Big questions for both sides before third Ashes Test: Ian Chappell
In recent encounters between Australia and England, two distinct trends have emerged. Firstly, Australia has displayed an ability to effect a quick turnaround in form and secondly, England has a disturbing tendency to capitulate at the sight of Mitchell Johnson charging in to bowl.
Australian Steve Smith celebrates his double century at Lord's in London recently. Pic/Getty Images
The difference between Australia at Cardiff and then Lord's was such that you could've been forgiven for thinking the first choice team had been unable to gain entry visas into Wales and a side plucked from the touring parties had appeared at Swalec stadium. At Lord's it was business as usual; Australia made a huge first innings total and England, slowly at first and then with alarming alacrity in the second innings, surrendered their hard won advantage.
This is a familiar Australian pattern; a tendency to either win or lose by big margins, with large first innings totals under-pinning many of the victories. The star performers at Lord's were predictable; first it was a double-century contribution from Steve Smith, who is proving harder to dismiss than Fifa president Sepp Blatter and the England batsmen battering was administered by Johnson.
The solid foundation for Australia's mammoth first innings total was provided by Chris Rogers and if he's unavailable for Edgbaston it would be a huge setback for Australia. Despite the mauling at Lord's, England made only one change in personnel but many in batting order. This prompts two thoughts; why the selectors and not the captain nominate the batting order and once again England is reacting rather than being proactive at number three.
Their number three history has been under-whelming since the hurried departure of Jonathan Trott from the 2013-14 Ashes series. Ian Bell should've been elevated to three for the Adelaide Test following the battering and bruising England received in Brisbane.
Bell's got a job to do
At the time, Bell was in the form of his life and in a mood to take on Johnson, which was crucial if England was to get back into the series. They missed that opportunity and now they're promoting Bell when he's in a prolonged form slump.
Bell has the ability to be an extremely good number three, it's a matter of whether he has the confidence to produce his best. Following the Ashes whitewash, Gary Ballance was promoted to number three against Sri Lanka and India. Not surprisingly this move, although it was ill-conceived, worked against moderate pace attacks.
This was a continuation of England's penchant for selecting teams to purely win the next match, rather than also having an eye on tackling the best opponents. Burdened by a seriously flawed technique, Ballance was unlikely to succeed at three against the better pace attacks. The other consequence of Australia's overwhelming Lord's victory is the affect it will have on England's desire to play aggressively.
At Lord's the Australians removed captain Alistair Cook's newly acquired cloak of aggressiveness and it revealed someone more akin to a doddery grandmother than a Big Bad Wolf. England's philosophy is correct — aggression is the best way to beat a good side — but it has to be done sensibly and at the appropriate moment.
Even at Cardiff during the second innings there were signs the aggressive approach was an excuse to bat irresponsibly. To their chagrin, the England players discovered at Lord's, there's a heavy price to be paid for surrendering your wicket without due care.
Now the series is tied there are many aspects of the Edgbaston Test that make for interesting speculation. Can Australia win if they bat second? Has Johnson fully re-established superiority over the England batsmen? Can Bell produce an authoritative innings from three?
And most importantly, what sort of pitch will be prepared? So far, England has telegraphed their insecurity by preparing two slowish pitches all to no avail. It's time to cast aside priorities like boosting coffers and winning the Ashes at a cost to the game and leave pitch preparation to the experts. What's required is a pitch that encourages the players to fully display their skills and consequently, the fans to enjoy a well-balanced contest.