Lord’s, London – For 75 years, Lord’s was almost a home ground for Australia. Until 2009, they had never lost there since 1934. Now England have won again at Lord’s, with just three balls left on the fourth day, and the margin of victory – 347 runs – was their greatest since 1938, when England’s margin at The Oval was an innings and 579 runs. Now England is two-nil up in this Ashes series and their chances of winning it look very good. If they do so, it will be their fourth win in the five most recent Ashes series.
What it means for English supporters is the final curtain on years of stoical resignation. With only brief intervals since World War Two, Australia has imposed a sense of the inevitability of defeat, especially in Australia. A colleague of mine recalls sitting under a tree at the WACA in 2006 and crying her eyes out. As Australia’s second innings’ wickets fell at Lord’s, she announced that she had been released from her nightmare and will look forward to Ashes Tests with anticipation rather than foreboding.
Australia’s only achievement on the fourth day was to nearly force a fifth. At 4:40pm, when Australia’s eighth wicket fell, MCC officials were already discussing the refunds they would be required to make to the spectators who had bought tickets for the last day. They were forgetting the potency of Australia’s bowlers as tail-end batsmen.
At Trent Bridge, they had brought Australia to the brink of victory. Now they were intent on pulling them back from a truly ignominious defeat. Peter Siddle and James Pattinson came together with the score on 162. Siddle lasted an hour before James Anderson bowled him. The score had moved to 192. Then Pattison and Ryan Harris kept England’s bowlers at bay for a further hour. England had taken the extra half hour given to teams to finish off their opponents, but the last wicket pair were unmoved.
But by 6:40pm there was just one more over to play. Cook threw the ball to Graeme Swann, whose off spin out of the bowlers’ footmarks at the Pavilion end had already caused three dismissals. The first delivery of the last over was dramatically close to the edge of Pattinson’s bat; the second was played carefully into the off. The third ball proved to be the winner – getting Pattinson lbw for 35. He and Harris had put on 43 for the last wicket. The ninth and tenth wickets added 63 runs, a full quarter of a total of 235. There was jocular chatter about Australia changing the batting order by simply reversing it.
England had declared after 15 minutes in the morning when Joe Root was out for 180 and the total was 349 for 7. That meant Australia had to score 583 to win. The runs had effectively ceased to matter, and the only way to restore some pride among the batsmen was for them to play stubbornly and last as long as they could. So, to lose three wickets before lunch for 48 runs was a craven admission of defeat by the top order – for the third time in four innings this summer.
Shane Watson had gone, as he has in his last three innings, lbw playing across the line to a ball on the leg stump. Chris Rogers was bamboozled by a ball from Swann that did not turn as he had assumed it would, and hit his leg stump. Phillip Hughes was so sure that Swann had not dismissed him lbw that he asked for a review, which proved that Swann had.
During lunch Michael Clarke and Usman Khawaja seem to have decided that the only realistic form of survival was to attack. After a humiliating performance in the first innings, Khawaja began to hit out fiercely, especially on the leg side, and was the first Australian batsman to a 50 in this game. Michael Clarke drove elegantly, straight and into the covers, and reached his own 50 shortly after. And then quite suddenly they were gone, both out to the bowling not of Swann, but Joe Root, the hero on England’s fight back on day three. His two wickets for nine runs in seven overs removed the guts, if not the heart, of Australia’s batting.
Root, whose off spin out of the bowlers’ foot marks was no less lethal than Swann’s, first had Clarke caught by Cook at first slip for 51; and then Khawaja caught at second slip by Anderson for 54. Steve Smith lasted only a few minutes more and Australia had lost three wickets for two runs (one of which was a wide) in 23 balls. That was game and set. Match could not be far away, and neither Brad Haddin nor Ashton Agar were able to resist it, though both were unlucky to have been given out.
The first Test had been a glorious defeat for Australia. This has been inglorious. The build-up of confidence and morale based on the performance in Nottingham ended abruptly at Lord’s. Talk of conflict in the camp between Clarke and Watson will not stop. The effectiveness of each of them is being questioned. The bowlers have done their best; the batsmen have not and Darren Lehmann does not have many options that will transform the batting.
When John Arlott insisted that English supporters should never feel sorry for an Australian cricketer, he did not include the coach. It is hard not to feel sorry for the Australian coach.