Cow Corner

The View From Down Under – Cracks start to show in Australia side

Mitchell Johnson Day Two Melbourne

When you're 3-0 up in the Ashes, it's probably quite easy to be magnanimous. However, perhaps for the first time this series, England ended a day ahead in a Test match, and the Australian media have found it in their hearts to praise the touring Poms.

Jimmy Anderson took three wickets with some excellent bowling at the MCG, and he earns some kind words from Malcolm Knox, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Finally, conditions in Melbourne turned in his favour. The match has resembled one of those cartoons where two men are strangling each other, both falling blue-faced to the ground. Anderson thrives when able to apply scoreboard pressure on slow wickets. It has been a while since Trent Bridge, when he monstered the Australian batting with crafty cut and swing, but the real Anderson had not disappeared.

Australia's response was initially positive. But after Anderson got a shortish-ball to hold up on David Warner and Ben Stokes' off-cutter was too good for Shane Watson, the home batsmen went into the trenches. Michael Clarke and Chris Rogers battled through a slow hour before Anderson produced the ball of the day, moving in late on Clarke and clipping the off bail as the Australian captain watched and cursed.

For a time, Rogers and Steve Smith looked like they might tunnel a way out. Rogers' driving down the ground was pretty to watch. Otherwise he moved towards the ball like a close-talker at a party, edging forward with his feet but waiting until the subject was within his personal space before engaging it. The formula worked well for him, while Smith carried on his positive touch from Perth.

Yet, the scoreboard was not moving, and the key partnership ended when Smith cut Broad and was well held at second slip by Ian Bell. Anderson came back from the members' end and had George Bailey caught behind. This was beginning to have a familiar look. The older the ball got, the more it had a nip and a duck. The drop-in wicket could have been ordered by Andy Flower.

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There is also plenty of discussion about how good this Australian team actually is. Jesse Hogan in the Age suggests that, despite having the Ashes in the bag and being 3-0 up in the series, there are still some problems in the Australian batting order.

The rationale for cricket captains' general inclination to bat first in Tests was evident at the MCG on Friday, when even a seemingly mediocre total by England was enough to unsettle the Australian batsmen.

Murmurs that the dazzling batting form of David Warner, Brad Haddin and, to a lesser extent, Michael Clarke had masked the lack of consistency from Australia's other specialist batsmen in the series were given credibility when Australia slumped to 6-122 midway through the last session on day two, by which stage its top six batsmen were back in the pavilion.

The manner of Australia's stumble, mostly through loose shots, would have made England supporters again lament that it had not had an opportunity to bat first earlier in the series and set Australia a target. That it got the opportunity in this Test was down to the gamble of Clarke, who sent England in, despite a reluctance to do so in most circumstances.

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Michael Clarke

Meanwhile, Robert Craddock in the Sydney Daily Telegraph sees the final two Tests of the series as not so much a pair of contests against England, but more a preparation for the upcoming series against South Africa.

Don't shed a tear if Australia fails to pull off an Ashes whitewash or even loses the MCG Test. The more bruising, bare-knuckled cricket Australia gets before it takes on South Africa in three end-of-season Tests the better. Some major questions need to be asked and answered as you would expect of a team where four members of its top six average 35 or less.

In more prosperous eras, a sub-35 average would spell the end of a career. Many players such as Dean Jones and Michael Slater were dropped for averaging much more.

Is George Bailey up to it? Is Shane Watson too high in the order? Has Chris Rogers got enough petrol left? If Australia find out the right answers now rather than during the South African series, all the better. That's why the ebb and flow of a compelling Boxing Day Test is ideal for the team.

South Africa are the arm-wrestle kings of world cricket. You don't win in South Africa by having a dam-busting session or two. It generally takes day after day of high-quality fare to wrestle the Proteas to ground on their turf.

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However, Malcolm Conn couldn't resist a dig at England in a piece ostensibly praising Mitchell Johnson, writing:

Stuart Broad is another who tries to hide in his crease. Having badly bruised one of Broad's feet in Perth Johnson appeared to be aiming for the other when the England fast bowler was compressively leg before wicket. That gave Johnson a wicket to wicket spell of 5-14 from 6.5 overs with the second new ball either side of a good sleep.

It wasn't quite as devastating as his Adelaide spell, when Johnson claimed 6-16 from 26 balls to set that Test up for Australia. He now has 28 wickets in the series at a most remarkable average of under 15 apiece.

This is more than any Australian bowler has taken in any series since Shane Warne claimed a gigantic 40 wickets in England during 2005. And it is the most by an Australian fast bowler since McGrath took 32 wickets in England during 2001.

Even more impressively, it is the best by an Australian fast bowler at home since Craig McDermott's 32 wickets against a similarly beleaguered England in 1994-95. So now the recently forgotten Johnson sits on 233 career wickets, moving past Ray Lindwall into ninth place on the list of Australia's all-time wicket-takers. England must be surprised.

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Finally, Australian opener Chris Rogers spoke after day two about the decision review system, that saw George Bailey given out caught behind on review, after umpire Aleem Dar had initially said not out.

Rogers said:

'The interesting one is George Bailey's. He is adamant he didn't hit it, but I think if you look back at the last Test, with what happened there, he probably had to be given out. Maybe there's still a few glitches in the system but, overall, I think it's working pretty well.''

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