1) Shane Watson
While Warner, Haddin and occasionally Clarke have done the damage with the bat and Johnson terrorised England in the first two tests with the ball, it’s Watto who has allowed this to happen.
After being settled at 3 by Clarke, he now offers solidity (if not quite enough hundreds) at the top of the order.
But it’s his bowling that has been the difference. By offering eight to 12 overs a day, which doesn’t sound a lot, he allows Clarke the flexibility to use Johnson in short bursts at high speed rather than bowling him into the ground like England have done with Anderson. He’s not express, but bowls a tight line and rarely gives runs away which gives Clarke control for an hour and allows the other quicks to rotate and stay fresh. It also reduces the point in getting after Nathan Lyon, because if you hit him out of the attack, on trundles Watto.
2) Geoff Miller
Geoff hasn’t bowled a ball since 1990 but has done a great job as the chairman of selectors for England since 2008. Consistency has been the byword for selection and it has served England well.
However the squad for the Ashes, with hindsight, looks frighteningly lacking in balance.
The loss of form of the batsman isn’t really his problem, it’s going to happen sometime. But the backup on the flight to Australia was Ben Stokes (0 caps), Gary Ballance (0 caps) and Jonny Bairstow (12 caps) but he was dropped at the end of the English summer for being out of form. Admittedly there wasn’t a huge number of people putting their hand up for selection, but looking back Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara or Nick Compton, experienced players with a few caps behind them might have offered some alternatives when senior players lose form. Miller is stepping down at the end of 2013 and maybe his selection was planning for the future, but one more experienced player carrying the drinks might have been useful.
In the bowling department, Graeme Onions must be smiling inside. Despite being the best bowler in the County Championship for as long as anyone can remember and having never let England down, he was overlooked for Tremlett (did nothing in the County Championship in 2013), Finn (looked like he was struggling with his run up and rhythm) and Boyd Rankin (a bolter picked on potential). All three are giants, but did England really need three big quicks? It restricted the options for Flower and Cook and reduced the chance for changes. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, England will be in love with Onions by the time they get home.
Lots has been made of the sledging that’s gone on, but with the exception of Clarke’s “broken arm” comment, I don’t think any of it has crossed the line. What Australia have done well is channel that aggression into positive cricket: aggressive fields, attacking intent with the bat and bowling that would challenge the bravery of any batsman. When it works, which it has, it looks mightily impressive.
Although it might need reigning in a little when they need visit the sub continent or South Africa in February… Chirping when the opposition have 600 on the board just looks daft!
4) ‘Brian’ Haddin
In Brisbane and Perth, Australia were in trouble, at less than 150 for 5. When Brian Lara, sorry Brad Haddin was heading back to the sheds, the first innings total was up around par or a few more. He’s scored timely, aggressive runs that have demoralised the bowlers and caught everything behind the stumps, sometimes in great style.
The contrasting fortunes of Haddin (325 runs at 65 average) and Matt Prior (88 runs at 17.60) has been a microcosm of the differences between the sides.
5) Bring back the Boof
This Australian side has looked a long way from the team that went 12 months without a win. From the controversial ejection of Mickey Arthur, Darren Lehmann has brought back the basics to the Aussie team: pride in the baggy green, fight for each other and a schooner at the end of the day. The rump of the squad is the same as the “worst Australian team ever” yet they look on top of the world at the moment and Boof has to take a lot of credit for that.
Boof provides a glimmer of hope for England – he’s turned Australia round so quickly, hopefully they can do it too!
6) Great Tossers
It’s maybe a bit simplistic to suggest Australia have dominated because they’ve won each toss, but it has been a factor. In the last seven Ashes Tests, the team that has won the toss has won the game. Clarke has been a lucky tosser so far this series and Australia have dominated.
7) Catches Win Matches
Fielding is always the most visible sign of where a team is mentally and it’s pretty obvious that Australia are winning that game. While England have been shelling simple catches, leaving the ball to each other and watching batsmen gifted a lifeline make big scores, Australia have pouched almost every chance.
Steve Smith has put a few down in the slips, but by and large they have caught even the toughest of chances and supported their bowlers while England have wilted under the blazing Australian sun.
8) Mitchell Johnson
No round up of this Ashes series would be complete without reference to Mitch the Mo and his thunderbolts.
The turnaround from the quick who was lambasted by the Barmy Army for bowling wide after no ball after wide into one of the most fearsome fast bowler around is complete. He’s all snarl, snot and tattoos on his way in and he backs it up by putting it *in the right areas* at 90+ mph. That’s a handful for any batsman, especially England’s out of form top order.
He’s not been alone in terrorising England (Siddle and Pietersen is worth looking at) but he’s been the difference in putting Australia 2-0 up and all the pressure back on England.
Fair play to the lad. As painful as it is to admit for an England fan, watching genuine high quality fast bowling is one of the reasons cricket is great to watch and Mitchell has been a ‘joy’ to watch.