Now the bowlers lose it as England crumble again

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns


OK. So having endured five matches of remorseless batting mediocrity we were finally treated to a virtually flawless display from England led by the matchless Jonathan Trott, whom regular readers will know was not my first choice to bat at number three, or indeed bat at all.


His chanceless 137 from 126 balls was the cornerstone of a surprisingly measured and occasionally explosive England innings. Naturally, like the rest of his team-mates, he succumbed to near life threatening injury towards the end of  his innings, and throughout was accompanied by a moistened cravat to ward off heat stroke that bedecked his neck in the jaunty style of a 1950's French movie star.


He had been throughout the series to date the one English batsman who looked capable of playing the anchor role, but at Sydney he went further, moving through gears that even his more ardent supporters didn't believe he possessed.


In partnership first with Strauss, whose 63 from 69 balls was the usual mix of magnificent drives and pulls as well as over earnest charges down the wicket that yielded nothing, and latterly with the rest of England's middle order, he shepherded England to the massive total of 333-6.


For once Pietersen and Morgan both chipped in and despite the ease of the wicket there was every reason to suppose that England had finally found the form that would make them genuine World Cup contenders.


Worryingly, though, Collingwood limped off at the end after being hit in the thigh by a Tait full toss and was also suffering from a sore back. With England already shorn of their first choice bowling attack and relying on Collingwood and Trott to be the fifth bowler Strauss was going to need his pack leader Anderson to produce something special. And what he produced was truly special, though perhaps not in the way Strauss had anticipated.


Between himself and Woakes, he managed to get Australia off to a flier, the first ten overs disappearing for 79 runs. There were the usual array of excellent drives and hoiks from Watson and Haddin, but there was a more unusually massive array of dreadful filth from Anderson. Full tosses sprayed on to the pads. Slow ill directed long hops were dismissed with casual and haughty abandon. And this by Watson and Haddin who have absolutely no business being either haughty or casual.


On the Sofa we comforted ourselves with the thought that at least the game was going to be interesting for a while. But we hadn't banked on Woakes and especially Anderson slipping into unimagined further troughs of incompetence.


Indeed, the only time Strauss had control in the field was while Pietersen and Yardy were bowling. Trott manfully overcame his life threatening cramp and bowled 4 overs of barely threatening dobbers to make up the numbers.


Earlier Watson, to the surprise of absolutely no one, got out immediately on registering his 50. Callum Ferguson came in for his first knock of the series and looked assured if lacking menace.


For once, Australia's reply was built around a genuinely fluent innings of 82 off 70 balls by Clarke, though it is hard to tell whether the hopelessly pilloried stand-in skipper had miraculously rediscovered his touch or simply couldn't fail against the substandard offerings of England's variously wretched "attack".


In partnership with David Hussey he steered Australia to the brink of victory, negotiating along the way some of the most heinous garbage ever served up in a powerplay by England's front line seamers.


But the reintroduction of Finn generated the breakthrough for England, at which point Australia suffered an attack of the yips. Had the otherwise admirable Trott held on to a good chance offered by Clarke in the closing overs, England may have scraped an undeserved victory. But it was not to be.


Somehow England had managed to paper over the cracks in their bowling resources for five matches while their batsmen played as if they longed to be elsewhere. At Sydney the roles were reversed.


None of it really matters of course. The team will be very much different come the World Cup and this was the second deadest of all dead rubbers. The deadest is to come on Sunday morning. And when that last pointless rite is finally played out in front of another half empty stadium, we can finally put the series to bed, and from an England point of view erase just the last three weeks from our memory.


Meanwhile just keep repeating the comforting mantra: we won the Ashes. Yes, we won the Ashes.