselves Brisbane was some kind of rogue happening.
Because wickets won't fall easily, captaincy will come to the fore. Much will be said next week as Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook play their 100th matches in Perth, a nice coincidence that will offer many opportunities to compare and contrast. But the longer a team is in the field, the more important its captain, and it will be in Adelaide that the captains will have a decisive impact.
Second Ashes Test, Adelaide Oval, day one
Chris Rogers celebrates after reaching his half century late in the second session. Photo: Getty Images
The first contribution will be winning the toss. The drop-in pitch will promise a dominant position to whichever team has first use. After two sub-200 scores in Brisbane, the English are crying out for runs, and they will look to their man at the top. Cook batted better in Brisbane than he had throughout the winter.
The overwhelming pressure and a good ball from Nathan Lyon eventually got him, but in Adelaide he will be freer. His strength square of the wicket will bring the short side-on boundaries even closer.
Clarke's second innings in Brisbane was a case of the cricketing adage that confidence is only one ball away. Trapped by a bouncer in the first innings, Clarke got the short one from Stuart Broad four balls into his second knock. He hooked it for four in front of square leg. A slight technical change, a carefree attitude, and all was rosy again. He averages 100 at Adelaide, and will expect no less, and probably a lot more.
In the field, Cook and Clarke are as different as modern captains can be. Since becoming England's captain a year ago, Cook has resembled an urbane chauffeur, slipping behind the wheel of a sleek midnight-blue Bentley. He put on his cap and, perspiration free, took it for a drive, rotating his senior seamers and, when things go wrong, throwing the ball to Swann for a long spell. When it hits a roadblock and wickets stop falling, he still sits, no sweat, apparently inert. Shane Warne and others criticise this as passive, defensive, even clueless captaincy. Cook commits what Australians see as the great sin of ''letting the game drift''.
It is impossible to imagine Cook leading this Australian team. He would have waited his way to a sacking by now. But with Andy Flower issuing directions from the back seat and two great bowlers, Anderson and Swann, under the bonnet, Cook inherited a team from Andrew Strauss that asks only that he replicate Strauss' cool style - unflappable to the point of complacent. The outcome of this match will dictate how long that lasts.
Nor is it easy to picture Clarke leading an established team of big egos. He drives too hard for that. This transitional Australian team has shaped and accentuated Clarke's restless inventiveness. He has been accused of not letting his bowlers settle down, switching their ends and their fields in the constant search for a chance, but his bowlers have got used to it, and they seem to enjoy it now. Whereas Cook tries to bore batsmen into giving their wickets away, Clarke likes to agitate them out of their rhythm.
If Cook were driving the car, he would have the radio tuned to something blandly classical, while Clarke would be twirling the knob from station to station, adjusting the faders, resetting the volume, looking for something new. Good captains come in many types.
In Adelaide, every wicket will be precious.
How much the two captains' tactics bring to the capture of those wickets will be another reason to watch.