Friday, 31 July 2015

The Comeback Kid

Friday, 31 July 2015
This series is going a long way to abolish the concept of momentum. England's four day victory in Cardiff, followed by an absolute thrashing at Lord's, and now another England win in a mere three days. Each side see-saws between looking ascendant and lurching into a new crisis, the questions raised about the England team after Lord's now pointing accusingly at Australia. It's difficult to predict what might come next.

The star of the show at Edgbaston has been the England bowlers, and particularly the return of Steven Finn. Steven Finn, the youngest English bowler to fifty test wickets, the man with all the height, pace, bounce, and talent, but whose career has been haunted more by the bad days than the good. Steven Finn, dropped when England's leading wicket taker in Australia in 2010, the lingering feeling that he would always deliver a four ball convincing selectors more than his strike rate. Steven Finn, clipping the bails during delivery so often the ICC intervene with a new rule. Steven Finn, no longer trusted in the closing stages of the first Ashes test in 2013. Steven Finn, deemed unselectable even when England were at their lowest, coaching having failed him. But this time it was the Steven Finn England had been waiting for, dismissing Smith and Clarke in both innings, taking five wickets in the second. Bowling with genuine pace, bounce, and always looking threatening, and just having the knack of picking up a wicket. The odd four ball might still be there, but so is the wicket threat.

But as another piece falls into place in the England puzzle, another one slips out. James Anderson will be missing the next test match with a side strain, and it wouldn't be surprising if he were to miss the rest of the series as well. It's a big blow for England, losing the leader of their attack and to do so with the next match taking place at Trent Bridge, traditionally the swing bowler's heaven. Anderson has too been excellent during this match at Edgbaston - taking 6/47, his best Ashes bowling figures, and going a long way to dismissing Australia for 136 and setting the tone for this match. The bowlers were finally presented with a pitch offering something for them, and Anderson reaped the rewards - movement not necessarily from swing, but from seam. In his absence Mark Wood, rested for this match, will likely return to the team with others such as Footitt, Woakes, and Plunkett also potentially in the mix (fitness allowing for the latter pair). But they'll be big boots to fill.

The careers of Steven Finn and James Anderson also present an interesting parallel. Though different types of bowlers, their careers have followed a similar trajectory. Both burst onto the scene at a young age, special talents that were recognised early on, but both also faced great periods of tinkering with their actions in attempts to solve their supposed flaws. For Anderson it resulted in injury, for Finn a complete loss of confidence - every time something was 'solved', a new issue emerged. And Finn now is a similar age to when the decision was made to stick with Anderson for the long run. I'm always cautious about getting ahead of myself, and especially so with Steven Finn given the constant ups and downs we've had to go through, but England will certainly hoping that the trajectory now will be up, up, and up.

Australia are now looking the team in crisis, and England on the ascendancy. Test cricket is a funny game. But as well as England bowled, the Australian batting was worse. In the first innings, only Rogers offered any resistance, his experience batting in English conditions coming to the fore. Three batsmen were out attempting the leave. In the second innings they put on a better show - Warner scoring a brilliant 77 from 62, Nevill digging in with 59, and Mitchell Starc also making a handy 58. But much of the damage had already been done. Now the axes are being sharpened in Australia's corner: Clarke, though he won't be dropped, is now facing questions about his future beyond the series; and Voges is looking close to the chop. And whilst Johnson has been a constant threat (those deliveries to dismiss Bairstow and Stokes simply exceptional), it might not be a surprise if Siddle were to join him at Trent Bridge, a ground where he should be well suited.

England are on the ascendancy now, needing just the one victory to regain the Ashes, and based on this performance they just might do it. But given how topsy-turvy a series this is proving to be, who knows what will happen next? A lot will matter on how England can cope without Anderson, and on how both teams bat - each side having shown their fragility during the past three matches. For England, Adam Lyth in particular is one who will be under a lot of pressure if picked for Trent Bridge, another two low scores coming in this match with the feeling that time might be running out for him.

England have put the nightmare of Lord's behind them, and have earned themselves the upper hand in this series. But don't bet against there still being a few twists in this tale.

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