Cardiff: Brad Haddin was an unstoppable wrecking force with the bat. He scored nearly 500 runs at an average in excess of 60. Mitchell Johnson tonked his way to a few vital contributions. The immovable force of Nathan Lyon was, well, immovable. Lyon wasn’t dismissed even once in the entire series. But all that was 18 months ago. When Day Three began at Cardiff, Australia — 264-5 overnight — were entirely depending on Haddin, Shane Watson and the rest of the tail to get as close as possible to England’s 430.
Australia’s wicketkeeper Brad Haddin reacts during play on the third day of the opening Ashes cricket test match between England and Australia at The Swalec Stadium in Cardiff, south Wales. AFP PHOTO
But Haddin was stopped. Johnson tamely prodded out, and Lyon was dismissed. Back in Australia, whenever Australia were in strife, the free flowing, buccaneering batting style of Haddin bailed them out on several occasions. The English bowlers tended to pitch shorter and shorter as Haddin crashed boundary after boundary, making a mockery of the English plans.
It was an entirely different story yesterday. The discipline with which the English bowlers operated was a throwback to a few years ago when they became the No 1 Test team. Five of the first six overs of the day were maidens and Australia, and Haddin, couldn’t buy a run to save their lives.
Few of the Australian top order batsmen could be blamed for being impatient and playing impetuous shots on the afternoon of Day Two – Michael Clarke and Steve Smith being prime examples as they paid dearly in trying to attack Moeen Ali, the five wickets England plucked out in the morning session was down to high quality fast bowling. No one English bowler outshone any of his teammates, and the wickets were shared amongst all of them.
The outstanding feature of England’s bowling display was the obvious plans they had sewn together for every Australian batsman. World’s No 1 ranked batsman Smith was continuously tested on his awareness of his off stump. With his pronounced pre-delivery shuffle towards off stump, the English bowlers maintained a disciplined line at fifth and sixth stumps. He would eventually perish playing a contorted shot to a quick leg side delivery from the alert Ali.
Adam Voges and Watson were tested with accurate straight deliveries and no width provided to dry up the scoring. Voges fell trying to force the pace late on Day Two, and Watson fell LBW to Stuart Broad.
It is no secret that Watson is a prime LBW candidate with his emphatic stride on to the front foot, but the regularity with which inswinging deliveries were pinged down was impressive. Eventually, he had to miss one, and he did, getting out to yet another score in the thirties.
Haddin, in 2013-14, took the attack to England, blasting his way through to match-winning hands. Here it took him 15 deliveries to just get off the mark as the noose was tightened and nails were driven in.
The ‘new’ England that has shown a change in their approach with desire to play aggressive, attractive cricket, was evident when Joe Root was stationed at what can only be called as “Silly third slip”, just a handshake distance away from Haddin. Alastair Cook was proactive with his fields and rotation of his bowlers. He may even have ‘out-funked’ Clarke who is usually credited with thinking out of the box solutions on the cricket field. It may be too soon to say this is all down to Trevor Bayliss as the new head coach but it definitely isn’t just a coincidence.
With the second new ball, James Anderson showed why he is the leading Test wicket taker for England, with his immaculate control of swing both ways, and a masterful manipulation of lines. He induced a tentative prod from his bête noire Haddin with a beautiful outswinger that kissed the outside edge on its way to the wicket-keeper. In all, Lyon, Haddin and Johnson could only put together 42 runs in 83 deliveries. Australia’s last five wickets were bundled out for 50 runs – while England’s last five added 150 runs – a complete reversal from 18 months ago. As Mitchell Starc edged Anderson to be caught brilliantly by Root at third slip, Anderson went past the great West Indian Sir Curtly Ambrose in the list of highest wicket takers, bur more significantly, Australia were 122 runs behind on a wicket that is misbehaving, and so in all probability, a sobering defeat staring them in their faces.