Australia seal resounding Ashes Test win
Australia completed a resounding victory in the first Ashes Test after bowling England out for just 179 runs on Sunday.PT2M31S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2y4hh 620 349 November 25, 2013
As he left the field on Saturday afternoon, Kevin Pietersen looked at the sky and said to his batting partner, Alastair Cook, ''It's going to rain tomorrow.'' For the England team, rain had been a handy 12th man during the winter. But on Australian soil, as if more than the world had been turned upside down, rain turned into an unexpected liability for the English.
A mid-afternoon downpour turned a tense fourth day in Australia's favour. Up to then, Cook had led a resistance that kept alive England's hopes of repeating what they had done in the first Tests of the 2009 and 2010-11 Ashes series, batting out draws that had the impact of wins. Only Pietersen and Ian Bell had fallen during nearly two sessions of play. Cook looked calm enough to bat into next week; if he kept losing partners at the rate of one per session, England would blunt Australia's charge. This English team has an impressive history of survival.
The principal negative force upon which England were depending was, of course, the Australians' self-doubt.
Instead, the 90-minute rain break worked for Australia. Hail covered the ground, puddles formed around the wicket, and the weather radar was looking like a remake of The Blob.
Thunderbolts and lightning: An inspired Mitchell Johnson lets fly at England's Ian Bell at the Gabba on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
Time was lost, but so was the batsmen's stream of concentration. Mitchell Johnson sent down one wild over and numerous ferocious looks at Joe Root, but it was the Stan Laurel of the Australian bowling team, Nathan Lyon, the off-spinner built along the lines of a strap of liquorice, who broke through. Two balls in, he got an extra fraction of hop and turn out of the wicket and an edge from Cook's attempted cut shot. Brad Haddin continued his exceptional match with a neat take.
Four balls into his next over, Lyon did it again. Matt Prior had only faced two balls in three years on the Gabba, and few more than that on this injury-disrupted tour. Michael Clarke set a leg-slip - the exact same trap that Clarke fell into in the first innings at Lord's in July. Prior, probing, wanting to play himself into form, leaned forward and tickled the ball around the corner to David Warner, another Australian having a happy week.
As in the first innings, a drizzle of English wickets became a storm. By the time Johnson intimidated Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann into half-hearted shots, four wickets had fallen in 20 balls. The mood among the Australians brought to mind flowers blooming in the desert. It had been a hot, draining day. It had been a hot, draining year. Watered by rain, they were now feeding on wickets.
First Ashes Test, day four
Mitchell Johnson and George Bailey celebrate winning the first Test. Photo: AFP
This sequence, between two showers, was the decisive period of the final day's play. But England's hope for rain signified a deeper shift in the balance between the teams. Negativity - getting ahead and then shutting down games and series, preparing wickets to neutralise rather than capitalise, tactics aimed at frustration, denial and suffocation - had been useful for England in the winter series. It was a winning approach, smart and effective in the circumstances. It was perfect when Australia was a team trying to maintain an old ascendancy. But what this Test match was that it is no longer sustainable.
The principal negative force upon which England were depending was, of course, the Australians' self-doubt. Having seen Clarke's team sacrifice winning positions many times before, England were sure that they could be relied upon to do the same here. Australia's batting on Thursday seemed to confirm that England only had to wait for the implosion.
But having got used to waiting, England found it hard to switch gears when necessary. They sat and waited for Australia's nervousness to tear them apart. It didn't happen. Johnson's input, with bat and ball, Lyon's improvement, and Clarke's emergence from a moment of inner crisis embodied a swing in team-wide confidence that England struggled to comprehend, let alone counter.
This deliciously sets up the four remaining Tests. Australia have crossed their psychological Rubicon. No matter what they said, they didn't know they could beat this England team until now. Conversely, England didn't know they could be beaten. In four days of cricket, everything has changed. Both teams find themselves on unfamiliar ground. For Australia, the challenge will be to master and channel their newfound self-belief. In the 2010-11 Ashes series, after winning in Perth, they fell victim to over-compensation, almost hubris, in Melbourne. For England, playing from behind, the task is much more difficult because they will have to change their formulas. They cannot rely on negative forces or expect the fates to be on their side. Praying for rain and Australian brittleness will no longer cut it. England have to find positive resources which they have not needed for a while. They have enough champions to do it, and will go to Adelaide better prepared.